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Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
Castel Gondolfo, Wednesday 6 September 1989 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. When the Church, originating in the sacrifice of the cross, began her early journey by means of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the upper room at Pentecost, "her time" began. "It was the time of the Church" as collaborator of the Spirit in the mission of making the redemption by Christ fruitful among humanity from generation to generation. In this mission and in collaboration with the Spirit, the Church realizes the sacramentality which the Second Vatican Council attributes to her when it teaches: "The Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (LG 1). This sacramentality has a deep significance in relation to the mystery of Pentecost, which gives the Church the strength and the charisms to work visibly among the whole human family.

2. In this catechesis we wish to consider principally the relationship between Pentecost and the sacrament of Baptism. We know that the coming of the Holy Spirit had been announced at the Jordan together with the coming of Christ. John the Baptist was to link the two comings, and indeed to show their intimate connection when speaking of baptism: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mk 1:8). "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11). This link between the Holy Spirit and fire is found in the context of biblical language, which already in the Old Testament showed fire as the means adopted by God to purify consciences (cf. Is 1:25; 6:5-7; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3; Sir 2:5 etc.). In its turn, the baptism practiced in Judaism and in other ancient religious was a ritual immersion, which signified a regenerating purification. John the Baptist had adopted this practice of baptizing with water, while emphasizing that its value was not merely ritual but oral, because it was "for conversion" (cf. Mt 3:2, 6, 8, 11; Lk 3:10-14). Besides, it was a kind of initiation through which those who received it became the Baptist's disciples and formed around him a community characterized by its eschatological expectation of the Messiah (cf. Mt 3:2, 11; Jn 1:13-14). Nevertheless, it was a baptism with water. It therefore did not have the power of sacramental purification. Such power would have been characteristic of the baptism of fire—in itself an element much more powerful than water—brought by the Messiah. John proclaimed the preparatory and symbolic function of his baptism in relation to the Messiah, who was to baptize "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11; cf. 3, 7, 10, 12: Jn 1:33). He added that the Messiah would thoroughly purify with the fire of the Spirit those who were well disposed, gathered like "wheat in the granary." Yet he would burn "the chaff...with unquenchable fire" (Mt 3:12), like the "hell of fire" (cf. Mt 18:8-9), a symbol of the end destined for all who did not let themselves be purified (cf. Is 66:24; Jdt 16:17; Sir 7:17; Zeph 1:18; Ps 21:10, etc.).

3. While developing his role as prophet and precursor along the lines of Old Testament symbolism, the Baptist one day met Jesus by the Jordan. He recognized him as the Messiah, proclaimed that he is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29), and baptized him at his request (cf. Mt 3:14-15). Yet at the same time he testified to the messiahship of Jesus, whose mere announcer and precursor he claimed to be. This testimony of John was supplemented by his own statement to his disciples and hearers concerning the experience which he had on that occasion, and which perhaps had reminded him of the Genesis narrative about the end of the flood (cf. Gen 8:10): "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me: 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit...'" (Jn 1:32-33; cf. Mt 3:16; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:22).

"Baptizing in the Holy Spirit" means regenerating humanity with the power of God's Spirit. That is what the Messiah does. As Isaiah had foretold (11:2; 42:1), the Spirit rests on him, filling his humanity with divine strength, from his Incarnation to the fullness of the resurrection after his death on the cross (cf. Jn 7:29; 14:26; 16:7, 8; 20:22; Lk 24:49). Having acquired this fullness, Jesus the Messiah can give the new baptism in the Spirit of whom he is full (cf. Jn 1:33; Acts 1:5). From his glorified humanity, as from a fountain of living water, the Spirit will flow over the world (cf. Jn 7:37-39; 19:34; cf. Rom 5:5). This is the announcement which the Baptist made when bearing witness to Christ on the occasion of his baptism, in which are found the symbols of water and fire, expressing the mystery of the new life-giving energy which the Messiah and the Spirit have poured out on the world.

4. During his ministry, Jesus also spoke of his passion and death as a baptism which he himself must receive: a baptism, because he must be totally immersed in the suffering symbolized by the cup which he must drink (cf. Mk 10:38; 14:36). But it was a baptism which Jesus connected to the other symbol of fire. In this it is easy enough to glimpse the Spirit who "pours out" his humanity, and who one day, after the fire of the cross, would flow over the world. He would spread the baptism of fire which Jesus so longed to receive that he was in anguish until it was accomplished in him (cf. Lk 12:50).

5. In the Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem I wrote: "The Old Testament on several occasions speaks of fire from heaven which burnt the oblations presented by men. By analogy one can say that the Holy Spirit is the fire from heaven which works in the depths of the mystery of the cross. The Holy Spirit as Love and Gift comes down, in a certain sense, into the very heart of the sacrifice which is offered on the cross. Referring here to the biblical tradition we can say: he consumes this sacrifice with the fire of the love which united the Son with the Father in the trinitarian communion. And since the sacrifice of the cross is an act proper to Christ, also in this sacrifice he receives the Holy Spirit. He receives the Holy Spirit in such a way that afterward—and he alone with God the Father—can give him to the apostles, to the Church, to humanity. He alone sends the Spirit from the Father. He alone appears to the apostles in the upper room, breathes on them and says: 'Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sons of any, they are forgiven' (cf. Jn 20:23)" (n. 41).

6. Thus John's messianic announcement at the Jordan is fulfilled: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11; cf. Lk 3:16). Here also is found the realization of the symbolism by which God himself is shown as a column of fire which guides the people through the desert (cf. Ex 13:21-22); as the word of fire through which "the mountain (Sinai) burned with fire to the heart of heaven" (Dt 4:11); as a fire of ardent glory with love for Israel (cf. Dt 4:24). What Christ himself promised when he said that he had come to cast fire on the earth (cf. Lk 12:49) is fulfilled, while the Book of Revelation would say of him that his eyes are blazing like a fire (cf. Rev 1:14; 2:18; 19-12). Thus it is clear that the Holy Spirit is represented by the fire (cf. Acts 2:3). All this happens in the paschal mystery, when Christ "received the baptism with which he himself was to be baptized" (cf. Mk 10:38) in the sacrifice on the cross, and in the mystery of Pentecost, when the risen and glorified Christ pours his Spirit on the apostles and on the Church.

According to St. Paul, by that "baptism of fire" received in his sacrifice, Christ in his resurrection became the "last Adam," "a life-giving spirit" (cf. 1 Cor 15:45). For this reason the risen Christ announced to the apostles: "John baptized with water but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5). By the work of the "last Adam," Christ, "the life-giving Spirit" (cf. Jn 6:83) would be given to the apostles and to the Church.

7. On the day of Pentecost this baptism is revealed. It is the new and final baptism which purifies and sanctifies through a new life. It is the baptism in virtue of which the Church is born in the eschatological perspective which extends "to the close of the age" (cf. Mt 28:20); not merely the Church of Jerusalem of the apostles and the Lord's immediate disciples, but the entire Church, taken in her universality, realized through the times and in the places where she is established on earth.

The tongues of fire which accompanied the Pentecost event in the upper room at Jerusalem are the sign of that fire which Jesus Christ brought and enkindled on earth (cf. Lk 12:43): the fire of the Holy Spirit.

8. In the light of Pentecost we can also understand better the significance of Baptism as a first sacrament, insofar as it is a work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself had referred to it in his conversation with Nicodemus: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:5). In this same conversation Jesus referred also to his future death on the cross (cf. Jn 3:14-15) and to his heavenly glory (cf. Jn 3:13). It is the baptism of the sacrifice, from which the baptism by water, the first sacrament of the Church, received power to effect her birth from the Holy Spirit and to open to humanity the "entrance to God's kingdom." Indeed, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? We are buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:3-4). This baptismal walk in newness of life began on Pentecost day at Jerusalem.

9. Several times in his letters the Apostle points out the significance of Baptism (cf. 1 Cor 6:11; Tit 3:5; 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13). He sees it as a "washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Tit 3:5); a portent of justification "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 6:11; cf. 2 Cor 1:22); as a "seal of the promised Holy Spirit" (cf. Eph 1:13); as "a guarantee of the Spirit in our hearts" (cf. 2 Cor 1:22). Given this presence of the Holy Spirit in the baptized, the Apostle recommends to the Christians of that time and also repeats to us today: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30).


After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

MIT DESEN KURZEN Ausführungen über unseren Glauben grüße ich Euch Pilger und Besucher aus den verschiedenen deutschsprachigen Ländern. Ich bitte Euch, seid stets bestrebt, dem Heiligen Geist in Eurem Leben Raum zu geben. Er ist es, der alles Gute in uns bewirkt und dessen Siegel wir für den Tag der Erlösung tragen. Hierfür erteile ich Euren Familien, sowie den über Radio Vatikan mit uns verbundenen Hörerinnen und Hörern von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus! 

Ad un gruppo di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’ACCUEUILLE AVEC PLAISIR les visiteurs et les pèlerins de langue française.

J’offre mes félicitations et mes vœux aux Sœurs de Kermaria qui célèbrent le quarante-cinquième anniversaire de leur profession religieuse. Avec vous, je rends grâce et je prie le Seigneur de vous aider à poursuivre votre route dans la joie.

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JE VOUDRAIS AUSSI dire mon salut aux autorités municipales de Mont-sur-Rolle, dans le canton de Vaud. Je leur souhaite un heureux accomplissement de leurs charges au service de leurs concitoyens.

A tous, je donne volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I WISH TO WELCOME the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors among us. I extend a warm greeting to the group of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who are metting in Rome during these days. May your prayers and meditation at the sacred shrines of this City inspire within you a deeper love for Christ and the mystery of his Church. My cordial welcome also goes to the children of Saint Mary’s School in Scotland, and the pilgrimage groups from Norway, the Gambia and the United States. To all of you I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ad un pellegrinaggio proveniente dal Giappone 

SALUTO GLI ILLUSTRISSIMI bonzi giapponesi che hanno partecipato all’Incontro internazionale di preghiera per la pace a Varsavia. Saluto pure le dilettissime studentesse dell’Università Cattolica di Nanzan.

Siamo tutti impegnati nell’edificazione di una pace vera e duratura nel mondo. Per questo scopo dobbiamo altresì educare tutti i giovani alla solidarietà universale e alla pace. Questo è pure l’augurio che formulo a tutti voi e nello stesso tempo vi ringrazio di cuore per la vostra visita. 

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

DESEO AHORA saludar cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, saludo a los integrantes del Movimiento Apostólico “Regnum Christi”, a la peregrinación franciscana de México y a los jóvenes de Costa Rica.

Están también presentes numerosas peregrinaciones parroquiales españolas, a quienes saludo afectuosamente.

A todos bendigo de corazón.  

Ai gruppi di lingua portoghese 

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

SAÚDO CORDIALMENTE quantos me ouvem, nesta Audiência, desejandolhes felicidades; e dou boas-vindas aos visitantes do Brasil, de São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro e Poços de Caldas, bem como aos grupos paroquiais de Porto Alegre e de Florianópolis; e com a mesma estima, aos que provêm de Portugal, ao grupo folclórico de Moreira de Maia e à peregrinação das Irmãs Franciscanas Hospitaleiras da Imaculada Conceição. E a todos, como lembrança do encontro, digo:

Imploro do Senhor que se tornem cada vez mais cônscios da presença do Espírito que dá a vida: do amor de Deus, derramado nos corações pelo Espírito Santo que nos foi dado. Com a minha Bênção, extensiva aos que lhes são queridos. 

Ai suoi connazionali polacchi 

WITAM WSZYSTKICH pielgrzymów, poczynając od abpa Kozłowieckiego i ks. bpa Rozwadowskiego; witam pielgrzymów z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Krakowa-Łagiewnik; z parafii św. Stanisława Kostki z Warszawy; z parafii Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej z Zielonki koło Warszawy; służbę zdrowia z diecezji częstochowskiej; pielgrzymów z parafii św. Teresy, księża salezjanie z Łodzi; duszpasterstwo akademickie “Węzeł”, księża salezjanie z Łodzi; pielgrzymkę redakcji wydawnictw i drukarni Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego; prawników z archidiecezji w Błalymstoku; pielgrzymów z parafii św. Jacka ze Słupska; z parafii św. Augustyna z Wrocławia, ojcowie kapucyni; z parafii Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny z Lubinia, księża salezjanie; świeckich studentów teologii filii Uniwersytetu Katolickiego w Opolu; współpracowników misyjnych sióstr pallotynek; współpracowników misyjnych księży pallotynów z całej Polski; chór górniczy “PoloniaHarmonia” z kopalni “Andaluzja” w Piekarach Śląskich; młodzież II Liceum Ogólnokształcącego im. Romualda Traugutta w Częstochowie; młodzież Liceum Ogólnokształcącego z Torunia; służbę zdrowia z Centralnego Szpitala Kolejowego w Warszawie-Międzylesiu; grupę harcerzy Harctur z Poznania; grupę Towarzystwa Przyjażni Polsko-Włoskiej z Gdańska; grupę z Ursusa koło Warszawy; grupy z Bydgoszczy i Piły; delegację Klubu UNESCO z Warszawy i Pizy; pielgrzymów z paraffi św. Barłomieja z Gliwic; z parafii Niepokalanego Serca Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Strumianach koło Wieliczki; Towarzystwo Przyjaźni Polsko-Włoskiej z Katowic; Towarzystwo Miłosników Sławkowa; uczestników grup turystycznych Orbisu, PKS-u z całej Polski i Turysty. 

Ai diversi gruppi italiani 

Rivolgo ora il mio cordiale saluto ai pellegrini provenienti da Grumo Nevano, in Diocesi di Aversa. La folta rappresentanza ecclesiale e civile della vostra città, carissimi, testimonia l’unità di fondo del vostro popolo, cementata dalla fede. La costruzione della nuova chiesa parrocchiale - che volentieri benedico - sia motivo di crescita nella comunione e scuola di solidarietà e di servizio. 

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Saluto con gioia i partecipanti della manifestazione nazionale dei CRAL delle varie regioni italiane. Vi auguro che i diversi itinerari turistici e le vivaci iniziative sportive di questa settimana romana possano essere occasione per un sano riposo ed un sereno arricchimento dello spirito. 

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Saluto anche i ciclo-amatori milanesi dell’Unione Sportiva Acli e do il benvenuto agli aderenti alla Libera Associazione Invalidi Civili. A tutti vada il mio pensiero benedicente, nel ricordo delle parole del Signore: “Amatevi gli uni gli altri, come io ho amato voi”. 

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Nel salutare infine, le religiose della Compagnia di Maria Nostra Signora, penso con affetto a tutte le religiose e i religiosi presenti.

A tutti la mia Apostolica Benedizione. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Desidero ora rivolgere il mio affettuoso saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati, agli sposi novelli, che in questi giorni si trovano, pellegrini, a Roma.

Carissimi, nei prossimi giorni celebreremo la Natività di Maria Santissima, la Madre del Salvatore e nostra, la Madre della grazia divina.

Voi, giovani, sappiate rivolgervi a Lei, con preghiera incessante, perché vi sia sempre compagna, esempio e guida nel perseguire, come veri discepoli del Signore, la mèta della perfezione cristiana.

Voi, ammalati, siate consapevoli che colei che ci è stata affidata come Mamma, ai piedi della Croce, vi è vicina col suo sguardo di predilezione, per esservi di sostegno nella prova e di speranza nelle tribolazioni.

E voi, sposi novelli, abbiate sempre in Maria Santissima non solo il più significativo modello, per la vostra vita familiare, ma anche l’aiuto più efficace nel quotidiano impegno per rinnovare la grazia del sacramento nuziale che avete ricevuto.

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