Four women from the Ukrainian feminist group Femen shed their shirts and bared their breasts during Pope Benedict’s Sunday audience in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, January 13; but the pontiff remained unruffled, delivering a beautiful reflection on the sacrament of Baptism.
The women had painted “In Gay We Trust” and “Shut Up” on their bodies, protesting against the Catholic Church and its stand on homosexuality.
Their protest was cut short, though; as Vatican security officials led the four away, the Pope told thousands of pilgrims gathered in a light rain in St. Peter’s Square to “contemplate our share in the divine life through the gift of the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism.”
Earlier in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Benedict had celebrated the traditional liturgy for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, baptizing twenty infants. In his Angelus address, he encouraged all Christians to rediscover the beauty of being born again from above, from the love of God, and to live as a child of God.
Following is Vatican Radio’s unofficial translation of the Pope’s beautiful Angelus address:
This Sunday after the Epiphany ends the liturgical season of Christmas time: time of light, the light of Christ, as new sun appearing on the horizon of humanity, dispels the darkness of evil and ignorance. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus: the Child, the son of the Virgin, whom we contemplated in the mystery of his birth, we see today an adult emerging himself in the waters of the Jordan River, thus sanctifying the waters and the entire cosmos – as evidenced by the Eastern tradition.
But why did Jesus, in whom there was no shadow of sin, go to be baptized by John? Because he wanted to make that gesture of penance and conversion, along with so many people who wanted to prepare for the coming of the Messiah? That gesture – which marks the beginning of Jesus’ public life, takes the same line of the Incarnation, of God’s descent from the highest to the abyss of hell.
The meaning of this downward movement of God can be summed up in one word: love, which is the name of God. The Apostle John writes: “In this was manifested the love of God in us, that God sent into the world his only Son so that we might live through him” and He sent him” as a victim of expiation for our sins “(1 Jn 4.9 to 10). That is why the first public act of Jesus was His baptism by John, who, seeing him, said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).
The Evangelist Luke recounts that when Jesus once baptised, “was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit in a bodily shape like a dove descended upon him, and a voice came from heaven: “You are the Son my beloved, in you I am well pleased ‘”(3:21-22).
This Jesus is the Son of God who is totally immersed in the will of the Father’s love. This Jesus is the One who died on the cross and resurrected by the power of the same Spirit that now rests upon Him, and consecrates him. This Jesus is the new man who wants to live as a son of God, that is in love; the man who, in the face of evil in the world, chooses the path of humility and responsibility, chooses not to save himself but give his own life for truth and justice.
Being Christian means living like this, but this kind of life involves a rebirth: reborn from above, from God, by grace. This rebirth is Baptism, which Christ has given to the Church to regenerate men to new life. An ancient text attributed to St. Hippolytus says: “Who enters with faith in this bath of rebirth, renounces the devil and sides with Christ, denies the enemy and recognizes that Christ is God, is stripped of slavery and is clothed in filial adoption “(Discourse on the epiphany, 10: PG 10, 862).
According to tradition, this morning I had the joy of baptising a large group of children who were born in the last three or four months. At this time I would like to extend my prayer and my blessing to all newborns, but especially encourage everyone to make a memorial of his or her own Baptism, to the spiritual rebirth that has opened the way to eternal life. May every Christian, in this Year of Faith, rediscover the beauty of being born again from above, from the love of God, and live as a child of God.