As we begin the Lenten season during this Year of Baptism for the Diocese of Tyler, it is a rich opportunity to reflect on the connections between the Lenten journey and the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is the sacrament which begins our sacramental journey of faith. The season of Lent is often associated with the 40 days of temptation of our Lord in the desert. It is significant to note that the Lord’s baptism precedes his retreat into the desert prior to the beginning of his public ministry.
The parallels are numerous and a reflection on the sacrament of baptism, Lent, the baptism of the Lord, and his 40 days in the desert can prove fruitful for gaining a deeper understanding of what baptism and our Lenten retreat mean for each of us.
A word that comes to mind is metanoia, which speaks of a complete change of heart. While this change of heart when applied to our Lord does not refer to an actual conversion experience, I believe we can speak of his “change of heart” in the sense of Jesus’s clear resolve to move forward with his Father’s plan of salvation. Similarly with the common Catholic experience of being baptized as infants, our “change of heart” also takes on a different connotation. We can say that at our baptism our heart was changed by the grace of God. We were washed of sin and received God’s divine life within us. Our baptisms send us on a journey that is meant to last for our entire lives.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all juxtapose the baptism of the Lord with his 40 days in the desert, during which he is tempted by Satan. These Gospels connect the event of baptism with a retreat experience that lasts for a significant length of time. An important point to note is that, for the Lord, his baptism occurred at a moment in time, but had connotations for his entire public ministry, beginning with his time in the desert. In a parallel way, our baptism begins a journey of conversion which lasts a lifetime. In the Gospel according to Mark, we’re told that Jesus is sent out into the desert immediately after his baptism. The passage says, “at once the Spirit drove him out into the desert.” (Mk 1:12) This suggests that Christ has been set on a critically important mission as he goes into the desert to confront the temptations of Satan.
I believe these words from Mark’s Gospel are important for all of us as we contemplate baptism in the context of the Lenten season. They bring an urgency to the living out of our call in Christ, which is at the very heart of what Lent should mean for us each year. Simply stated, Lent is a time for us to refocus on the metanoia, the change of heart that began at our baptism. Lent thus becomes a time to review our life’s journey once again and ask ourselves: “Am I truly living the change of heart that began at my baptism?” Jesus goes from his baptism to a direct confrontation with temptation in the person of Satan. We are called to that same confrontation with our temptations and the sins that we fall prey to and to resolve to live our baptism more deeply.
Let us pray for each other that this Lent will be a time to treasure and live our baptism more deeply than ever.