At the General Audience on Wednesday, 8 September, the Holy Father continued his series of catecheses on Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians, highlighting his insistence that everyone is equal through Christ’s redemption and the baptism we have received. However, he said, millions of people in the world do not have the right to eat, to education, and to work. They are the new slaves, the ones who live on the margins, exploited by everyone. The following is a translation of Pope Francis’ words which he shared with the faithful gathered in the Paul vi Hall.
Brothers and Sisters,
Let us continue our journey in deepening the faith — our faith — in the light of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. The Apostle is insistent with those Christians so they would not forget the novelty of God’s revelation that had been proclaimed to them. Completely in agreement with the evangelist John (cf. 1 Jn 3:1-2), Paul emphasises that faith in Jesus Christ allowed us to truly become children of God and also his heirs. We Christians often take for granted this reality of being God’s children. Instead, it is good to remember with gratitude the moment in which we became such, the moment of our baptism, so as to live the great gift we received with greater awareness.
If I were to ask you today, “who among you knows the exact date of your baptism?”, I do not think there would be too many hands raised. Yet, it is the day on which we were saved, it is the day on which we became children of God. Now, those who do not know it should ask their godparents, their dad, their mom, an uncle, an aunt: “When was I baptised”? And that day should be remembered each year: it is the day on which we became children of God. Agreed? Will you do this? [The crowd responds: yes.] It is a so-so “yes”, isn’t it? [Laughter]. Let us proceed.
In fact, once “faith has come” in Jesus Christ (v. 25), a radically new condition was created that leads to divine sonship. The sonship of which Paul speaks is no longer a general one involving all men and women insofar as they are sons and daughters of the same Creator. No, in the passage we have heard, he affirms that faith allows us to be children of God “in Christ” (v. 26). This is what is new. This “in Christ” is what makes the difference. Not just children of God, like everyone: all men and women are children of God, all of them, regardless of the religion we embrace. No. But “in Christ”, is what makes the difference for Christians, and this happens only by participating in Christ’s redemption, and in us, in the sacrament of baptism: this is how it begins. Jesus became our brother, and by his death and resurrection he reconciled us with the Father. Anyone who accepts Christ in faith, has “put on” Christ and his filial dignity through baptism (cf. v. 27).
In his Letters, Saint Paul makes several references to baptism. For him, to be baptised was the same as taking part effectively and truly in the mystery of Jesus. For example, in the Letter to the Romans, he would even go so far as to say that in baptism we have died with Christ and have been buried with him so as to live with him (cf. 6:3-14). Died with Christ, buried with him so as to live with him. This is the grace of baptism: to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism, therefore, is not merely an external rite. Those who receive it are transformed deep within, in their inmost being, and possess new life, which is precisely what allows them to turn to God and call on him with the name of “Abba”, that is, “dad”. “Father”? No: “dad” (cf. Gal 4:6).
The Apostle audaciously states that the identity received with baptism is so completely new that it prevails over the differences that exist on the ethnic-religious level. That is, he explains it thus: “There is neither Jew nor Greek”, even on the social plain, “there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal 3:28). We often read these expressions too quickly, without grasping the revolutionary value they possess. For Paul, to write to the Galatians that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek” was equivalent to an authentic subversion in the ethnic-religious sphere. By the fact of belonging to a chosen people, the Jew was privileged over the pagan (cf. Rom 2:17-20). And Paul himself affirms this (cf. Rom 9:4-5). It is not surprising, therefore, that this new teaching by the Apostle could sound heretical. “What, everyone equal? We are different”! It sounds a bit heretical, doesn’t it? Even the second set of equalities, between those who were “free” and those who were “slaves”, introduced a shocking perspective. The distinction between slaves and free citizens was vital in ancient society. By law, free citizens enjoyed all rights, while the human dignity of slaves was not even recognized. This happens even today. There are many people in the world, many, millions, who do not have the right to eat, who do not have the right to education, who do not have the right to work. They are the new slaves. They are the ones who live on the margins, who are exploited by everyone. Slavery exists even today. Let us think a little bit about this. We deny these people human dignity. They are slaves. And, finally, equality in Christ overcomes the social differences between the two sexes, establishing an equality between man and woman which was revolutionary at the time and which needs to be reaffirmed even today. This needs to be reaffirmed even today. How many times we hear expressions that denigrate women! How often have we heard: “But no, do not do anything, those are women’s concerns”. But, look, men and women have the same dignity. And there is in history and even today, a slavery of women: women do not have the same opportunities as men. We have to read what Paul says: we are equal in Christ Jesus.
As we can see, Paul confirms the profound unity that exists between all the baptised, whatever condition they are bound to, whether men or women — equal because each of them is a new creature in Christ. Every distinction becomes secondary to the dignity of being children of God, who, through his love, creates a real and substantial equality. Everyone, through Christ’s redemption and the baptism we received, we are all equal: children of God. Equal.
Brothers and sisters, we are, therefore, called in a more positive way to live a new life that roots its foundational expression in being children of God. Equal because we are children of God; and children of God because Jesus Christ redeemed us and we attained this dignity through baptism. It is decisive even for all of us today to rediscover the beauty of being children of God, of being brothers and sisters among ourselves, because we have been united in Christ, who redeemed us. The differences and contrasts that create separation should not exist among believers in Christ. And one of the apostles, in the Letter of James, says this: “Be aware about differences, because it is not right that when someone enters the assembly (that is, the Mass) wearing a gold ring and well-dressed; ‘Ah, come up here, up here!’, and they give him one of the front seats. Then, if someone else enters who, poor thing, can barely cover himself and one can tell that he is poor, poor, poor, ‘Yes, yes have a seat over there, in the back’. We create these differences, many times unconsciously. No, we are equal! Our vocation is rather that of making concrete and evident the call to unity of the entire human race (cf Conc. Ecum. Vat. II , Cost. Lumen gentium, 1). Everything that exacerbates differences between people, often causing discrimination — all of this, before God, no longer has any basis, thanks to the salvation effected in Christ. What matters is that faith that operates according to the path of unity indicated by the Holy Spirit. And our responsibility is that of journeying decisively on this path of equality, but an equality that is sustained, that was created by the redemption of Jesus. And do not forget when you go home: “When was I baptised”? Inquiring. so as to always have the date in mind. And also celebrating when the date comes. Thank you.
I cordially greet the English-speaking faithful. My thoughts turn especially to young people returning to school in the coming weeks. Dear young people, may this academic year be for all of you a time of educational growth and deepening of the bonds of friendship. Upon you and your families I invoke the wisdom and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!
Lastly, as usual, my thoughts turn to the elderly, to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Today we are celebrating the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. May this feast day remind us that God is faithful to his promises and, through Most Holy Mary, he wished to live in our midst. May the joy of welcoming his presence of peace and joy, be within each of you.