Here’s a mid-Lent pop quiz for you: What are the two parts of what the church calls the “twofold character” of the Lenten season?
I imagine that the average Catholic gets this half right. Most of us have no problem identifying that Lent is a season of penance. Our most popular Lenten practices emphasize sinfulness, repentance and reparation. We fast and abstain from meat, intensify our prayer efforts, attend stations of the Cross, go to confession, make sacrifices of various kinds and save money for the Rice Bowl.
The other characteristic focus of Lent is baptism. If you knew that, give yourself a pat on the back!
Baptism sometimes gets short-changed when it comes to our Lenten observances, mostly because we are unaware of its importance. The waters of baptism seem an odd match for Lent, which we sometimes think of as a journey through the desert, dry and desolate. In fact, Lent is saturated with baptismal imagery. In this upcoming Third Sunday’s readings, Moses strikes a rock and the river bursts forth. The woman at the well asks for a drink and finds that the living water quenches every thirst.
How do we embrace baptism during Lent? First, keep the water, please! The fonts flow all through this season until the Triduum. Even if you choose not to partake of the Holy Water during this time of heightened health concerns, it remains a powerful visual symbol of our faith whenever we enter the church.
Second, we deepen our own commitment to the church and the promises made at our own baptism. At Easter, we’ll renew those promises once again.
Finally, we pray in solidarity for those members of our community who are preparing to receive the sacraments at Easter — the elect who will be baptized and the candidates for full communion who will be confirmed.
It is an honor each year to help prepare the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, a celebration on the First Sunday of Lent which brings together catechumens and candidates from all the parishes of our archdiocese.
There’s no shortage of data indicating decline in the church — decreasing attendance at Mass, apparent rejection of important dogma, generational apathy. But I offer my rebuttal in the experience of the Rite of Election, which is an overwhelming sign of hope for the church.
Each year, several hundred people choose to become Catholic in the Archdiocese of Louisville. Along with their sponsors and RCIA coordinators, they fill our largest church to the brim. By my own rough estimate, about one quarter of these new Catholics are Hispanic. This year, I met a catechumen from Afghanistan, one from South Sudan and two others from Vietnam. Together with all the new babies baptized this year, they represent a bright and diverse future for the church, full of new gifts and challenges.
If your parish has members preparing for the Easter sacraments, I urge you to pray for them. If you have the opportunity, get to know them and hear their stories. Converts to the faith help refresh our perspective. They embody rebirth in our church and point us toward the font of living water. May we all have a blessed Lent, purified by our penances and renewed in our baptismal covenant.