Pope Benedict XVI baptized 16 newborn babies during Sunday Mass within the historic surroundings of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on Jan. 8.
“We can say that this was your first educational choice as witnesses of the faith to your children: the fundamental choice,” said the Pope to the parents, godparents, families and friends.
The annual ceremony marks the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and thus, the conclusion of the Church’s Christmas celebrations. The Pope explained to those gathered that their role is now to educate their children in conjunction with God.
“Educating is very demanding; it is sometimes arduous because of our human capacities, which are always limited,” he said.
“But education becomes a wonderful mission if it is done in collaboration with God, who is the first and true educator of every man.”
To distance ourselves from God, though, is to become like the prodigal son because “we would soon find ourselves in trouble” and “above all we would lose our human dignity.”
“Fortunately for us,” he said, “we can always come back to Him,” knowing that when we do “it will bring forth good fruit in our lives, as the rain irrigates the earth.”
That is why the parents and godparents turn to “the source of salvation,” that is “the Word of God and the Sacraments.”
Parents, like priests, are not “the source” of a spiritual education but are "like the channels through which the lifeblood of the love of God must pass.” Therefore, the first and best way to educate children “is through witness.”
Pope Benedict pointed to how John the Baptist lead his disciples to Jesus in today's Gospel as a model for educating people in the faith.
“The true teacher does not bind people to him, he is not possessive,” but instead, he or she “wants the son or disciple, to learn to know the truth, and establish a personal relationship with it,” the Pope said. Therefore, while a “true teacher” will always provide an “attentive and faithful presence,” the primary goal is that “the student will listen to the voice of truth speaking to his heart and pursue a personal journey.”
Since parents and godparents are aided in their task of imparting the faith by the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict said it is “very important” for them to "believe strongly" in his presence and action, and to welcome and invoke Him “through prayer and the sacraments.”
For it is the Holy Spirit “who enlightens the mind, warms the heart of the educator so they know how to pass on the knowledge and love of Jesus,” the Pope explained.
When parents begin to educate their children in the faith, they must begin with prayer, because “in prayer we leave the initiative to God, we entrust our children to Him, who knows them before and better than us, and knows exactly what their true good is.”
It is also in prayer that “we are listening for God’s inspiration so we may do our part well, which still is our task and which we must achieve,” the Pope said.
He also suggested that a sacramental life is equally crucial for parents and godparents – particularly the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist – so that the task of education is carried out “in communion with Him and (they are) constantly renewed by his forgiveness.”
By remaining rooted in prayer and the sacraments, parents will know when to “keep silent and when to speak” to their children, as well as when to be tender or firm.