The Wilderness

On Saturday of this weekend, those who are to be baptised this Easter and those who are to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church — and who live in the Archdiocese of Southwark (South London and Kent) — gathered in St George’s Cathedral. Archbishop John Wilson called them to the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion). This is known as the Rite of Election.

The liturgical rite is no mere formality. It is a decisive step for them. God has called them, in love, to fullness of life through the Church, and they reaffirm their faith, committing themselves to the final stages of their initiation. The next six weeks of Lent, for those who are preparing for Baptism, are known as the period of Purification and Enlightenment. Let us take these two words and try understand their meaning for us.

Lent is often seen as a spiritual retreat. Pope Francis says, in his Lenten letter:

‘Lent is a season of conversion, a time of freedom. Jesus himself, as we recall each year on the first Sunday of Lent, was driven into the desert by the Spirit in order to be tempted in freedom. For forty days, he will stand before us and with us: the Incarnate Son. Unlike Pharaoh, God does not want subjects, but sons and daughters. The desert is the place where our freedom can mature in a personal decision not to fall back into slavery. In Lent, we find new criteria of justice and a community with which we can press forward on a road not yet taken.’

This is a time for interior reflection. The purification of this Lenten season means we are encouraged to search our conscience, which will lead us to repentance. As Jesus left the wilderness after being tested his message was, The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News. As the ashes marked your forehead last Wednesday, you might have heard the words, Repent and believe in the Gospel. During this season, we are encouraged to express repentance in works of penance which can take some form of self-denial. We open our hearts to change.

Enlightenment is to be seen as the positive side of Purification. During these weeks of Lent, we are brought to a deeper understanding of God himself, especially as revealed in Jesus, who is the culmination of the vast history of salvation — in which God is seen as approaching the human race, offering us his love and seeking from us a response of faith in him and love for him. With those who are to be baptised and received into the Church, we are all making a journey of faith. We journey together — especially in the last weeks of the life of Jesus, who suffered, died and rose again for us so that we can all share in the new life of the resurrection.

Canon Father Anthony Charlton
Canon Father Anthony CharltonParish Priest