Baptism is one of my favorite subjects to teach my Pre-K students. Often, it is the first time the boys and girls really get a chance to learn about what Baptism is. Other times, it provides them a chance to share about their own sacramental experience or that of someone they know. Throughout the unit, everyone is given a chance to celebrate being part of God’s family in the Church. Learning about Baptism is a PreK standard in their catechesis, and we begin January by learning about Christ’s Baptism in the River Jordan. We learn that it was John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus and offered a baptism of repentance. John came before Jesus telling the people to, “’Prepare the way for the Lord!’ preaching a baptism of forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:3-4).
Like the people whom John baptized and preached to, we likely are feeling in need of renewal. As we welcome this new year, we can also be renewed and cleansed from such a challenging year spiritually, emotionally, and physically! We can start fresh this year, and hear John, “a voice crying out in the desert.”
For me, 2020 often felt like a desert. At times, I felt as though my thirst for the Eucharist was unbearable since going to Church was unsafe. Other times, it seemed like I was stranded alone with a new baby and deserted by any additional help. This year has taken its toll on so many, in so many ways, and everyone’s desert has been hard. This pandemic has left many of us yearning, thirsting, and begging the Lord for renewal. Let us consider putting on a new self in renewing our own baptismal promises, participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and entering 2021 with clean and refreshed hearts!
My son was welcomed into the Church through Baptism in September. We followed the safety restrictions, had an option for virtual participation, and were able to celebrate our little child of God being cleansed of original sin. It was a humbling and beautiful Mass and Baptism. While I was holding my son, Vincent (named after St. Vincent Pallotti), I could feel God's presence and see it unfolding before my eyes. For a moment, my desert had become an oasis. Life, water, joy, gratitude, my little boy’s squeals, and love were present there with us. I knew there and then that my son had been renewed and would in turn bring some renewal into our lives. Just as my son’s baptism brought refreshing hope into my family’s life, the Lord’s Baptism can bring renewal and hope into our lives as Catholics. At the Lord’s Baptism, he received his mission. May we continue to reflect upon our own mission as disciples in this upcoming year.
Our hearts are yearning to be cleansed and renewed amidst our many deserts. Like my students learning about Baptism for the first time, let us engage our hearts and open our ears to the Word anew. Like my son’s Baptism showed me an oasis amidst a desert storm, let us find joy in our own Baptisms this year. Here is a prayer to leave you with as we begin the year anew:
Heavenly Father, as a new calendar year begins, cleanse us with new hope and give us nourishment in your Son, Jesus Christ. Wash away our sadness, pain, and fears and help us to know your love throughout this upcoming year. Help us prepare the way for you to come into our hearts, oh Lord. Turn our own desert into oasis. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
“At the school of Mary, we learn that her life is marked not by protagonism but by the capacity to enable others to be protagonists. She offers courage, teaches people to speak, and above all encourages people to live the boldness of faith and hope. In this way she becomes the transparency of the Lord’s face who shows his power by inviting and calling people to participate in building up his living temple.” – Pope Francis, Homily on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 2018
Such a strange thing Christ has done! He has left his mission to the baptized until he comes again in glory at the end of time. This is the part of Advent waiting that we often do not dwell on. The first half of Advent is very much focused, though, on this reality. Our waiting is not passive, but very active. We are protagonists who are called to boldly witness Christ in our lives. Bold witness in the way of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who encouraged St. Juan Diego to go forth to build not simply a physical temple in the Lord, but one that is living.
In a time of needed renewal within the Church, we turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary to be with us, but also to give us example. She did not focus on the reality of the change in her life when she heard the message of the Angel Gabriel. Instead, she rose and went “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth to rejoice and be in solidarity with her. Elizabeth’s son, St. John the Baptist, later went forth to prepare others for the coming of the Messiah through conversion of hearts and minds to the Lord. We, too, are meant to do the same. We cannot sit back and wait for others, but need to go forth with urgency, in haste, “inviting and calling people to participate in building up his living temple.”
This inviting and calling that enables “others to be protagonists” has a name – co-responsibility. It is co-responsibility for the mission of Christ and his Church. Pope Francis invites us to “move towards a participatory and co-responsible Church, one capable of appreciating its own rich variety, gratefully accepting the contributions of the lay faithful, including young people and women, consecrated persons, as well as groups, associations and movements. No one should be excluded or exclude themselves” (Christus Vivit, 206). Therefore, may our Advent waiting not be passive, but very active in our bold witness of Emmanuel, King of the Nations and Prince of Peace!
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
If you could only take three things on a desert island, what would you bring?
A common question at parties, dates, and job interviews, it’s not so different from what we might ask ourselves during the season of Lent. Lent, as our Catechism says, is “a span of forty days when the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”
Just as the “desert island” question invites us to stop and consider what we really need and want in life, Lent invites us to consider our truest desires, what matters most, when it comes to uniting ourselves to Christ Jesus.
To help us answer this question during Lent, our Catholic tradition gives us three spiritual keys, known as “penitential practices,” namely, Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.
Before deciding what to “give up” during Lent, first “pick up” a new way to pray. Be specific: pick a time, place, and form of prayer. Don’t commit to more than you can do, but don’t be afraid to stretch yourself some.
Lent primarily focuses on the practice of penitential prayer, humbly acknowledging our sins with sorrow and contrition, and turning our hearts back to God’s forgiveness and mercy. One example found at most parishes is the Stations of the Cross, usually hosted every Friday during Lent as a way of reflecting on Christ’s Passion and death. Other daily spiritual exercises might involve reciting the Seven Penitential Psalms, or making a heartfelt Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition. Don’t forget Lent is a powerful time to receive the Sacrament of Penance (also called Reconciliation, or Confession).
Penitential prayer isn’t meant to leave us discouraged, but should increase our desire to love and serve God. The Psalmist sings, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God” (Psalm 42:2-3). Lent is a kind of “spiritual desert” that highlights our thirst for God, which may lead us to experience what the saints of our Church call “dryness in prayer,” times when we lack feelings of comfort and consolation. Rather than a sign that God isn’t listening, as Mother Angelica and others have described, dryness in prayer can be a gift and invitation to find our deeper satisfaction in God alone. In the words of Msgr. Charles Pope, dry and difficult prayer teaches us to seek not the consolation of God but the God of consolation.
Fasting is the spiritual practice of voluntarily abstaining from food or some other bodily need or pleasure (now we can talk of “giving something up”). Fasting is rooted in our Church’s scripture and tradition, especially in imitation of Jesus who fasted for forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:2). While the Church only asks members to fast from food on occasion, I’m convinced fasting is more relevant than ever as we live in constant temptation of becoming more gratified while less grateful, more satiated while less satisfied.
Fasting can be a practice of slowing down. This can mean we intentionally consume and do less, thus allowing God to speak to our souls with less interruptions from the myriad distractions and lesser goods that demand our time and attention. Fasting works to curb our appetites—for food and drink, yes—but also excess information (news and status updates), noise and visual stimulation (TV, video games), so as to redirect our thoughts and desires for God and restore relationships with those near us. Spend some time in prayer considering what things or activities God is calling you to fast from.
When asked, “How much money is enough” Industrialist and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller famously replied, “Just a little bit more.” The practice of almsgiving, on the other hand, can actually be freeing—showing that we can be happy with a little bit less.
John the Baptist instructed his followers, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Luke 3:11), and Jesus warned his disciples of putting stock in material possessions (Luke 18:18-30).
Almsgiving turns the spiritual fruit we inwardly gain through prayer and fasting outward into material fruit shared with the poor and those in need. One year, I chose one item a day I owned (article of clothing, book, can of food, etc.) to set aside to give to the poor through my local church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society or food pantry. I was shocked (and a little embarrassed) by how much I owned but never used. The point isn’t spring-cleaning or making room in the closet for new summer fashions, but to make room in our heart for the poor and to de-clutter the way that leads to the Kingdom of God.
This Lent, I invite you to pray about incorporating these pillars into your forty-day spiritual journey in the desert.