This past Sunday’s readings were a strange connection of Baptism and the desert (for the Western Church). We heard about the flood when God wiped out the evil of the world and saved eight righteous people. Yes, the narrative is a pre-figurement of Baptism. The waters of the flood cleanse the earth. We also see that the penalty for sin is death. After hearing about Noah, we then hear that Christ was driven by the Spirit out into the desert for 40 days (notice 40 in both Scripture passages) to be tempted. The reading did not include the fact that this occurred after Jesus’ own baptism. So the question is, why is the Church talking about Baptism alongside Jesus’ temptation in the desert? After all, isn’t Lent about being in the desert? To answer these questions we need to take a look at what Baptism does to the believer.
Baptism is a renunciation of sin that is caused by God. God infuses us with the supernatural virtue of faith so that we may desire to abandon sin and follow him. He moves us to change and we choose that change. We must choose to conform our lives to Christ and be so united in the mysteries of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. God gives us the grace to do so. We cannot act until he acts. What is Christ doing in the desert? He is showing us how to turn away from sin so that we may follow him. The three sins Christ is tempted by are related to his three divine offices of priest, prophet, and king. These are the very same offices that we share in when we become members of the Mystical Body (I will write posts about this in the future). Jesus is the High Priest who offers the pure sacrifice to the Father of his body and his obedience. He is the High Prophet who comes to share and reveal the Father. Finally, he is the King of the Universe. He reigns over all. By our Baptism we are called to share in these offices of Christ our king, prophet, and priest. In order to do so, we must do battle with sin. We must reject Satan, just as Christ has done in the desert and through the Cross. Christ does battle with Satan after the Baptism in the Jordan. We must battle Satan in this life after our own Baptism. So Christ is showing us how to follow Him. The sanctifying grace of Baptism allows us to begin that journey.
Lent is a reminder of our spiritual struggle. In that wrestling we are reminded of our Baptismal promises and the promises given to us by Christ. We already possess living water within us, even as we wander in the dry heat of the desert. At Easter we will renew our baptismal promises and once again renounce Satan, just as Jesus does in the desert. That means that our Lenten journey is inextricably linked to our Baptism. Lent is a time for us to renew our battle stance against Satan and to enter more fully into the mysteries of Christ’s life, namely his temptation and then his eventual Paschal Mystery. I will focus on Baptism and the Paschal Mystery during Holy Week.
What I want us to keep in mind is that Lent is not just about giving up something. It is about going into the desert and doing battle, just as Our Lord did. It is to constantly say “no” to Satan, just as we did (or our parents did) at our Baptism. When we entered into the Mystical Body of Christ, we were saying “yes” to Christ. That “yes” also includes entering into His death. For now, we need to once again focus on our death to sin. We have chosen life over death. This side of the veil is a desert of sorts, but Christ has torn open that veil and conquered sin and death. We must persevere.
Throughout this Lenten season, the Church is reminding us that Satan has been conquered. Through our Baptism we are united to Christ. The desert of this life is flowing in abundant springs through our Baptism. Even though we are in the desert of this life, we always proclaim love and hope. The battle is won. Let us remember as we do penance, pray, give alms, and fast that this is a time of renewal. It is a time for us to be strengthened against Satan. Through the grace of our Baptism, we are able to reach the ultimate goal, which is Heaven. On first glance the desert and the flood seem at odds, but in actuality they reflect the deepest reality of the Christian life.
Some recommended reading:
Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Life of Christ by Ven. Fulton Sheen