That night my mother fell ill. She was taken to the hospital. She never came home. The Sacrament of Baptism will forever be linked to my mother. That is why it is very poignant that one week after her death, the Vatican news service announces that Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten message will focus on Baptism. I know my mother is pleased.
RENEW OUR ACCEPTANCE OF BAPTISMAL GRACE DURING LENT
VATICAN CITY, 22 FEB 2011 (VIS) - Made public today was the 2011 Lenten Message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI. The text, dated 4 November 2010, has as its title a passage from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians: "You were buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with Him". Extracts from the English-language version of the document are given below:
"The fact that, in most cases, Baptism is received in infancy highlights how it is a gift of God: no one earns eternal life through their own efforts. The mercy of God, which cancels sin and, at the same time, allows us to experience in our lives 'the mind of Christ Jesus', is given to men and women freely".
"Hence, Baptism is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ, which informs the entire existence of the baptised, imparting divine life and calling for sincere conversion; initiated and supported by Grace, it permits the baptised to reach the adult stature of Christ.
"A particular connection binds Baptism to Lent as the favourable time to experience this saving Grace. ... In fact, the Church has always associated the Easter Vigil with the celebration of Baptism. ... This free gift must always be rekindled in each one of us, and Lent offers us a path like that of the catechumenate, which, for the Christians of the early Church, just as for catechumens today, is an irreplaceable school of faith and Christian life. Truly, they live their Baptism as an act that shapes their entire existence.
"In order to undertake more seriously our journey towards Easter and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord - the most joyous and solemn feast of the entire liturgical year - what could be more appropriate than allowing ourselves to be guided by the Word of God? For this reason, the Church, in the Gospel texts of the Sundays of Lent, leads us to a particularly intense encounter with the Lord, calling us to retrace the steps of Christian initiation: for catechumens, in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of rebirth; for the baptised, in light of the new and decisive steps to be taken in the 'sequela Christi' and a fuller giving of oneself to Him".
"The Lenten journey finds its fulfilment in the Paschal Triduum, especially in the great vigil of the Holy Night: renewing our baptismal promises, we reaffirm that Christ is the Lord of our life, that life which God bestowed upon us when we were reborn of 'water and Holy Spirit', and we profess again our firm commitment to respond to the action of the Grace in order to be His disciples.
"By immersing ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are moved to free our hearts every day from the burden of material things, from a self-centred relationship with the 'world' that impoverishes us and prevents us from being available and open to God and our neighbour. ... Through the traditional practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, which are an expression of our commitment to conversion, Lent teaches us how to live the love of Christ in an ever more radical way.
"Fasting, which can have various motivations, takes on a profoundly religious significance for the Christian: by rendering our table poorer, we learn to overcome selfishness in order to live in the logic of gift and love; by bearing some form of deprivation - and not just what is in excess - we learn to look away from our 'ego', to discover Someone close to us and to recognise God in the face of so many brothers and sisters. For Christians, fasting, far from being depressing, opens us ever more to God and to the needs of others, thus allowing love of God to become also love of our neighbour.
"In our journey, we are often faced with the temptation of accumulating and love of money that undermine God's primacy in our lives. The greed of possession leads to violence, exploitation and death; for this, the Church, especially during the Lenten period, reminds us to practice almsgiving - which is the capacity to share. The idolatry of goods, on the other hand, not only causes us to drift away from others, but divests man, making him unhappy, deceiving him, deluding him without fulfilling its promises, since it puts materialistic goods in the place of God, the only source of life".
"The practice of almsgiving is a reminder of God's primacy and turns our attention towards others, so that we may rediscover how good our Father is, and receive His mercy.
"During the entire Lenten period, the Church offers us God's Word with particular abundance. By meditating and internalising the Word in order to live it every day, we learn a precious and irreplaceable form of prayer. ... Prayer also allows us to gain a new concept of time: without the perspective of eternity and transcendence, in fact, time simply directs our steps towards a horizon without a future. Instead, when we pray, we find time for God, to understand that His 'words will not pass away', to enter into that intimate communion with Him 'that no one shall take from you', opening us to the hope that does not disappoint, eternal life".
"The Lenten period is a favourable time to recognise our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.
"Dear brothers and sisters, through the personal encounter with our Redeemer and through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, the journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism. This Lent, let us renew our acceptance of the Grace that God bestowed upon us at that moment, so that it may illuminate and guide all of our actions. What the Sacrament signifies and realises, we are called to experience every day by following Christ in an ever more generous and authentic manner".