Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pray for our catechumens! A reflection by Saint Ambrose

Yesterday we heard, from the Second Book of Kings, about Naaman the leper's cure. This is one of many stories in the Old Testament that prefigures the Sacrament of Baptism.

Enhancing our Lenten journey is prayer—including prayers for those to be initiated into the Church through the Baptismal waters on Easter. I hope these words of Saint Ambrose helps your prayer and mine bear much fruit.
"Lent Leads to Baptism"

After this you drew nearer, you saw the font itself, and you saw the bishop presiding over it. The thought which came into the mind of Naaman the Syrian, I am certain, must have come into yours: for though he was afterwards cleansed, he began by doubting...And if anyone should perhaps be thinking of saying: 'Is that all?', I say, indeed it is all. There truly is all, where there is all innocence, all devotion, all grace, all sanctification. You saw all you could see with the eyes of the body...; what is unseen is much greater than what is seen...for the things that are unseen are eternal...

Consider baptism, for example. What could be more extraordinary than this, that the Jewish people passed through the midst of the sea? And yet all the Jews who made that passage died in the desert. But he who passes through the waters of this font—that is, from earthly
things to heavenly—he who passes through these waters does not die: he rises again.

As I was saying, Naaman was a leper. The moment Naaman came, the prophet told him: 'Go down to the river Jordan; bathe there and you will be cured.' Then he began to reflect within himself and to say: 'Is that all? I come from Syria to the land of the Jews and someone says to me: "Go to the Jordan, bathe there and you will be cured." As though there were not better rivers in my own country!' Then his servants said to him: 'Lord, why not do what the prophet says? Do it and see what happens.' Then he went to the Jordan, bathed there and came out cured. What is the meaning of this?

You saw the water, but not all waters have a curative power: only that water has it which has the grace of Christ. There is a difference between the matter and the consecration, between the action and its effect. The action belongs to the water, its effect to the Holy Spirit. The water does not heal unless the Spirit descends and consecrates the water.

So you have read that when our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the rite of baptism, he came to John and John said to him: 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' (Mt 3,14)...Christ went down into the water and it was John who was the minister and baptized him. And behold, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove...

Why did Christ come down first and the Holy Spirit afterwards?... Why was this? It was in order that the Lord Jesus might not appear to have need of this mystery of sanctification, but that he himself might sanctify, and that the Spirit might also sanctify.
—Saint Ambrose (c.340-397), Bishop of Milan and Doctor of the Church
On the Sacraments, 1 (trans. Edward Yarnold SJ)

Many thanks to
The Daily Gospel folks for providing this meditation.