With all the sensational headlines lately a home run of Pope Benedict "lecto divina " on Baptism was missed by many. Observations and the full text is here The Hidden Treasure of Pope Ratzinger: The Homilies on Baptism
The lectio divina that Benedict XVI held on the evening of June 11 at the basilica of Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome. It is a reallya good overview of Baptism.
There are some ancient roots and meanings of the Baptism liturgy that I was not aware of till I read this today.
Let's begin with the first part, the renunciations. There are three, and I will take the second one first: "Do you renounce the seduction of evil so as not to allow yourself to be dominated by sin?"
What are these seductions of evil? In the ancient Church, and for centuries afterward, there was this expression: "Do you renounce the pomp of the devil?" and today we know what was meant by this expression "pomp of the devil." The pomp of the devil was above all the grand bloody spectacles in which cruelty becomes entertainment, in which killing men becomes a spectacular thing: spectacle, the life and death of a man. These bloody spectacles, this enjoyment of evil is the "pomp of the devil," where it appears with apparent beauty and, in reality, appears with all its cruelty.
But beyond this immediate meaning of the term "pomp of the devil," there was an intention to speak of a type of culture, of a way of life in which what counts is not the truth but the appearance, what is sought is not the truth but the effect, the sensation, and under the pretext of truth, in reality, men are destroyed, the intention is to destroy and create only oneself as victor.
Therefore, this renunciation was very real, it was the renunciation of a type of culture that is an anti-culture, against Christ and against God. One was deciding against a culture that, in the Gospel of Saint John, is called "kosmos houtos," "this world." With "this world," naturally, John and Jesus are not speaking of God's creation, of man as such, but they are speaking of a certain creature that is dominant and imposes itself as if it were this world, and as if this were the way of living that is imposed.
I will now leave it to each one of you to reflect on this "pomp of the devil," on this culture to which we say "no." Being baptized means precisely a substantial emancipation, a liberation from this culture. Today as well we know a type of culture in which the truth does count. Even if there is the apparent desire to make all truth appear, the only thing that counts is the sensation and the spirit of calumny and destruction. A culture that does not seek the good, the moralism of which is in reality a mask to confuse, to create confusion and destruction. Against this culture, in which lying presents itself in the guise of truth and of information, against this culture that seeks only material prosperity and denies God, we say "no." We also know well from many Psalms this contrast of a culture in which one seems incapable of being touched by all the evils of the world, one places oneself above all, above God, while in reality it is a culture of evil, a dominion of evil.
And thus the decision of Baptism, this part of the catechumenal journey that lasts our whole lives, is precisely this "no," spoken and realized anew each day, including with the sacrifices that come from opposing the culture that is dominant in many parts, even if it were imposed as if it were the world, this world: it is not true. And there are also many who really desire the truth.
The Pope hits many other facets of Baptism and also discusses why we Baptize Children.
In the end there remains the question – just a quick word here – of the Baptism of children. It is right to do this, or is it rather necessary to to make the catechumenal journey first in order to arrive at a truly realized Baptism?
And the other question that is always raised is: "But can we impose on a child what religion he wants to live or not? Shouldn't we leave that decision to the child?"
These questions show that we no longer see in the Christian faith the new life, the true life, but we see one choice among others, even a burden that should not be imposed without the assent of the subject.
The reality is different. Life itself is given to us without our being able to choose whether we want to live or not. No one is asked: "do you want to be born or not?" Life itself is necessarily given to us without previous consent, it is given to us in this way and we cannot decide beforehand "yes or no, I want to live or not."
And in reality, the true question is: "Is it right to give life in this way without having received the consensus: do you want to live or not? Can one really anticipate life, give life without the subject having the possibility of deciding?" I would say: it is possible and it is right only if, together with life, we can also give the guarantee that life, with all the problems of the world, is good, that it is good to live, that there is a gurantee that this life is good, is protected by God and is a true gift.
Only the anticipation of meaning justifies the anticipation of life. And thus Baptism as guarantee of the goodness of God, as anticipation of meaning, of the "yes" of God that protects this life, also justifies the anticipation of life.
Therefore, the Baptism of children is not contrary to freedom. It is really necessary to give this in order to justify as well the gift – highly debatable – of life. Only the life that is in the hands of God, in the hands of Christ, immersed in the name of the triune God, is certainly a gift that can be given without scruples