March 6, 2015
Lent Is Church’s Call to Remember Our Baptism
I love getting greeting cards for special occasions. Actually, I just finished reading my Christmas cards; then, many of you thoughtfully remembered January 26, the feast of my patron saint; February 6, my 65th birthday, even more cards arrived; some even remembered the anniversary of the consistory when I was made a cardinal, and my appointment by Pope Benedict XVI as archbishop on February 23. Thanks, everybody.
However, I only received one greeting on the 65th anniversary of the most significant event in my life: my baptism at Immaculate Conception Church, Maplewood, Missouri, on February 26, 1950. I’m not whining, folks, because even I forgot about it!
But, with the eyes of faith, what happened to me that day is infinitely more important to me than my college graduation, my ordination to the priesthood, becoming a bishop, receiving the red hat of a cardinal, or even becoming your archbishop.
In the baptistery of that parish church, where my own mom and dad were christened and married, held by my grandparents, I became a child of God, cleansed from original sin, a member of Christ’s family, the Church, a dwelling of the Holy Spirit, one destined for eternal life. Not bad!
As I was naturally born twenty days previously when mom’s “water broke,” and I left the darkness of the womb, at my christening I was re-born by water and the Holy Spirit, and the darkness of alienation from God, that ancient curse over all of us since Adam and Eve, was illuminated by Jesus, the light of the world.
When I stand before God on judgment day, my Ph.D., American passport, checking account, and cardinal’s hat aren’t going to amount to much. My baptism sure will!
It was the most normative event in my life…in our lives!
Trouble is, unless you were baptized as an adult, you can’t remember your baptism…which is why we need Lent.
In a way, Lent is Mother Church’s annual memo to her children—us—to remember our baptism. Our supernatural rebirth by water and the Holy Spirit gave us an identity as a child of God the Father, redeemed by God the Son, now a dwelling place for God the Holy Spirit. Our “old self”—a sinner, an orphan without a spiritual family, a captive of darkness and its prince, Satan—died, and, through baptism, we rose to new life with Jesus! It was our own Easter, a forecast of the one at our earthly death when, please God, we rise to eternal life.
During Lent, we recall our baptismal identity. How?
Well, for one, by accepting the Lord’s invitation to return to the innocence of our baptism by deeper prayer, penance, and charity. That’s why Lent is the best time for a good confession, since that sacrament restores the luster of our christening.
Two, we are in solidarity with our catechumens, adults preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil. They are in the final stages of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and we share their eagerness for baptism.
Three, we get ready to renew our own baptismal promises at the Easter liturgy, and be sprinkled with the newly blessed Easter water.
Actually, we have ninety days of recalling our own baptism: forty days of Lent, as we once again die to sin, Satan, and selfishness through prayer, penance, and charity; and fifty days of the Easter Season—Easter Sunday until Pentecost—as we rejoice in the risen life of Christ.
As the saints remind us, when God the Father looks at us, He sees us the way we were on the day of our baptism!