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Baptism: A washing away of sin and strengthening with the Spirit
This column is the second in a series to run through Lent on Pope Benedict XVI’s 2011 Lenten message.\
The Holy Father’s Lenten message invites me to reflect on my own baptism and its meaning for my life. A Catholic for 50 years, a friar for 29, and a priest for 24, I consider his call to revisit personally the mystery of salvation to be quite fitting. After all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1231) reminds me of the importance that all those baptized as infants participate in a post-baptismal catechumenate, retracing the steps of Christian initiation, guided by the word of God. Every Lent the Church invites me again to contemplate my own conversion through full participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by undergoing in this period of election a further illumination of the mystery of God’s love for me.
To help bring about this deeper enlightenment, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged all the baptized to scrutinize the Sunday readings throughout Lent, whose themes delineate the journey of faith. He reiterated the teaching contained in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA): “During this period, a more intense preparation of the mind, which involves spiritual recollection more than catechesis, is intended to purify minds and hearts by the examination of conscience and by repentance and also to enlighten those minds and hearts by a deeper knowledge of Christ the savior.” In this spirit, I began with a reflection on the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent, Matthew 4:1-11, Christ’s temptation in the desert, guided by the words of the Holy Father and desiring that this word elucidate my own faith journey.
The biblical account of the temptation of Christ addresses the truth of human fragility in two ways, first pointing to weakness caused by sin, which the grace of baptism washes away, and then emphasizing the strength of Christ, which is a grace that the Holy Spirit infuses into Christians. Christian faith entails following the example of Christ and being in union with him.
The primitive Church, spurred on by the Spirit of Christ, faced similar temptations against evil and found strength through participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. However, the words of the tempter are also familiar to me: “If you are the son of God …,” then command him to do a miracle. “If you are the son of God …,” then make God prove his love for you. Reflecting on all the miracles I have prayed for and the many times I have asked the Lord to prove his love for me, I hear the words of Christ with greater clarity. Aware of my own fragility, his response offers hope. Man lives by “every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
I realize that when I had been busy seeking miracles, my narrow perspective had failed to recognize the voice of God announcing his love for me daily, in the Scriptures, prayer, the sacraments, and the Christian community. Jesus’ admonition, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord,” reminds me that God’s love for me in the gift of his Son, who died for my sins, is more perfect than any other love. To desire another love would be to tempt Him, that is, to desire that he be unfaithful to himself. Then I would lose out on the perfect plan of salvation God has for me.
In a final attempt, Satan, frustrated with Jesus, points to the world and all of its riches and offers this as an inheritance, if only Jesus would bow before him. Christ boldly declares that the only one he loves is his Father. Hearing this word, I recognize my own emptiness in looking to the world for fulfillment. Christ emerges victorious from this battle with Satan, not because He was proved the wiser of the two, but because he leads the way for humanity, which would experience freedom from sin and the infusion of that same Spirit which gave Jesus strength to combat evil.
With God’s grace, I hope to continue reflecting on each of the Lenten Sunday readings with the heart of a catechumen, desiring enlightenment and a new infusion of the Holy Spirit, which will lead me to a deeper experience and expression of the baptismal grace I already possess.
Father David Songy, O.F.M. Cap., is provincial director of initial formation for the Capuchin Franciscan Friars Mid-America Province, provincial treasurer of the province and an adjunct spiritual director at Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary who also teaches several courses at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.
MORE LENT REFLECTIONS:
POPE BENEDICT's 2011 Lenten message to the faithful
ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: "This Lent, accept God’s love, reflect it to others"
FATHER BARRON: “Why go to a priest for confession?”
FATHER SONGY: "Baptism: A washing away of sin and strengthening with the Spirit"