1. Today's General
Audience takes place in the Octave of Easter. During this week and
for the whole period which lasts until Pentecost, the Christian
community perceives in a special way the living and active presence
of the risen Christ. In this splendid setting of light and joy
proper to the Easter season, we continue our reflections in
preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Today we
consider again the sacrament of Baptism which, by immersing man in
the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, makes him a child of
God and incorporates him into the Church.
Baptism is essential for the Christian community. In particular, the
Letter to the Ephesians includes Baptism among the foundations of
the communion which binds the disciples to Christ: "There is one
body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that
belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and
Father of us all" (Eph 4:4-6).
The affirmation of one Baptism in the context of the other
foundations of ecclesial unity has particular significance. In fact,
it refers to the one Father, who in Baptism offers everyone divine
sonship. It is intimately linked to Christ, the one Lord, who unites
the baptized in his Mystical Body, and to the Holy Spirit, the
principle of unity in the variety of his gifts. A sacrament of
faith, Baptism transmits a life which gives access to eternity, and
thus refers to the hope that waits with certainty for the fulfilment
of God's promises.
The one Baptism therefore expresses the unity of the whole mystery
2. When Paul wants to show the Church's unity, he compares her to a
body, the Body of Christ, built up precisely through Baptism: "For
by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks,
slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor
The Holy Spirit is the principle of the Body's unity, since he
animates both Christ the Head and his members. In receiving the
Spirit, all the baptized, despite their differences of origin,
nationality, culture, sex and social status, are united in the Body
of Christ, so that Paul can say: "There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).
3. On the basis of Baptism, the First Letter of Peter urges
Christians to gather round Christ to help build the spiritual
edifice founded by and on him: "Come to him [Christ], to that living
stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and
like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be
a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God
through Jesus Christ" (2:4-5). Thus Baptism unites all the faithful
in the one priesthood of Christ, enabling them to take part in the
Church's worship and to make their lives a spiritual offering
acceptable to God. In this way they grow in holiness and influence
the development of the entire community.
Baptism is also a source of apostolic dynamism. The missionary task
of the baptized, in conformity with their own vocation, is
extensively considered by the Council which, in the Constitution
Lumen gentium, teaches: "Each disciple of Christ has the obligation
of spreading the faith to the best of his ability" (n. 17). In the
Encyclical Redemptoris missio, I stressed that by virtue of Baptism
all lay people are missionaries (cf. n. 71).
4. Baptism is also a fundamental point of departure for ecumenical
Concerning our separated brethren, the Decree on Ecumenism says:
"For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are
put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church" (Unitatis
redintegratio, n. 3). In reality, validly conferred Baptism brings
about an effective incorporation into Christ and makes all the
baptized truly brothers and sisters in the Lord, regardless of their
denomination. This is what the Council teaches: "Baptism, therefore,
constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who
through it are reborn" (ibid., n. 22).
It is an initial communion which needs to be developed in the
direction of full unity, as the Council itself urges: "But Baptism,
of itself, is only a beginning, a point of departure, for it is
wholly directed toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ.
Baptism is thus ordained toward a complete profession of faith, a
complete incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ
himself willed it to be, and finally, toward a complete integration
into Eucharistic communion" (ibid.).
5. In the perspective of the Jubilee, this ecumenical aspect of
Baptism deserves to be given special emphasis (cf. Tertio millennio
adveniente, n. 41).
Two thousand years after Christ's coming, Christians unfortunately
present themselves to the world without the full unity he desired
and for which he prayed. But at the same time we must not forget
everthing that already unites us. Doctrinal dialogue must be
promoted at all levels, as well as mutual openness, co-operation
and, above all, the spiritual ecumenism of prayer and the commitment
to holiness. The grace of Baptism itself is the foundation on which
to build that full unity to which the Spirit continually spurs us.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I cordially greet the new deacons of the Pontifical Irish College
and the Pontifical Scots College, and the priests from the Institute
for Continuing Education at the Pontifical North American College:
may your love of Christ and his Church be a continual source of
strength and joy in your ministry. I extend a special welome to the
"Voices of the World" choir, made up mostly of choirs from Ireland,
North and South, from Italy and from Poland. Your commitment to sing
for peace and to hold hands across all divisions is a great sign of
hope. Your presence is an occasion for us to thank God once more for
the important steps recently taken in bringing lasting peace to
Northern Ireland. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and
visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Scotland,
Gibraltar, Sweden and the United States of America, I invoke the
love and grace of the risen Saviour. Happy Easter!
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