Two weeks ago, Ash Wednesday, February 26, I celebrated evening Mass at Our Lady of Victory Parish down in the financial district. The Church was full, the choir superb, the Eucharist reverent and uplifting. Thousands, the pastor, Father Myles Murphy, told me, had come that day for blessed ashes, confession, and for one of the many Masses.
During my homily, I mentioned to the congregation that February 26 also happened to be the 70th anniversary of my own Baptism at Immaculate Conception Parish in Maplewood, Missouri.
This was more than a coincidence, I mentioned to the crowd, since each of us should reflect upon the day of our christening as we entered the forty days of Lent.
On that day seven decades earlier, I observed, through that first and most important of the seven sacraments, I was transformed by God. At three weeks of age, I became an adopted child of God our Father; I had a family beyond my loving earthly one, a supernatural family called the Church; as on the day of my birth twenty days prior, when I left the dark confines of the womb and entered light, I was through Baptism rescued from the darkness of sin and bathed in the light and life of Christ; gifts such as faith, hope, and love flooded my soul; and I had a future life before me, to end not in death, but in life everlasting.
The miracle of Baptism!
Then I went on: “Things have gone south since then. I’m afraid I have sinned, betrayed my loving Father, strained my intimate ties with my spiritual family, the Church, and hardly lived out the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.”
“However, take courage,” I went on. “The heavenly Father who adopted me that winter day I cannot remember is also eager to restore the brilliant life lavished upon me at that font! He is never finished with us! For the asking, He will restore that radiant life of grace, the baptismal innocence and radiance that was mine seventy years before.”
That, of course, is His invitation to us every Lent. Through our prayer, our penance for sin, our charity towards others, we are united with His Son, Jesus, as he dies once again to sin, Satan, and eternal death, as we did with and through Him in the waters of Baptism. As we say as we greet the body at a funeral Mass, “On the day of his Baptism, Dennis died with Christ. May he now share with him everlasting life.”
Dying and rising...that’s what happened to me on February 26, 1950. I died to sin, darkness, Satan, and a death sentence, and rose to a new life in and through Jesus!
What enhances this mandate of Lent—to reclaim our Baptismal identity and let God renew it—is that in our 300 parishes, throughout the archdiocese, close to 800 catechumens and candidates themselves are in the final weeks of preparation, through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, (RCIA) for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil.
No wonder, at the glorious Masses of Easter, Holy Mother Church beckons us all to renew our Baptismal promises, and be sprinkled with the fresh waters blessed on Holy Saturday.
During Lent we not only recall the paschal mystery of Jesus—His dying on the cross and rising to new life—but our participation in it.
Let’s return to the day of our Baptism! Let’s go forward to the day of eternal salvation!
A blessed Lent!