- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

The following are excerpts from a sermon delivered yesterday by Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi at Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda.

How can we ever forget the water and destruction of the tsunami or Hurricanes Katrina and Rita? It will take a long time, if ever, to repair the damage. Much will never be repaired and so many lives will never be recovered.

I could not help but think of those images as I was praying over the first reading for our liturgy on this first Sunday of Lent — the reading of Noah and the flood reported in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis.

There is a happy ending to that flood story, however, symbolized by the rainbow, God’s promise that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings. The Lord promised that He is establishing forever His covenant with us, His holy people.

Each of us has experienced another kind of flood in our lives. Christians call it baptism. This flood brings life, however, not death. Most of us were baptized as children. Some in this congregation, and congregations like it, will be baptized at the great Easter vigil this year.

Lent, whose season we have just begun, is that special time to focus each year on the effect of our baptisms here and now.

Just as Noah and eight members of his family were saved from the perverse and wicked world in which they lived, so, too, are we saved through the life-giving waters of baptism. St. Peter tells us in the second reading that we are saved by a baptismal bath, a bath prefigured by Noah’s rescue in the flood-tossed ark.

One of the wonderful things about the floods of Katrina and Rita and the tsunami, and similar disasters any time, is that it brings people together in heroic acts of service to each other.

The same effect results from the “great flood” of our baptism. It brings us together as the church in which we are united in our love for God and for each other.

On Wednesday, we began Lent 2006. There could be no better time than the beginning of this joyful and penitential season to focus on the cleansing waters of baptism, the gift of our new life in Christ. It is for sure a time of spiritual renewal, of renewed commitment to the church, to the living body of Christ, to each other. Yes, 40 days and 40 nights — a privileged time this year, a time in the desert with the Lord Jesus, a time to be alone with the Lord, a time to rekindle some of that baptismal freshness.

It is a joyful, yet demanding, time in which we prepare for the paschal mystery with hearts and minds renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is a time to ponder anew the wonder of our salvation and of how, like Noah and his family, we, too, are saved, but saved by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the new and eternal covenant. It is a time to ponder anew how we are brought into the paschal mystery of Jesus begun for us at baptism.

It is also a time, this Lent 2006, to focus on what we need to do to live more fully the promises we made at our baptisms: lifetime promises. It is time to follow Jesus more closely, Jesus who fasted, Jesus who prayed, Jesus who continually gave of Himself. Yes, it is a time for more rigorous fasting on our part, more generous alms-giving to the poor and a time for daily and persevering prayer, maybe the first time that regular prayer has been an integral part of your lives. The highest form of prayer, after all, is the Holy Eucharist. Why not join that silent army of Catholics who come to daily Mass this Lent?

Pope Benedict XVI reminded us recently that “The period of Lent must not be approached with an old spirit, as if it were a heavy and troublesome burden, but with the new spirit of one who has found in Jesus and in His mystery the meaning of life, and is aware that everything must now refer to Him.”

Ponder your baptism this day, with a “new spirit” on this first Sunday of Lent 2006, ponder its present effects in your life, ask God to help you deepen the new life that is ours by virtue of baptism during these 40 days and nights. It can and will make a difference in the lives of each one of us. Amen.

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