April 17, 2000
volume 11, no. 76

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    Today we bring you the Holy Father's regular Papal Audience from last Wednesday where over 30,000 packed St. Peter's Square to hear the Vicar of Christ continue his catechesis on the Blessed Trinity. He spoke of his recent visit to the River Jordan, where the Father and the Holy Spirit were made manifest to mankind, as was the Son. The Pope's teaching makes the Trinity as meaningful to us today as the Holy Trinity was at the beginning of all the moment of creation. The full English text was translated and provided by ZENIT news agency ZE00041221 .

Holy Father's Wednesday Audience for April 12, 2000 from Saint Peter's Square

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    1. The reading just proclaimed takes us to the banks of the Jordan. Today we stop spiritually on the banks of the river that runs between the two biblical Testaments to complete the great epiphany of the Trinity on the day in which Jesus presents himself at the forefront of history, in those very waters, to begin his public ministry.

        Christian art personified this river under the semblance of an old man who witnesses with astonishment the vision that is fulfilled in his aquatic womb. In it, in fact, as the Byzantine liturgy states, "Christ the Sun bathes." On the morning of the day of the Theophany or Epiphany of Christ, this same liturgy imagines a dialogue with the river: "Jordan, what have you seen to be so intensely shaken? - I have seen the Invisible naked and I was shaking with tremor. Indeed, how can one not be agitated and submit before him? The angels tremble when they see him, the sky runs wild, the earth shakes, the sea moves back with all the visible and invisible beings. Christ appeared in the Jordan to sanctify all waters!"

    2. The presence of the Trinity in that event is clearly affirmed in all the evangelical narratives of the episode. Just a moment ago, we heard that broader description by Matthew that also introduces a dialogue between Jesus and the Baptist. The figure of Christ emerges at the center of the scene, the Messiah who completely fulfills every justice (Cf. Mt. 3,15). He is the one who fulfills the divine plan of salvation, placing himself humbly in solidarity with sinners.

        His voluntary acceptance of humiliation obtains a marvelous elevation for him: on him resounds the voice of the Father who proclaims him 'My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased' (Ibid., v. 17). It is a phrase that combines in itself two aspects of Jesus' Messianism: the davidic, through the evocation of royal poetry (Cf. Psalm 2,7) and the prophetic, through the quotation of the first song of the Servant of the Lord (Cf. Is 42,1). Therefore, one has the revelation of the intimate bond of love of Jesus with the heavenly Father together with his Messianic investiture before the whole of humanity.

    3. The Holy Spirit also erupts on the scene under the form of a "dove" that "descends and reposes" on Christ. We can take recourse to various biblical references to illustrate this picture: to the dove that indicates the end of the flood and the beginning of a new era (Cf. Gen 8,8-12; 1 Pt 3,20-21), to the dove of the Song of Songs, symbol of the beloved (Cf. Song 2,14; 5,2;6,9), to the dove that is almost a coat of arms to guide Israel in some Old Testament passages (Cf Hos 7,11; Psalm 68,14).

        In keeping with Genesis (Cf 1,2), an ancient Jewish commentary is significant, which speaks of the tender maternal fluttering of the Spirit over the primordial waters: "The Spirit of God fluttered over the surface of the waters like a dove that flutters over its offspring without touching them" (Talmud, Hagigah 15a). The Holy Spirit descends in Jesus as superabundant force of love. In referring to the Baptism of Jesus itself, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to 'rest on him'. Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind" (CCC 536).

    4. Therefore, the whole Trinity is present at the Jordan to reveal its mystery, authenticate and sustain the mission of Christ, and point out that with him the history of salvation enters its central and definitive phase. It also involves time and space, human ups and downs, and the cosmic order, but primarily the three divine Persons. The Father entrusts the Son with the mission to bring "justice" to fulfillment in the Spirit, namely divine salvation.

        In the 4th century, St. Chromatius, Bishop of Aquilea, state in one of his homilies on the baptism and on the Holy Spirit, "As our first creation was the work of the Trinity, so our second creation is the work of the Trinity. The Father does nothing without the Son and without the Holy Spirit, because the work of the Father is also of the Son and the work of the Son is also of the Holy Spirit. There is but one grace of the Trinity. Therefore, we are saved by the Trinity because in the beginning we were created by the Trinity alone" (Sermon 18A).

    5. After the baptism of Christ, the Jordan also became the river of Christian baptism: the water of the baptismal font is, according to a cherished tradition of the Eastern Church, a miniature Jordan. This is proven by the following liturgical prayer: "We pray to you now, O Lord, so that the purifying action of the Trinity may descend on the baptismal waters and give them the grace of the blessing of the Jordan in the strength, action and presence of the Holy Spirit" (Great Vespers of the Holy Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Blessing of the Waters).

        St. Paulinus of Nola seems to be inspired by a similar idea in some verses conceived as an instructive inscription for the baptistry: "This font, generator of souls in need of salvation, emits a living river of divine light. The Holy Spirit descends from heaven into this river and unites the sacred waters with the heavenly source; the wave becomes impregnated with God and from the eternal seed generates a holy progeny with its fertile waters" (Letter 32,5). Coming forth from the regenerating water of the baptismal font, the Christian begins his itinerary of life and testimony.


April 17, 2000
volume 10, no. 76

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