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Summary: Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God to humanity. Any private revelations that may come after Him must point to Him and do not have the authority of public revelation.

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January 9, 2012

The Baptism of the Lord

Verbum Domini

Today’s feast, which usually occurs on a Sunday, commemorates one of the three great Epiphanies of Jesus. Jesus’s birth was obscure, his cradle a feed-box, with cows and sheep and a few shepherds to announce Him. The great commotion in Jerusalem caused by the Magi was the first real manifestation to the world. We call that the Epiphany–the revelation of the Word. But Jesus was also manifest at Jordan’s stream, prophet, priest and king supreme, and a few weeks later at Cana, when the guest became the host and changed water into the finest wine, the promised sign of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus was baptized not because He needed to repent of sin. His sinless nature, a pure human nature united perfectly and personally with the divine, was proclaimed by the Church from the earliest days. Jesus was baptized in order to transform the meaning and effect of baptism. In John’s hands, baptism was a kind of personal Yom Kippur, a day of atonement in which the man or woman repented of sins and promised a change of life. After Jesus’s baptism, death and resurrection, baptism, received in faith, actually took away all sins and gave the grace of a new life of constant metanoia, change for the better. This is part of the public revelation handed down in the Church for all generations.

As the Holy Father writes in Verbum Domini, Jesus gives all creation, all history, a definitive meaning. We live and breath in a kind of sacred rhythm in and with the Word of God. Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God, is the “culmination of revelation, the fulfilment of God’s promises and the mediator of the encounter between man and God.” The Father, as John of the Cross wrote, spoke everything at once in this one Word. What the Father spoke before in the prophets’ words and writing, piecemeal, “he has spoken all at once by giving us this All who is his Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely on Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.”

Here the Holy Father takes a paragraph to “help the faithful to distinguish the word of God from private revelations.” Private revelations are those given to a single person or a group of persons. They must be carefully discerned, because our Adversary is also spiritual, and speaks to people in the guise of an angel or saint. Authentic private revelations, from saints, as to Joan of Arc, or the Blessed Virgin, as to St. Bernadette or the children of Fatima, have a special role: “not to ‘complete’ Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history”.

The value and authority of private revelations are different in essence from “that of the one public revelation: the latter demands faith; in it God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. The criterion for judging the truth of a private revelation is its orientation to Christ himself. If it leads us away from him, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel, and not away from it. Private revelation is an aid to this faith, and it demonstrates its credibility precisely because it refers back to the one public revelation. Ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation essentially means that its message contains nothing contrary to faith and morals; it is licit to make it public and the faithful are authorized to give to it their prudent adhesion. A private revelation can introduce new emphases, give rise to new forms of piety, or deepen older ones. It can have a certain prophetic character (cf. 1 Th 5:19-21) and can be a valuable aid for better understanding and living the Gospel at a certain time; consequently it should not be treated lightly. It is a help which is proffered, but its use is not obligatory. In any event, it must be a matter of nourishing faith, hope and love, which are for everyone the permanent path of salvation.”


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