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Pope Francis: God’s Mercy in Baptism Is Stronger than Our Divisions

Jeffrey Bruno
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(FULL ENGLISH TEXT) Pope’s Wednesday catechesis during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

VATICAN CITY — At today’s general audience, as the Church celebrates Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25), Pope Francis emphasized the “common baptism” and “common mission” uniting Christians.

Citing the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio, n. 22 as a foundational text for his catechesis, the pope told pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall: “Baptism establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it.”

Unitatis redintegratio, n. 22 reads in full:

22. Whenever the Sacrament of Baptism is duly administered as Our Lord instituted it, and is received with the right dispositions, a person is truly incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ, and reborn to a sharing of the divine life, as the apostle says: “You were buried together with him in baptism, and in him also rose again — through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col. 2, 12; cf. Rom. 6, 4)

Baptism therefore establishes a sacramental bond of unity that links all who have been reborn by it. But of itself baptism is only a beginning, an inauguration wholly directed toward the fullness of life in Christ. Baptism, therefore, envisages a complete profession of faith, complete incorporation in the system of salvation such as Christ willed it to be, and finally complete ingrafting in eucharistic communion.

Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of orders, nevertheless when they commemorate his death and resurrection in the Lord’s Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to his coming in glory. Therefore, the teaching concerning the Lord’s Supper, the other sacraments, worship, the ministry of the Church, must be the subject of the dialogue.

The theme of the 2016 Week of Prayer is “Called to Proclaim the Mighty Acts of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:9). Reflecting on its significance for Christians today, the pope said: “The First Letter of Peter is directed to the first generation of Christians, to make them aware of the gift received in Baptism and the requirements it entails. We too, in this Week of Prayer, we are invited to rediscover this, and to do so together, going beyond our divisions.

“We are truly God’s holy people even if, on account of our sins, we are still not a people fully united,” he said. “The mercy of God at work in Baptism is stronger than our divisions. In the measure that we welcome the grace of mercy, we become ever more fully God’s people, and also become capable of proclaiming to everyone his marvelous works.”

Here below we publish a translation of the pope’s full catechesis.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Dear brothers and sisters,

Good morning.

We have listened to the biblical text which this year guides our reflection in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25. This passage from the First Letter of St. Peter was chosen by an ecumenical group from Latvia, tasked by the Ecumenical Council of Churches and by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

At the center of the Lutheran Cathedral of [the Latvian capital of] Riga, there is a baptismal font which dates back to the 12th century, to the time when Latvia was evangelized by St. Meinhard. That font is an eloquent sign of a source of faith recognized by all Christians of Latvia: Catholics, Lutherans and Orthodox. This source is our common baptism. The Second Vatican Council states that “baptism establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it” (Unitatis redintegratio, 22). The First Letter of Peter is directed to the first generation of Christians, to make them aware of the gift received in baptism and the requirements it entails. We too, in this Week of Prayer, we are invited to rediscover this, and to do so together, going beyond our divisions.

First, sharing baptism means that we are all sinners and need to be saved, redeemed, delivered from evil. This is the negative aspect, which the First Letter of Peter calls “darkness,” when he says: “[God] has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This is the experience of death that Christ made his own, and that is symbolized in Baptism by being immersed in water, which is followed by a re-emergence — a symbol of resurrection to new life in Christ. When we Christians say we share one baptism, we affirm that all of us — Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox — share the experience of being called from the merciless and alienating darkness to an encounter with the living God who is full of mercy. We all, unfortunately, experience selfishness, which generates division, closure, contempt. Beginning again from baptism means rediscovering the font of mercy, which is a font of hope for all, for no one is excluded from God’s mercy.

Sharing this grace creates an indissoluble bond between Christians such that, in virtue of baptism, we may all consider ourselves as truly brothers and sisters. We are truly God’s holy people even if, on account of our sins, we are still not a people fully united. The mercy of God at work in baptism is stronger than our divisions. In the measure that we welcome the grace of mercy, we become ever more fully God’s people, and also become capable of proclaiming to everyone his marvelous works, starting precisely with a simple and fraternal witness of unity. May we Christians proclaim to all the power of the Gospel, and commit ourselves to sharing in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. And this is a concrete witness of unity among Christians: Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics.

In conclusion, dear brothers and sisters, we all as Christians, through the grace of baptism, have obtained mercy from God, and we are all welcomed into his people. All of us, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, form a royal priesthood and a holy nation. This means we have a common mission, which is to share the mercy we ourselves have received with others, beginning with the poorest and most forgotten. During this Week of Prayer, let us pray that all of us who are disciples of Christ may find ways to work together, to bring the Father’s mercy to every part of the earth.

 

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

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