On Ash Wednesday the entire Church embarks on its annual Lenten journey. Lent calls to mind the 40 days which Jesus spent in the desert following his Baptism in the Jordan at the outset of his public ministry. During those days, Jesus prayed, he fasted and he was put to the test. We enter into these 40 days of Lent in the same spirit of prayer, penance and charity to prepare ourselves to celebrate, with mind and heart renewed, the saving mystery of our Redemption. Lent leads us by stages to the celebration of the Sacred Triduum, which is the very heart and center of the Church’s liturgical calendar.
The culminating moment of our Lenten experience takes place during the night of Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil when the catechumens of the Church are baptized into Christ’s saving death and resurrection. At that same liturgy, those of us already baptized and prepared by our Lenten discipline also solemnly proclaim and renew the commitments of our baptismal faith.
The link between Lent and Baptism is as strong as it is ancient. The practice of enrolling those preparing for Baptism during the Rite of Election at the Cathedral on the First Sunday of Lent is an element of the restored catechumenate which highlights the historical connection between Baptism and the season of Lent.
In most cases it is the practice of the Catholic Church to baptize during infancy. The practice of infant Baptism emphasizes that faith is a gift. We have done nothing to earn or make ourselves worthy of the forgiveness of sins or divine adoption as children of God. Yet these effects of Baptism are purely God’s gift to us.
Baptism is the threshold to a new life. Baptized into Christ’s death, we rise with him in victory. Made children of God by adoption through the saving waters of Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are incorporated into the Church which is the Body of Christ. Baptism makes us fit and able to receive the other sacraments of the Church which help us to grow toward our full maturity in Christ and assume our proper responsibilities for the mission and service which he has entrusted to the Church.
Through Baptism we die to a life of sin, so as to live for Christ. But the flesh, that is, our wounded human nature, does not relinquish its hold easily. It takes a lifetime to fully embrace our high calling and put on “the mind of Christ.” The discipline of Lent trains us through prayer, penance and almsgiving, and through pondering the word of God to grow daily in faith and holiness.
Lent gives us the opportunity to renew our gratitude for the new life purchased for us at such a price so that we may become better stewards of the gifts we received in Baptism.