New Creations in Christ
In Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which is the second reading at Mass for this First Sunday of Lent, we are reminded of how all of us are both marked by the sin of Adam and, through the grace of Baptism, reborn by sharing in the life in Christ. “Just as through one transgression condemnation came upon us all,” Paul explains, “so through one righteous act, acquittal and life come to all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19).
In the waters of baptism, sin – personal and original – is washed away so that we can truly say spiritually we have died with Christ and were buried with him. As the Rite of Baptism, says, “those who have been baptized are engrafted in the likeness of Christ’s death; they are buried with him” (Rite of Baptism for Children). Again Saint Paul tells us, “We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin” (Romans 6:6).
Culminating in the celebration of the Easter sacraments, Lent is a traditional time of preparation for many to come into the Catholic Church. Specifically, it is a time of instruction for “catechumens,” those men, women and children preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist – as well as “candidates” who have already been validly baptized in either a non-Catholic ecclesial community, or in the Catholic Church as an infant, and are now preparing for Confirmation and Eucharist. During this time of formation, there is a calling to a conversion of heart through penitential acts, prayer and works of love so that one may die with Christ, die to everything within oneself that is hostile to new life in Christ, in order to rise with Christ.
Today and next Sunday, in a special rite, I will welcome more than 1,300 catechumens and candidates who are preparing in our parishes all over the archdiocese to become full members of our Church. During a Celebration of Election, each of the catechumens will be called by name and one by one they will fill the great sanctuary of the Upper Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I will ask them to declare their desire to be baptized and, their names having been previously enrolled in a special book during a rite of sending from their home parishes, I will officially declare them “the elect,” those in the final days of preparation for Baptism. Then, during a Celebration of the Call to Continuing Conversion, the candidates will be presented for an affirmation of their readiness to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Lent is not just for those who wish to be received into our family of faith. It is a summons to us all to that total, ongoing conversion that is called for by Baptism. As members of the Church, we are members of the body of Christ and part of his new creation, we have put on Christ. During these forty days of Lent, we are asked to “put aside” all that is not Christ-like in our lives.
In Saint Paul’s words, we are asked to consider how we might be a slave to sin. For some, it may not be a particular sin or a pattern of sin, but rather the knowledge that we have drifted away from a close relationship to Jesus. Like the catechumens and candidates – even inspired by them, we who are in full communion with the Church, through acts of prayer, penance and charity can also reconfigure ourselves to Christ. We can resolve today to make the most of the season of Lent, enabling us to enter fully into the great feast of Easter, ready to renew our own baptismal promises and be filled with the grace of having become new creations in Christ.