On Sunday, January 13, after concelebrating Mass for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, I retreated to the rectory to carefully pack up my crèche and to take down the house Christmas tree, which meant storing the ornaments and unstringing the lights. Yes, it is an artificial tree, but it makes it easier to justify my belief that Christmas decorations should be kept up for the entire season. There is a touch of sadness as the "plug is pulled" for the last time: the warm glow of the Christmas lights fades, and from both inside and outside of the house, the living room seems a bit darker, a tad cooler.
Yes, the Christmas season is officially over; and by the time you read this article, the season of Lent will have begun -- hopefully, we will have committed ourselves to some particular penitential practices (taking more time for personal prayer, fasting more regularly, offering other sacrifices, increasing our charitable giving -- Rice Bowls, perhaps -- and acts of compassion); daily Mass attendance will be up in most parishes; and perhaps most importantly, the catechumens in our parishes (those individuals who are preparing to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at Easter) will have taken one more step toward their initiation as full members of Christ's Body. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has always been one of my favorite parish experiences. Why? I've always been inspired by the faith of the neophytes -- that is the new Christians, new Catholics, who have dared to say, "Yes!" to the call of the Lord. Their response exudes the kind of hope, joy and peace that comes only with the gift of new life that someone receives by encountering the Lord and embracing His offer of a personal relationship.
But catechumens don't -- or at least they shouldn't -- take those steps alone. As Church, as believers, we are called to accompany them on their Lenten pilgrimage. We have been consecrated as God's priestly people; therefore, we pray for and with them. We have been commissioned to witness to our faith; therefore, we live as disciples dedicated to the truth of God's Word.
So as our catechumens prepare to die and rise through their baptism, we are called to renew our commitment to the Lord, to die to self and our selfish attitudes and actions, and to rise to a new life that embodies the central mystery of our faith and the source of our salvation: Christ's passion, death and resurrection.
I am grateful that the Mass from this past Sunday included the baptism of two infants. As Father Greg Dube invited these families to renew their baptismal promises "by rejecting Satan and professing their faith in Christ Jesus," he welcomed the entire assembly to do the same. I, too, listened carefully to each question and recommitted myself to the faith that I profess to believe. It occurred to me that the next time we are invited to renew our baptismal promises will most probably be in the warm glow of a new set of lights -- not electric bulbs on a tree but the flame from the candles that will have been lit from the newly blessed Easter Paschal candle -- a flame that symbolizes the light of Christ that dwells within each one of us. "Jesus Christ is the light of the world: a light no darkness can extinguish!" Not even the darkness of our personal sins or human suffering -- not even the darkness of death itself -- can "pull the plug" on the light of Christ given to all of us through baptism.
Whether or not we consciously fan the flame of our faith, or the faith of others, is another matter. The "Gloria" of Christmas, the "Hosanna" of Holy Week, and the "Alleluia" of Easter are not magic moments that come and go like seasonal decorations; rather, they are gateways of God's grace intended to enlighten our hearts, minds and souls with His life and love, and to share with others each and every day of the year. There are a million ways to bring the light of Christ to others ... and there are a million excuses that can be given for neglecting to do so. In this Year of Faith, will our Lenten journey illumine our world?
Monsignor Andrew Dubois
Moderator of the Curia