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PAPAL HOMILY FOR MASS WITH BAPTISMS 

"We Restore to God That Which Has Come From Him"

January 11, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The words that the Evangelist Mark recounts at the beginning of his Gospel: "You are my Son, my beloved: in you I am well pleased" (1:11) bring us to the heart of today's feast of the baptism of the Lord, with which the Christmas season concludes. The cycle of Christmas solemnities brings us to meditate on the birth of Jesus announced by the angels suffused with the luminous splendor of God; Christmas time speaks to us of the star that guided the magi from the east to the house of Bethlehem, and it invites us to look to the heavens opened above the Jordan as the voice of God resounds.

They are all signs through which the Lord does not tire of repeating to us: "Yes, I am here. I know you. I love you. There is a road that leads from me to you. And there is a road that leads from you to me." In Jesus, the Creator assumed the dimensions of a Child, of a human being like us, who we may see and touch. At the same time, in making himself small, God made the light of his greatness shine -- because, by lowering himself to the defenseless impotence of love, he shows the nature of true greatness, indeed, what it means to be God.

The meaning of Christmas, and more generally the meaning of the liturgical year, is precisely that of us drawing near to these divine signs, to recognize in them the events of every day, so that our hearts will open to the love of God. And if Christmas and Epiphany serve above all to make us capable of seeing, to opening our eyes and hearts to the mystery of a God who comes to be with us, the feast of the baptism of Jesus introduces us, we could say, to the everydayness of a personal relationship with him. In fact, through the immersion in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus united himself to us.

Baptism is, so to speak, the bridge that he has built between him and us, the road by which he is accessible to us; it is the divine rainbow over our life, the promise of the great yes of God, the gateway to hope and, at the same time, the sign that indicates the road we must take in an active and joyous way to meet him and feel loved by him.

Dear friends, I am truly happy that this year too, on this feast day, I have been given the opportunity to baptize children. Today God's pleasure is upon them. From the time that the only-begotten Son of the Father was baptized, heaven has truly opened and continues to open itself, and we can entrust every new life that blossoms to the hands of God, who is stronger than the dark powers of evil. This in effect leads to baptism: We restore to God that which has come from him. The child is not the parents' property, but is rather entrusted by the Creator to their responsibility, freely and in an ever new way, so that they help him to be a free child of God.

Only if the parents cultivate such an awareness will they succeed in finding the right balance between the pretence of being able to dispose of their own children as if they were a private possession, forming them according to their own ideas and desires, and the liberal attitude that expresses itself in giving them total freedom, satisfying all their desires and aspirations, seeing that as the right way to develop their personality.

If, with this sacrament, the newly baptized infant becomes an adoptive child of God, object of his infinite love that safeguards and defends him, then he must be taught to recognize God as his Father and to know how to relate to him with a filial attitude. For this reason, when, following the Christian tradition, as we do today, we baptize children, bringing them into God's light and his teachings, we are not doing violence to them; rather we are giving them the wealth of divine life in which true freedom is rooted, which is that of being children of God; a freedom that must be educated and formed with the passing of years, so that it become capable of responsible personal choices.

Dear parents, dear godfathers and godmothers, I greet you with affection and I share your joy over these little ones that today are reborn into eternal life. You are conscious of the gift that has been received and you do not cease to thank the Lord who, with today's sacrament, introduces your children into a new family, greater and more stable, more open and numerous than your own: I am talking about the family of believers, the Church, a family that has God for Father and in which all gather as brothers in Jesus Christ.

Today, therefore, you entrust your children to the goodness of God, who is power of light and love; and they, though they will face difficulties in life, will never feel abandoned if they remain united with him. Concern yourselves with educating them in the faith, with teaching them to pray and to grow as Jesus did and with his help, "in wisdom, age and grace before God and men" (cf. Luke 2:52).

Turning now to the Gospel passage, we will try to understand still further that which is happening today. St. Mark says that, while John the Baptist preached on the shores of the Jordan, proclaiming the urgency of conversion in view of the coming of the Messiah who is now drawing near, Jesus, mixed in with the crowds, presents himself to be baptized.

John's baptism of repentance is certainly quite different from the one Jesus will institute. Nevertheless, at that moment, the mission of the Redeemer is glimpsed, for, when he comes out of the water, a voice from heaven resounds and the Holy Spirit descends upon him (cf. Mark 1:10). The heavenly Father proclaims him his beloved Son and publicly bears witness to his universal mission of salvation, which he will fully accomplish with his death on the cross and his resurrection. Only then, with the Paschal sacrifice, will the remission of sins be made universal and total.

With baptism we do not merely immerse ourselves in the waters of the Jordan to proclaim our commitment to conversion, but there is poured out upon us the redemptive blood of Christ that purifies us and saves us. It is the beloved Son of the Father, in whom he is well pleased, which reacquires for us the dignity and the joy of calling ourselves and truly being "children" of God.

Soon we will relive this mystery evoked by today's solemnity; the signs and symbols of the sacrament of baptism will help us to understand that which the Lord works in the hearts of these little ones of ours, making them "his" forever, a dwelling place chosen by his Spirit and "living stones" for the building up of the spiritual edifice which is the Church.

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, beloved Son of God, keep watch over them and their families, always be with them, so that they may realize the project of salvation that baptism accomplishes in their lives.

And we, dear brothers and sisters, let us accompany them with our prayer; let us pray for the parents, godfathers and godmothers and for their relatives, that they help them to grow in the faith; let us pray for all of us here present that, devotedly participating in this celebration, we will renew the promises of our baptism and give thanks to the Lord for his constant help. Amen!

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