Pope Francis baptized 33 children on Sunday morning, the day that Christians celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In his homily, the Pope told parents to teach their children that “you cannot be a Christian outside the Church, you cannot follow Jesus Christ without the Church, because the Church is mother, and makes us grow in love for Jesus Christ.”
In saying this, the Pope was probably referring to the famous statement by Saint Cyprian, the 3rd-century Bishop of Carthage, who said: “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” This also echoes the Catholic teaching that “the Church is the mother of all believers.”
This was Francis’ second celebration of baptism since his election as pope, and he baptized 20 little girls and 13 boys, including a pair of twins. The 33 children sons and daughters of Vatican employees, and the baptism took place in the Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals gather in conclave to elect a new pope.
Francis, in fact, made constant reference to parenting in his homily, referring both to God and to the Church. He said that God, “as a good father and a good mother, wants to give good things to his children.” And the food He gives them “is his Word,” the Pope said.
He encouraged the parents, godparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, to “help these children to grow well” by giving them “the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus.” He urged them to set a good example, getting into “the habit of reading a passage from the Gospel,” and also to “always carry a small Gospel in your pocket or your purse, to read it.”
Referring to nursing mothers, the Pope said that “what milk does for the body, the Word of God does for the spirit.”
The children are baptized, Francis said, into “the faith of the Church.” He said that baptism “inserts us into the body of the Church, the holy people of God,” where “faith is transmitted from generation to generation.”
This faith, Francis insisted, “is the faith of Mary, our Mother, the faith of St. Joseph, St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. John, the faith of the Apostles and Martyrs, which has come down to us through Baptism: a chain of handing on the faith.”
Finally, the Pope suggested that his hearers pay more attention to the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, he said “we are consecrated by the Holy Spirit.” The word “Christian” means that we are consecrated as Jesus was, anointed in “the same Spirit in whom Jesus was immersed throughout his earthly existence.”
He urged the parents and godparents, “if you want your children to become true Christians, help them grow up, ‘immersed’ in the Holy Spirit, that is, in the warmth of God’s love and in the light of his Word.”
He also invited them to pray more to the Holy Spirit. “We usually pray to Jesus,” Francis said. “When we pray the ‘Our Father,’ we pray to the Father. But we don’t pray so much to the Holy Spirit. It is so important to pray to the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome