The National Catholic Review

Pope Francis on the meaning of baptism

Jan 15 2014 - 10:47am | From CNS, Staff and other sources

Pope Francis spoke about the meaning of baptism at his weekly general audience Jan. 15.


Robert Helfman | 1/19/2014 - 1:10pm

I have nothing but praise and thanksgiving for the role Pope Francis is playing in the church. However, I am reminded that baptism includes all Christians, Protestant or Catholic. Just as those outside the faith are not excluded from the mercy of God, neither are our Protestant brothers and sisters.
It is an ever-present thorn in the side of the established order that there are so many separated brethren with competing ecclesiologies. We still read triumphalist comments about the Roman Catholic communion and the errors of the Protestant Reformation while more enlightend thinkers in the Church have a more inclusive (and to my mind, a more mature) understanding of reality. It may be a good thing to preseve the integrity of the various forms of worship and traditions that exist within the multiple expressions of Christian faith and worship.
I find it disturbing that while the integrity of the various expressions of Christianity may need to preserve their particular forms of worship and piety with Canon laws and regulations, on the level of charity prayer and good will a more enlightened attitude does not exist among many devout Catholics.
I do no believe that Christ's church, per se, includes only Roman Catholics even should I have the privilege of calling myself Catholic by virtue of adult baptism and confirmation. I have done my homework, I have read my Bible, aqainted myself with the history of Christianity (and bloody it is, indeed) and find no cause or point of pride that would allow me to call myself a believer in an exclusive club of true believers confined within the boundaries of an institutional church.
I do not believe Christ taught this, I do not believe it is the will of God and the smug satisfaction many catholics express with their pious superiority is regrettable. The divisions in Christianity are a scandal for anyone not indoctrinated by the pious amnesia that lets us forget the past and live in a fairy-tale present of innerancy and infallibility.
I have read the Prophets and the Gospels and they speak of a piece. The message is coherent and the truth remains available to any who seek it with diligence. If we must assume that all Truth has already been revealed and there is nothing more to learn of God or the Kingdom of God we miss a deeper understanding of the love of God and divine wisdom-Sophia, as the Greek has it.
My understanding of church is spiritual, its essence invisible, the God we worship and love albeit imperfectly a God of surprises-witness our current Pope. If were to imagine the implications of some of the things Pope Francis has said, the institutional church would be less important than the mission of Christ in the world and the Holy Spirit living within us and among us. Further, the logical implications of some of his statements have deconstructed the Papacy and called for a renewed ecumenical understanding even while formal structures remain in place.
One cannot take sides in the Protestant-Catholic divide (I speak for myself). If we are not co-workers in the Lord's vineyard even while separated in time and in understanding of one another, then what are we? What are we to make of the Gospel call to reconciliation when we cannot be reconciled to one another? I suggest that the divisions in Christianity redound to the salvation of the unbeliever in the same way the salvation of the Gentiles was made possible by the unbelief of the Jews in St. Paul's day-that God may have mercy on all. While Pope Francis has not been explicit in saying so, I think it clear that I may arrive at the above theological speculation in good conscience, both from what he has said and my understanding of the Word of God.