March 01, 2009

Cleaning Ourselves in the Flood

The ashes that we've worn on our foreheads are a once-a-year reminder of a constant truth. We are frail. We are temporary. We are dirty.

Like our forehead on Ash Wednesday, our souls are stained. By now, the ashes have washed off in the sink or shower. What about the less delible and less visible marks?

In the reading from his first letter (1 Pt 3:18-22), Peter has done some of the work for me today. The first Pope commented on the reading from Genesis (Gn 9:8-15). The flood that cleansed the world physically prefigured baptism, which cleans us each spiritually. "It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience." (1 Pt 3:21)
Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.
— John Donne, from "A Hymn to God the Father"

We really are God's children. As soon as the laundry is done, we're piling up more. Our baptism saves us from original sin, and the gift of forgiveness and the coming of the Holy Spirit continue to keep us clean from day to day. As God promised, a flood would never destroy all mortal beings, but the flood of baptism, forgiveness, and God's grace, instead, saves us every day.

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