February 22, 2015 – First Sunday of Lent
Baptism is at the heart of our readings on this First Sunday of Lent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it quite clear that Baptism is perhaps the major factor in our Catholic lives. #213 of the Catechism states: “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn.” Our Lenten journeys need to reflect our response to our Baptismal call and to help us delineate how we are going to live that call out in our daily lives.
The first reading from Genesis opens with God making a covenant with His people. The Lord says, “I am now establishing my covenant with you, and with your descendants after you.” No matter how we define how we are descended from Noah and the handful of people on the Ark, God’s covenant includes us. Then God made a sign of His covenant with a rainbow: “I set my bow in the clouds as a sign of my covenant between me and the earth.” If rainbows have always seemed special to you, they should. Every time we see a rainbow we should be reminded of God’s love for us and His promise of salvation to us.
The other key ingredient to this first reading has to do with Baptism. As we will see in the second reading from 1 Peter, the flood is compared to the waters of Baptism. Noah is baptized in a spiritual sense. We must see that Baptism has to do with the spirit. It may be called “cleansing” but it is a cleansing of the soul, not of the body. We have been cleansed and our Lenten voyage, like that of the Ark, is to seek and renew that spiritual cleansing.
As indicated St. Peter makes a comparison between Baptism and the flood experienced by Noah and his family: “This prefigured Baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” We are saved, just as Noah and his family were, by the waters of Baptism. You may have heard the phrase the “waters of life.” Those waters we receive when baptized cleanse the very essence of our beings. We receive new life, but it is not life in the meaning we understand it on this earth. It is eternal life. To achieve that, however, requires us to strive for good and righteousness. Right now during Lent we have the opportunity to take steps toward that life of righteousness to which we are called.
The Gospel from Mark reports the beginning of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. Of course these 40 days parallel the 40 days of Lent which we began just a few days ago. Just three years ago on Ash Wednesday Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that like the Lord, we find ourselves in the desert quite often because of “secularism and the culture of materialism.” Stewardship is a life style which helps us combat these challenges. It is also worth mentioning that according to the Gospel “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.” The Greek word which is translated as “drove” might also be translated as “led.” To be sure this is a time when we need to be led by the Holy Spirit, a time when like Jesus Himself, we need to turn to the Spirit and the Angels for help and support. Lent is an opportunity, and we need to seize it.