VATICAN CITY — On Sunday, Pope Francis baptized 26 babies in the Sistine Chapel, telling parents to nurture the faith in the lives of their children, because it is the greatest inheritance they can give.
“Don’t forget that the greatest inheritance you can give to your children is the faith. Try to see that it is not lost; nurture it, and leave it as an inheritance,” the Pope said Jan. 10.
Francis celebrated Mass for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the Sistine Chapel, where he kept with papal tradition and baptized several infants. This year there were 13 girls and 13 boys.
In his brief homily, the Pope told parents that in bringing their children to the chapel to receive baptism, they are imitating the act of Mary and Joseph, who, 40 days after Jesus’ birth, brought him to the temple to present him to God.
“This is how faith is transmitted from one generation to the next, like a chain across time,” he said, referring to how it is faith that is received during the sacrament.
Eventually the infants baptized will grow up to be parents themselves and will ask the same thing for their own children, he observed: “the faith that is given in baptism, the faith which today brings the Holy Spirit into the hearts, souls and lives of these, your children.”
Pope Francis then pointed to the specific point in the rite of baptism in which the parents are handed a lit candle and told to safeguard the faith of their newly baptized babies.
He told them that faith is the greatest treasure they can leave their children and encouraged them to make this faith grow throughout the lives of their children.
“This is what I wish for you today, which is a joyful day for you. I hope that you will be able to help these children grow in the faith, and the greatest inheritance they can receive from you is the faith.”
In his Sunday Angelus remarks Pope Francis stressed the importance of both knowing and celebrating the day of our baptism, since it is through the sacrament that we become children of God.
“I ask you a question: Who among you remembers the day of their baptism?” the Pope asked Jan. 10, marking the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
“Certainly, not everyone” knows the date, he noted, and urged those who don’t to go and look for it, if necessary asking parents, grandparents, godparents or even their parish for help.
Baptism is important to celebrate because “it’s the date of our rebirth as children of God,” Francis said, and he gave those present “the homework” of finding the date of theirs during the coming week.
He asked pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square to offer special prayers for the infants be baptized before turning to the day’s Scripture passages.
In his reflections, the Pope recalled how when Jesus was baptized in the day’s Gospel, taken from Luke, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove.
With the Father’s words, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased,” Jesus is consecrated and becomes the awaited Messiah, Savior and liberator, he said.
He noted that in the event of Jesus’ baptism, the transition is made from John's baptism with water to the baptism of Jesus in “Spirit and fire.”
Francis said that the Holy Spirit is really the protagonist in the sacrament, since “he is the one who burns and destroys original sin, returning to baptism the beauty of divine grace.”
“It is he who liberates us from the dominion of darkness, which is sin, and brings us into the realm of light, which is love, truth and peace,” the Pope said, and encouraged attendees to think about the special dignity they are elevated to in receiving baptism, namely, that of becoming children of God.
The “stupendous reality” of being children of God brings with it the responsibility to follow Jesus, who is an obedient servant, he said. It also reproduces within us the features of Jesus, primarily those of meekness, humility and tenderness.
Pope Francis noted that it “isn’t easy” to do this, “especially if, inside of ourselves, there is so much intolerance, arrogance and harshness.” However, with the strength that comes from the Holy Spirit, “it’s possible!”
He explained that the Holy Spirit “opens our heart to the truth, to the entire truth,” and guides us down the difficult yet fulfilling path of charity and solidarity with those around us.
“The Spirit gives us the tenderness of divine forgiveness and pervades us with the invincible strength of the Father’s mercy,” he said, adding that the Holy Spirit is both a living and life-giving presence for those who accept it.
Francis closed his address by praying that Mary, the “first disciple of her Son,” would intercede in helping all to live their baptism with “joy and fervor” and to welcome every day the gift of the Holy Spirit, who makes us children of God.
After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, the Pope offered a special blessing to all children who have recently been baptized.
He also gave a special blessing to youth and adults who have recently received the sacraments of initiation — baptism, the Eucharist and confirmation — or who are preparing to do so.