Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
With the feasts of Epiphany (Jan. 8) and the Baptism of the Lord (Jan. 9), we find ourselves at the end of the Christmas season and the start of Ordinary Time. The next major seasons are Lent and Easter, at the end of which I intend to unveil our All Things New plan for parishes.
It strikes me that pregnancy, labor and delivery – which lie at the heart of the Christmas season – are an apt metaphor for what we’re undertaking with All Things New. Pregnancy is a time of silent growth on the inside, accompanied by preparation and anticipation on the outside. We’re going through that now. Labor and delivery are painful – and we’re anticipating that pain now. But, finally, the pain brings forth something beautiful, and joy over new life soon overshadows the pain. This is my hope for All Things New!
First-time mothers often take classes to prepare for the rigors of labor and delivery. I think we also have to prepare. If we’re not prepared for it, the pain of re-organization can overwhelm us.
One clue for how to prepare comes from the feast that closes the Christmas season – the Baptism of the Lord. When Jesus emerges from the water, the heavens are opened; the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove; and the Father’s voice says: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ baptism is a completely Trinitarian event!
Our lives, too – because we live in Jesus – are meant to be a Trinitarian event. That truth is, first, a grace given to us, but it’s also a discipline we have to learn. We have to learn how to remain in Jesus, when we’re constantly pulled into the world. We have to learn how to be sensitive to the movements of the Spirit, when external noise constantly draws our attention. We have to learn how to listen to the Father’s voice and rest in His love, when we’re constantly tempted to measure ourselves by achievement.
If we cultivate the discipline of paying attention to the Trinitarian dynamic of our lives, then our parish configurations become secondary. Not unimportant, mind you! But also no longer the primary thing.
We’ll be reading from the Letter to the Hebrews for the next four weeks. One of its central themes is how the priesthood of Jesus is rooted in sacrifice. Our path to holiness is to follow Jesus. That means sacrifice will be asked of us, and that’s not easy!
If we try to bear the pain of that sacrifice alone – and we all know that temptation! – it turns into a black hole of sadness, weariness, discouragement and cynicism. If we’re not careful, the coming months could be like that.
But there’s another option, and the Letter to the Hebrews spells it out for us: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been similarly tested in every way … So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
If we turn to Jesus in our sacrifice, then two things can happen. First, we can find joy in sacrifice. Second, Jesus can make our sacrifice fruitful. Sacrifice, borne in Jesus, becomes the opposite of a black hole: It gives off light and life.
My hope for the coming months is that we will bear our sacrifices in Jesus. I invite you to join me in that hope and discipline!