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Homily for 1st Sunday Lent, Year B, 2024

We have mentioned before the close connection between Lent, Easter and the sacrament of baptism. Our opening prayer alludes to this, too. But how often do we think and pray about our baptism? In fact this Lent, it might be a good thing for each of us to reflect on our baptism.

And I don’t mean just generally, I mean specifically in terms of the rite. It might be worth getting online and finding the ritual. And the reason why it might be a good idea is that, with our readings today, the ritual of baptism gives us, first, a big picture, a bird’s eye view of salvation history, and, second, it gives us the way to understand how this history, the life of Christ, is recapitulated in my own life.

One of the things we do in the parish when we are preparing parents for the baptism of their children is to talk through the form of the ritual, its structure. That even though baptism is a once and for all time sacrament, it is also the pattern of the Christian life. In this respect, the ritual is not a one off. It is a pattern to appropriate, to incarnate increasingly over time. And the more I contemplate it, the more it sheds light on life.

The reality of this ritual – and the mystery of my deepening participation – is replicated in the very nature of salvation history. It is something that is brought out in our readings today. Our first reading refers to the flood. This story as a whole is a repetition of the creation story. But it is a repetition at a deeper level. The fall has occurred. Humanity has destroyed itself spiritually. But instead of allowing total destruction to occur, God steps in and refashions the tiny remnant that is Noah and his family, refashions it into a new beginning.

This is the pattern of our own lives. At each moment of salvation, the pattern is repeated but on a deeper level. It is as though every time we reject God, God peels off another layer, of creation and of us. God goes deeper. The new creation, the new covenant is like surgery. The further we stray from God, the deeper God has to go. And the last layer is the human heart.

We hear St Peter making this point in the second reading. St Peter says that the real flood is baptism. The ultimate meaning of God’s recreating work is the human heart, a heart that cries out to God to purify my conscience. To forgive my sins. To make me new. This is what baptism is. This is what a baptised life looks like.

Now as I said many of us here probably don’t remember our baptism, but if you have been to one, you might remember that there is first a welcome, and a statement of desire. The parents have to say what they want. This is precisely what St Peter is talking about. The Word of God invites our response, and our response is precisely to be cleansed, purified so as to be worthy of God’s gift, something that only God’s love can bring about.

After this statement of desire and an explanation of the consequent responsibilities, we then have the Word of God. The Word of God is the word that orders the pattern of life. It is where we turn to for wisdom. It is from where we draw the colours to fill in the picture that is our baptism.

After hearing the word of God, we realise all that is entailed in this life, in this offering of the covenant, and so we make prayers. And these prayers are very similar to the psalm that we heard today. They are prayers to know God’s plan better and so grow as God intends.

But the ritual emphasises that this growth is not individualistic. This is communal. We grow together. The health of anyone of us affects all of us. And so we pray together, and with the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But the next step in the rite of baptism is also important. It is the anointing with the oil of Catechumens, and the prayer of exorcism. This too is a part of life. Just as in salvation history, God keeps inviting us, God keeps forgiving us, God keeps going deeper and deeper into the heart of Israel, so too God does this to us. We constantly have to be purified. We constantly have to be healed. We constantly have to have our sins pointed out to us, so that we can seek seek reconciliation and healing on a deeper level. And we need to be strengthened by God’s grace for this cross, the cross that just is my own sinfulness, my own weakness, my own self. In one sense, we can see this aspect of the ritual fulfilled at a deeper level in the sacrament of reconciliation.

There is much more that could be said, but the key point is that our baptism is what Christian life looks like. It is the call to repent that Christ makes in our gospel today, the call that Christ makes until the end of time, and it is our response. It is all there. Our baptism is the very form of my life.

So perhaps we might pray today that we be given the grace this Lent to know our own baptism better, grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ, and progressively revealed to us in our sacraments.

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