March 28, 2017
While many of us treasure the season of Lent as a time of preparation for the renewal of our Baptismal promises at Easter, there are some among us who are preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil. We witnessed these people in our parishes on the First Sunday of Lent as they took part in the Rite of Election and entered into the third stage or period of preparation which the Church calls a time of Purification and Enlightenment. Having formally expressed their willingness to receive the sacraments of initiation, the Elect enter into a time of reflection, intensely centered on conversion, marked by the celebration of the scrutinies on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent.
In its wisdom, the Church prefers that the Sunday readings from Cycle A are used for these Sundays because they are particularly suited for those preparing for Baptism. The Gospel reading for Third Sunday is the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, while the Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday is the story of the Man Born Blind, and the Gospel reading for this Fifth Sunday is the story of the Raising of Lazarus. Each of these Gospel readings contributes to the richness of our understanding of Baptism: the story of the woman at the well provides an image of “the spring of water gushing up to eternal life”; the story of the man born blind relates how this man “who was blind can now see”: and the story of Lazarus announces that “whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
In addition to this rich Baptismal imagery, the Elect undergo scrutinies which assist them to reflect upon how they are held captive in ways that prevent them from living and loving in the freedom of God’s children. These scrutinies, of course, also provide us with an opportunity to reflect upon what holds us captive: always having to be right, suffering from a poor self-image, being addicted to food and drink, etc. The story of the raising of Lazarus reminds us that, like Lazarus, we need to be untied and set free from the captivity of sin and brokenness. The good news is that this freedom of heart and soul is a gift that God longs to provide for us, and that God is steadfastly faithful in working to bring about this plan within us. Indeed, as we continue on a journey of conversion to the newness of life we remember that this is God’s good work—God’s grace—working within us. Moving toward that day when we renew our Baptismal vows at Easter, we will remember that it is God’s victory over sin and death that we celebrate.