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Spring Training:
Warm Up to Lent

by Christopher Bellitto

When I was in school, my teachers and parish priests compared the celebration of Easter to the earth coming back to life after the cold, dead winter. They'd point out spring flowers peeping through the soil and that the trees which had been leafless and bare were sprouting green again.

"Just like this," they'd say, turning from the window, "Jesus came back from death to life on Easter morning." And I'd halfheartedly think, "Great." My reasons for looking forward to Easter really didn't have much to do with the Resurrection.

More hours of sunshine each spring meant I could stay out later every afternoon and get an extra hour of softball in after dinner, too. Heavy coats and gloves got packed away. Best of all, when Easter came, the end of the school year was near. Now that was really good news.

Easter came and went every year—a little like waking up after a dreary afternoon of napping. But what would make this year and this Easter any different? Why did my teachers make such a big deal?

Now I think I understand: Easter is every year both the same and different, both old and new.

It's the same because every spring we celebrate that great event that turned our lives around even before we were born. God raised Jesus from the dead, this Jesus who took our sins on his shoulders and died for us so we would not have to experience—and suffer from—the separation that sin causes.

But each Easter is different as well since every year we're a little different; a little older, maybe a little wiser, certainly a little more experienced. So every Lent is a chance for us to look back at our year to see where we are in our relationship with God, family, friends and ourselves. Every Easter, we can renew our commitments to what's important in our lives, just like those plants and trees renewed themselves outside my classroom window.

For You, By You

There is an important moment that takes place each year at Easter Mass, whether at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night or on Sunday morning, that actually helps us pause, look back and renew ourselves. It's called the renewal of baptismal promises and usually takes place after new members of the parish are baptized, received into the Catholic Church and confirmed. After they have made their new commitment to the faith, the priest will turn to us and ask us to renew our commitment: literally, to make new (re-new) those statements which define us as Catholics.

These are statements that were probably made for you if you were baptized as a baby. At Easter, as at Confirmation, it's time for you to affirm these things for yourself. Baptism and Confirmation are one-shot deals: You celebrate these sacraments once and for all. Renewing your baptismal promises is a little like keeping your driver's license current. Is everything you said before still true? Can you see or do you need glasses?

Renewing invites us to remember the truth of our Baptism and Confirmation, to look more deeply than ever and to be faithful all year long. It's like making a New Year's resolution. Easter is a beginning too.

Every year, the questions are the same. Look at it this way: Renewing baptismal promises at Easter is like being told that you have a major test coming up. You not only are told the date and time of the test, but you also get the exact questions that are going to be asked and have more than a month to get ready.

The best way to get where you want to go is to think about the end of a project at its beginning. Now, while winter is still with you on the outside, is the moment to start putting Easter in your mind and prayer, your insides.

You're like a baseball player beginning spring training in February. Unless he prepares well even when it's still cold and dark out, there's no way he's going to be ready to play on Opening Day when it's bright and sunny. So target that moment of renewing your baptismal promises at Easter right now, at the beginning of Lent.

Before you can live those baptismal promises, you've got to understand them so you too can say "I do" with your whole heart on Easter. One way to approach this preparation is to take apart the promises, think, pray and talk about them, and then put them back together with personal meaning, not just a textbook explanation.

Give up 15 minutes of television, talking on the telephone or listening to music each week to get ready for Easter. Devote those 15 minutes to thinking about just one part of the promises, or one piece of one part. You can make that your Lenten sacrifice. As a reminder, clip the boxes with the questions in this issue and tape them to your mirror, stick them in your datebook or use them for a bookmark. By the time Easter arrives, you'll be ready for your own Opening Day.

No, No, No

The promises have two parts. First comes the rejection of Satan and sin. You publicly state what you won't accept as a Catholic. Then you move on to the second part, the profession of faith, that lays out for all to hear—especially yourself—just what it is that you believe that makes you a Catholic. In other words, this is the one time all year when you actually say, very simply and clearly, "This is who and what I am."

Take a look at the first set of questions about rejecting Satan and sin. Even though there are two versions of this part, the priest will use just one. It doesn't matter which you think about during Lent and which he picks because they all lead you to the same decision.

Rejecting Satan sounds very dramatic, especially when he's described as "father of sin and prince of darkness." Because it's so heavy it can make you nervous and uncomfortable, even giggly. But take a good look at the questions.

They ask you to reflect on how you reject invitations which trick you to focus on things that don't really matter: money instead of friendship, casual sex instead of a loving commitment, fame and career highlights instead of spiritual progress and family loyalty.

Satan seems to work in skirmishes and tiny battles, wearing you down bit by bit when you give in to little white lies, picking up one or two answers from the paper next to you in class until you've accumulated a load that might bury you.

You can choose to reject Satan by not joining in any crowd that taunts or mocks anyone who is overweight, ugly, skinny or can't put a basketball through a hoop—all unkind judgments that just might not even be accurate! One face of evil is to imagine that you look good when others don't, to wish that they fail or look bad. You can reject Satan's empty promises by choosing to forgive a person or saying you're sorry or wrong even if that means losing a little stature or face among your friends.

You can turn your back on this kind of good-looking evil by putting others, instead of yourself, first. Spend an afternoon visiting a neighbor who lives alone instead of cruising the Internet. Study with someone who's struggling with algebra instead of making fun of his or her grades. Invite an exchange student to spend Easter at your house. If this sounds natural to you, you're on your way to a big "I do" at Easter. If it sounds unnatural or unfamiliar to you, consider the situation again.

Yes, Yes, Yes

Giving sin and evil no room in your life is essential to being Catholic. It's a necessary preparation for making plenty of room for doing good.

If you follow the second set of questions about your faith, you'll see that you're asked to express four beliefs: In God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Roman Catholic Church. Take one piece of this and walk around with it for a few days during Lent.

Though what follows here is in the order of the Creed and of the Easter renewal of baptismal promises, there's no reason why you need to spend your 15 minutes a week in the same order. It does seem reasonable, however, to ask yourself, "What do I really mean by such a promise?" Take time during this spring training of Lent to find out.

1. Who is the Father to you? My image of God the Father often starts with my own parents, very disciplined and loving people. I didn't always understand their limitations and expectations of me when I was growing up and sometimes I rebelled against them. As I grew older, I found that the more I understood what my parents were about, the more I appreciated God the Father's very personal and individual love for me, even when it seems strict.

2. Where is Jesus, God's Son, in your life? Do you make time for Mary, his mother? What do the last days of Jesus' life mean to you? The next time you see a news report about a police officer killed while trying to save someone else's life, think about Jesus dying for you. Does the crucifixion apply to you and your family? Do you ever shout (or whisper), "Crucify him! Crucify him!" during the year? I've heard of a parish that makes this point very graphically. As each person enters the church on Good Friday, he or she walks up to a large cross laid out on a table and hammers a nail into the wood.

Where are you on Easter morning? Are you like the woman who saw Christ but did not at first recognize him? Are you represented by the disciples who abandoned their friends on Good Friday and couldn't believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead?

3. What about the Holy Spirit who guides your actions and helps you through the tough times? Do you listen for the Spirit or shut the Spirit out? When you have to make a big decision—to apologize to a sister or brother or to ask someone to forgive you for an insult—do you explain away why you shouldn't do the right thing or do you allow the Holy Spirit to work through your heart?

This profession of faith (I do) turns your mind to the Church. This is a good time to make a commitment not to miss Mass unless absolutely necessary—even if it means getting up on Sunday at 6:30 in the morning! Beyond that, you might spend a few days thinking about your relationship to your parish by looking at volunteer opportunities or the future possibility of becoming a priest, sister or brother. It is certainly a moment to consider how connected you are to your parish and to the Church as a whole.

Are the saints part of your life? The saints are often overlooked in the Church today, but they are better role models than most of the "heroes" which the media instantly create and abandon once they show just one chink in their shiny armor. Many saints were people just like you: mostly happy, sometimes sad, full of hopes and dreams and doubts, victorious and defeated but always working to be better people.

You can address this very big topic with a small step: Go to the library, find a book that explores the life of the saint after whom you or your parish is named or a saint who is very important to your family or ethnic group.

The "communion of saints" mentioned in the renewal of baptismal promises is like a spiritual National Guard. You can call in the saints—both those recognized by the Church and those known only to you—to give you good advice or provide an example to follow.

Those saints might also provide some clues to understanding the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, difficult subjects to consider when you are a teenager faced with the death of a very sick grandmother who some say is "in a better place" and "not suffering." This part of the promises is also about the faith that keeps you going when you read about the senseless slaughter of a baby caught in the crossfire of a drug gang's street fight.

Do You Say 'I Do'?

Understanding, renewing and living your baptismal promises are huge tasks that allow for a lifetime of practice. But that's the particular challenge of Easter: Make a strong, good "I do" answer to each of the questions you are asked, having given some thought to them—even one part of one question—during this Lent. Next year, work on another piece.

The events of Easter are, after all, the core of our Catholic faith. If Jesus' tomb is not empty, if we can't say that we believe what may seem impossible and unbelievable, then "Alleluia" isn't the kind of song we can sing on Easter. We have little to make us happy churchgoers.

But we are. "This is our faith," the priest will say after you renew your promises affirming, "Yes, this is what I believe." If each of us makes this commitment to renew ourselves, then the Church and the world will be a much better place in the coming year.

One last thought: No one is looking for your complete success. You'll decide that you're going to try to live the rest of the year what you proclaim on Easter Sunday. If you falter, think of this prayer that is offered to God on the next day, Easter Monday, at Mass: "Help us put into action in our lives the Baptism we have received with faith."

This prayer is an important reminder: God doesn't ask us to be successful, only faithful to the attempt.

Christopher M. Bellitto teaches Church history at the Institute of Religious Studies and St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie. He writes frequently for scholarly and popular publications.



Making Room to Move

The first part of the renewal of baptismal promises is the rejection of Satan and sin. The priest will choose one of these two versions. You are asked to answer "I do" to each of the questions.

  • Do you reject Satan?
  • And all his works?
  • And all his empty promises?


  • Do you reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God's children?
  • Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?
  • Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?

Maximizing Your Commitment

The second part of the renewal of baptismal promises is the Profession of Faith. You are asked to answer "I do" to each of these questions.

  • Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
  • Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
  • Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Kyle P. Cummins (16), Sara Rumpler (14) and Jessica Saurber (15) of St. Ann Parish in Hamilton, Ohio, critiqued this edition of Youth Update. They thought the author's comparisons on target and helpful. Carol Mulcahey, youth minister at St. Ann's and former seventh-grade teacher of all three, gathered the trio together.


Is Satan the same person or thing as the devil?


Yes, that's who we're talking about in the renewal of baptismal vows. It's confusing because so many other words are used to describe Satan—a.k.a. Lucifer, Beelzebub or demon, to name just a few. Evil is a very real presence in the world, regardless of what it's called. When you reject Satan (the forces of evil), you turn your back on a presence that is the exact opposite of what God is: evil instead of good, hate instead of love, sin instead of virtue.


We already go to Mass, but that's not enough to be a really good Catholic. Isn't there much, much more?


The fact that you even asked this question shows that you're trying to be an active believer. And that means you're on the right track. Being a good Catholic means turning every day of the week into Sunday. So, if you're already doing your Sunday best by going to Mass, then try to bring the message of Sunday's Mass readings to what you're doing on Monday morning, Thursday afternoon and Saturday night. Remember: You may never reach perfection, but you should always strive to practice what is preached.


Even in Church, it looks as if Christmas is the most important day of the year. Why do you say Easter is?


Our eyes do say Christmas is tops. Maybe it's because the manger scene, the familiar carols, and all the wreaths and bows which fill the church building can also be seen in malls and on people's front lawns! Christmas is celebrated because we remember the moment when God was born into our human race, but this was just the starting point. What Jesus was born on Christmas to do was completed by his resurrection on Easter. If Jesus did not come back from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning, his birth on Christmas would have been an unfinished story.


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