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The First Sunday of Lent
March 1, 2020

 

    We Catholics like Lent. We may not always say so, but we do. We like the ashes of Ash Wednesday and we even like sacrifice and self-denial. We don’t always do them so well, but we like the thought of them! We like Lent. But Lent is more than ashes, sacrifice and self-denial, fast and abstinence. In the early Church, Lent was about preparing for baptism. It still is. And for those of us who are already baptized, Lent is the ideal time for us to get in touch with the meaning of our baptism.

     I talk a lot about baptism from this pulpit. That’s because I am convinced that if we were really to awaken to our baptism –who we are because of our baptism and what our baptism calls us to do - everything would be different.  Everything!

     For many of us, our baptism is a moment not even remembered, a moment we know only from family stories, or from photo albums or videos, or from a dog-eared piece of paper with names and dates and the fading signature of a parish priest.  But remembered or not, there was for each of us a moment in time when water (probably cold enough to make us cry) flowed over us and at that moment, we went through a symbolic death: we began  to share in Christ’s saving death, symbolized by those drowning sacramental waters. And, of course, at that same moment, new life became ours, the life of Christ. We became new creations, to use the language of the scriptures.

     My friends, the Church wants us to think of this during Lent. The Church gives us six full weeks to think long and hard about our baptism - and not just to think about it: to wake up to our baptism, for the church knows that, viewed with the eyes of faith, nothing more important has ever happened to us than our baptism!

     A little aside: a couple of weeks ago when we were preparing a memorial card for Archbishop Brunett’s funeral, I was determined that, among the various dates to be listed on the card (his birth, his ordination as priest and later as bishop, his death) we also needed to include the date of his baptism. Why? Well, because baptism is so important! Getting the date took some doing. We had to send a number of emails and make a number of phone calls back to Detroit where he was born – and, believe it or not, we even did a Google map search in order to find his parish church. But our efforts were rewarded: we finally succeeded in finding his parish church and in coming up with the date of his baptism which, to my way of thinking, was even more important than the dates for his ordination as priest and as bishop.

     Baptism. Never underestimate its importance, and be grateful that these days of Lent underline its importance. We may more typically think of Lent in terms of ashes and abstinence, of desserts denied or drinks declined, of less Facebook time and more prayer book time, and that's fine - in fact it's good - as long as those penitential practices bring us in touch with our baptism. Think of them as the dying part of baptism - the drowning waters, if you will, the death to sin and selfishness. Think of them as our sharing in what Jesus once called his "baptism", referring not to the waters of the Jordan but to the impending ordeal of his passion and death ("I have a baptism with which I am to be baptized," he said, "and how impatient I am that it be accomplished!").

     Baptism! It is important to remember what we heard in today’s gospel: the same Jesus who one minute found himself basking in the baptismal glory of being God's beloved son, in another minute found himself in a lonely desert for forty long days and nights, wrestling with the forces of evil, struggling mightily against Satan's enticements to sin - insidious temptations that might even have seemed quite sensible at the time - struggling mightily but never giving in.

     That was Jesus' story. Is it our story?  I believe it is the story of each one of us - the story of every follower of Christ. With this difference: all too often, we part company with Jesus by forsaking the struggle and taking the easy way out. We would like our baptism to be some sort of inoculation against sin and life’s painful struggles. It isn’t, of course.  Our baptism is a passport to glory but it is no shortcut to glory. What baptism gives us is the church: this community of believers – saints and sinners - to walk with us and support us on our journey and, of course, it gives us the assurance of God's grace which is more powerful by far than even the most discouraging of human weaknesses.

     My friends, we have set out on the great journey of Lent. Today, it has taken us to the desert of temptation; next week, it will take us with Jesus to the mountain of Transfiguration; the week after that, to Jacob’s well where we will meet the Samaritan woman; then to the healing waters of the pool of Siloam where we will meet the man born blind; and finally to the tomb of Lazarus. By the time we arrive at Palm Sunday, those encounters should have made us ready to acclaim Christ as our Savior and Redeemer and to enter with him into the Sacred Triduum – the holiest, most grace-filled days of our year. And if we have truly encountered him - followed him closely along this Lenten journey - we will be more aware than ever before of what our baptism means and makes possible - ready to stand up on Easter and renew with energy and enthusiasm, with courage and conviction, the promises of our baptism!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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