So far in part 1, we looked at questions people have regarding fasting and abstinence, in part 2 we looked at suffering and in part 3 we looked at what Scripture has to tell us about why Jesus had to suffer. I think when people think of Lent, that’s what they think about: fasting, abstinence and suffering. Add to that penance.
It is true that Lent is a penitential season, but do you know that the word “Lent” comes from the old English word, “lencten” which was the word used for “Springtime?” It comes from the old Germanic: “Lengen-tinza” which literally means “long days” (think of the English word “lengthen,” to make long – that’s the same root as the word Lent.) So the word ‘Lent’ refers to the lengthening of days; to the light that is defeating the darkness. I think most of us think of penance and fasting when we think of Lent, but Lent is also about light defeating darkness. That’s what we see in the fourth Sunday of Lent this year. (On 4th Sunday in Cycle B with Jesus speaking with Nicodemus and also in Cycle A with the story of the man born blind).
How many of you, when you think of Lent, think of Baptism? (I would hope that those preparing for Baptism are thinking of Baptism during Lent; but the rest of us?) Recently, I received a book by Jerry Galipeau titled, You Have Put On Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality. In it, he says that Lent is a baptismal time. He quotes the Second Vatican Council Document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #109:
“The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God ad devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.”
And so, Lent has a two-fold character; two equally important strands: a baptismal one and a penitential one – we tend to over-emphasize the penitential one. Traditionally, those preparing to be baptised or received in the Church do their final preparations during Lent. They are called Catechumens and we do see a special baptism emphasis for them during Lent, but all of us should be recalling our Baptism. At the Easter Vigil we will all be renewing our Baptismal promises.
I interviewed Jerry Galipeau for the SLHour for the first week in Lent and afterwards I decided that this Lent I was going to pay extra attention to the readings and prayers and look for all the baptismal themes. I was not sure as to what I was going to find. Then I came to the readings for the first Sunday in Lent. There are Baptismal elements in all the readings all throughout Lent, but let me use the first Sunday, Cycle B as an example:
The first reading from Genesis 9:8-15 takes place just after the flood. God is establishing a Covenant with all Creation; He will never again destroy with a flood. The flood was a cleansing, but also an opportunity for a new life, a regeneration. St. Peter, in the second reading (1 Peter 3:18-22) , tells us that the flood and the Ark prefigure Baptism. That’s what happens at Baptism: it is a cleansing and also an entering into a new life, a new life in Christ.
But the first reading is not directly about the flood; it is about God establishing a Covenant. Guess what I found: The YouCat (the Church’s youth catechism given to us by Pope Benedict XVI.) It says that “Baptism is a covenant with God” because “the individual must say Yes to it.” (YC#194) That makes sense since every Sacrament involves our action and God’s action: We do something and God does something – that’s a covenant. In Baptism, we do something: the prayers, the ritual, everything with the water, the oils, the white garment, the candle – that our part. Then God does his part; He sends us his Grace. In Baptism, we primarily receive two Graces: We are freed from sin and we are reborn as children of God (CCC#1213). By going through the waters of Baptism, literally plunging into the waters (the word baptism comes from the Greek baptizein, which means “to plunge”) just as the people in the time of Noah went through the flood, we die to sin, all sin is buried in the waters, and we come up on the other side, reborn into Christ. Baptism is a death and a resurrection. St. Paul says that all who are baptised are baptised into the death of Christ, we are buried with him, so that as Christ is raised, we too can walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12). In Baptism, we are freed from all sin and we become children of God, no longer slaves to sin, but as adopted sons and daughters of God, who now have access to God’s very life, to the life that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden. We must say yes to that. God does his part and we must agree. That’s what makes it a Covenant.
Now, the Gospel from the first Sunday in Lent is always about Jesus going to the desert. It’s easy to look at Mark’s version (1:12-15) and focus on the fact that Jesus goes into the desert – that’s very Lenten, very penitential. But what happens just before Jesus goes into the desert according to Mark? He is baptised! Then all Mark says about Jesus going to the desert is that “he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness” and in the desert he overcomes temptation; he overcomes sin and he is among wild beasts and the angels minister to him. Who else lived among wild beasts and the angels ministered to them? Adam and Eve. So according to Mark, Jesus going into the desert is an analogy to what happens at baptism: We are freed from sin (Jesus never sins; he overcomes temptation), no longer slaves to sin but having all the benefits that come with being children of God, the Communion with God that Adam and Eve had.
And then what does Jesus do? He begins his ministry. And that’s what we forget about Baptism. Baptism is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. Baptism is the door to Faith and to ministry in the Church. God establishes a Covenant with us and we have to do our part.
So Lent is a time to remember and reflect on our Baptism. For most of us, we were baptised many, many years ago – we don’t remember it – some of us don’t even know when we were baptised or where. Some don’t have a relationship with their Godparents. We should know, at the very least when and where we were baptised. I was baptised on February 8th, 1969 at San Francisco de la Caleta Parish in Panama City, Panama. I know who was there, I have photos and I know who my Godparents are. Do you? Your baptism is where it all began. I would not be here today, as a Deacon, working at S+L and writing this, had I not been baptised. Most of you would not be reading this and would not be in Church every Sunday had you not been baptised – and I don’t mean Catholic baptism; I mean all Christian Baptism, because it’s all the same. We believe in one Baptism. If you are baptised in any Christian denomination, you are baptised – you’ve been freed from Original Sin and you have become a child of God. But we forget and don’t give Baptism the importance that it requires.
I used to think that since I was so young at my baptism and still very young at my Confirmation, there should be a second Confirmation – around our 30s when we truly accept, with full knowledge that we want to be Catholic followers of Jesus Christ – when we would renew our baptismal promises with full consent and knowledge. Most of us have forgotten our baptismal promises. But we don’t need a second Confirmation. At every Mass, when we pray the Creed, we are renewing our baptismal promises, and it is done with special importance, as a community during the Easter Vigil, at the end of Lent. So Lent is a time when we remember and reflect on our Baptism, so that at the Easter Vigil we can renew with vigour our part of the Covenant. God does his part; let’s prepare during this Lenten season so we can do ours.
Come back next time and we’ll deacon-struct Holy Week.