..in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.
Lent is essentially about Baptism. This is the season when our catechumens make final preparations for their full integration into the Church. During the Easter Vigil they will receive three sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. Which means this is the season when all members of the Church must pray that we might be found worthy to receive new brothers and sisters.
In today's second reading we heard Saint Peter explain that this ritual washing "is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience." He invoked the ancient story of Noah and uses it to demonstrate the principle of "new beginning."
You'll recall the story in Genesis when God, disgusted with the sorry mess of humankind, wiped out all but Noah and his family. It's a bizarre story, greatly influenced by religions of the ancient Mideast, especially in the flood-prone region of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. These frequent catastrophes could demolish flourishing cities and nations, reducing civilized life to hand-to-mouth survival, as we have seen in New Orleans, Houston and Puerto Rico. Governments can disappear in flood time, leaving citizens to fend for themselves; and then return once order has been restored to reassert their authority. But sometimes it doesn't work that way. Sometimes life returns with a whole new agenda.
Baptism offers us a new agenda, beginning with "a clear conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." Innocence has been restored because this sacred water penetrates to the very core of our nature.
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord" the Baptized sing with Mary. This praise doesn't begin on the lips, or the lungs or even the head. It begins in one's purified soul.
Through this cleansing we become transparent to God, whose grace penetrates those inaccessible, mysterious places we would rather not know exist -- until they are discovered full of song.
Just as newborn babies remind us of innocence, so should this season of catechumens remind us of the promise. We are not Pollyannas, we have no romantic illusions of natural innocence. Rather, we believe in the grace of Jesus which, like Noah's Deluge, totally and thoroughly blots out every evil. In his resurrection every wound is healed and every conflict, resolved. Get ready for it!