When you think of Lent, what do you think of? Do you think of feasting or fasting? Do you think of partying or penance? It's true that Lent is a penitential season, but do you know that the word “Lent” comes from the old English word, lencten
which means “springtime”? It comes from the old Germanic: Lengen-tinza
which literally means “long days”. So Lent refers to the lengthening of days; to the light that is defeating the darkness. I bet most of us are not thinking of lengthening days when we think of Lent (even though inwardly we are longing for them)!
How many of you, when you think of Lent, think of Baptism?
A few years ago 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 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 was thinking about this when I came across the readings for today: The First Sunday in Lent.
They are: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm: 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Mark 1:12-15.
The first reading from Genesis, takes place just after the flood. God is establishing a Covenant with all Creation; that 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 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 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) 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 and 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.
It’s easy to look at today’s Gospel (Mark 1:12-15) and focus on the fact that Jesus went into the desert; but what happens just before Jesus goes into the desert? He is baptised! Then in the desert he overcomes temptation; He overcomes sin and then Mark tells us that he is "among wild beasts and the angels ministered to him". Who else lived among wild beasts and the angels ministered to them? Adam and Eve. So the Gospel symbolizes Jesus being freed from sin, no longer a slave to sin but having the Communion with God that Adam and Eve had.
That’s what happens at Baptism.
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 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, writing this, had I not been baptised. Most of you in Church, would not be in Church 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. Those of us who are ordained were able to do that at our ordination; but most of us have forgotten our baptismal promises. At every Mass, when we pray the Creed, we are renewing our baptismal promises, but it is done with special importance 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.