It’s time for word association. When I say Lent, you think of? Probably things like penance, fasting, giving stuff up, prayer, purple, the cross. Now read what the church said about Lent in 1963 in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council: “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 and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery.” I bet the first thing you thought of wasn’t baptism, but the church says that baptism, along with penance, are the two focuses of Lent. Let’s call these the two strands of Lent.
We do a pretty thorough job with the second strand. We give up something apparently meaningful in our lives (chocolate, TV, Facebook) and try to replace it with more Jesus. We have communal penance services. We come to Stations of the Cross on Fridays and avoid eating meat. We reach out in a more intentional way to the less-fortunate. All of these are great, but, without the first strand, what’s the point? Baptism is the first of the three sacraments of initiation, the supernatural moment of conversion, the doorway to discipleship. If we do all of those good things I listed above without rooting them in our baptism, we do them in vain. But if we take some time this Lent to remind ourselves of who we are (or, for those in the RCIA preparing for baptism, who we are called to be), our penitential disciplines and sacrifices can be transformed so that they are rooted in love rather than pride.
Two concrete ways that might help you move in this direction. First, pay careful attention to the readings, prayers and songs on the Sundays of Lent this year. When you hear something about water, thirst, or washing (and if you listen, you will hear these things a lot!) bells should be going off in your head. The Lord is speaking to you about baptism, and not just baptism in general, but your baptism, your call to discipleship. Second, think about how all of this culminates. At the Easter Vigil and at Masses on Easter Sunday, having gone through the weeks of Lent, having celebrated the first two liturgies of the Triduum, and having just initiated new brothers and sisters into the faith, we renew our own baptismal promises as we profess our faith in question and answer form, and are doused with the saving water. When we are touched by the water, we are reminded of our own baptism, and we sign ourselves in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just as we were baptized.
So, this Lent, may we take time to recall our baptisms. May we have the courage to examine our lives and our faith, and deal with those things that are getting in our way with our relationship with God and with one another. And when we arrive at Easter, may we be able to renew our baptismal promises with greater conviction and joy.
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– Jeff Rice, Pastoral Associate of Liturgy & Music