By Cardinal Justin Rigali
We know that the Lenten season is also the great period of preparation for the reception of catechumens into the Church. This period of preparation for the reception of Baptism was restored after the Second Vatican Council and we have been celebrating its stages throughout Lent, as we lead up to the great celebration of Baptism at the Easter Vigil. One of the primary elements of that Vigil is the Service of Light. Most are familiar with that portion of the Liturgy which proclaims Christ as our Light and which is followed by the faithful receiving their candles, lit from the Easter candle, symbolizing Christ, the Light of the world.
In the Liturgy of infant Baptism, there is also a handing over of a candle, lit from the Easter candle which is present near the Baptismal font. In being presented with this candle, the godparents and parents, who are making a profession of Faith for the child, are told: “Receive the light of Christ. This light has been entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly.” We know that light is a very basic element of our Christian faith. We could make an entire study of the concept of light as a symbol of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament, and its fulfillment in the images used by Jesus in the Gospels. However, for our purposes here, we will just point out that Jesus said: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
In his Commentary on the Gospel of John, Saint Augustine brings together the imagery of water and light found in the Liturgy of Baptism. He writes: “See how the words of the Lord accord with the truth of the Psalm: ‘With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light’ (Psalm 36:10). The psalmist connects light with the source of life, and the Lord speaks of a ‘light of life.’ When we are thirsty, we look for a fountain; when we are in darkness we look for light. Not so with God: he is light and fountain. He who shines for you to enable you to see, flows for you to enable you to drink” (Commentary, 34:6).
The light of Jesus in our lives
On a very practical level, we know that light does two things: it warms and it illumines. Jesus has warmed the world with the light of His love by His Death and Resurrection, which have transformed all of creation. He enlightens those who will receive Him with the bright light of His teaching, so that we do not need to live in confusion and darkness, without knowledge of God’s plan for us. However, this image is also extended to our mission. Jesus says: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16).
This is where we are given our mission as Christians, symbolized by the handing over of the lighted candle. This mission is given to all the baptized but in different forms. For the lay faithful, the principal place where that mission is to be carried out is in the “marketplace.” In other words, in those circumstances in which the Christian is placed by virtue of his or her vocation in the world. This can be in the home, in the workplace, in the community or in whatever circumstance the Christian may be by reason of the living out of life in this world.
The Second Vatican Council emphasized the duty of the Christian to be an apostle in the world. This duty comes to us through Baptism and Confirmation (cf. Lumen Gentium, 33). In the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, the Council taught: “The laity have countless opportunities for exercising the apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The very witness of a Christian life, and good works done in a supernatural spirit, are effective in drawing men and women to the faith and to God; and that is what the Lord has said: ‘Your light must shine so brightly before people that they can see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven’ (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 6).
The same Council, in its Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, teaches: “All Christians, by the example of their lives and the witness of the word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new person which they put on in Baptism, and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at Confirmation, so that others, seeing their good works, might glorify the Father and more perfectly perceive the true meaning of human life” (Ad Gentes, 11).
Men’s Spirituality Conference
On Saturday, March 7, a marvelous event took place in our Archdiocese which had the highlighting of the concepts we are discussing here as its goal. It was called, “Strengthen One Another,” and was a men’s spirituality conference. Events such as this are appropriate for every group of Christ’s lay faithful and targeting one group at a time enables the event to be more focused and specific to the challenges of that particular group.
What a great joy it was to see 1,200 men gather together with the idea of drawing closer to Christ and bringing the results of that intimacy to their families and to all those with whom they come in contact! As I said in my Homily at the Mass that day: “The lessons which we learn today urge us to go and meet our responsibilities, and to do so empowered by the love of God. The majestic glory of Christ will always sustain-especially in moments of turbulence and turmoil-those who have seen and heard it.”
In many ways, this Day of Spirituality was a microcosm of how we prepare for bringing the light of Christ to the world. The fact that over forty priests were called upon to hear Confessions that day reminds us that we need to be purified and forgiven of those sins committed after Baptism so that we might carry our light with a pure soul.
The celebration of the Holy Mass and the reception of Holy Communion remind all of us that this is the “source and summit” of the Christian life, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, and so we must always draw our strength from its celebration and reception and be continually refreshed by adoration of this same Sacrament as the ongoing fruit of the Eucharistic celebration. The speakers at the conference reminded us that we all need to be refreshed and inspired by solid and effective teachers. This can be accomplished at a conference, by the reading of sound books of Christian spirituality, by listening to speakers on the faith provided by Catholic television and radio stations and by taking advantage of Parish programs which have this same purpose. Activities such as this encourage us in our resolve and prepare us for the apostolate, just as the grace of the Sacraments give us spanine and unfailing strength for our task.
A marvelous continuity
I do not think it is difficult to notice, even in the brief space allotted here, a marvelous continuity in the message and challenge of Jesus in the ongoing role of the Church in proclaiming and sustaining that challenge and in the remarkable fact that this mission, foretold long ago by those who prepared the way for the Messiah, was fulfilled in Jesus, who came as the “light of the world.”
In fact, the current Successor of Saint Peter, the “rock” on which the faith is built, has reiterated this challenge during his pastoral journey to Africa. I thought it was not a coincidence but a great grace and a sign of the perennial mission of the Church, that just as I was preparing this message, I read these words of the Holy Father. They were spoken in Africa by the current Successor of Peter but they reflect the mission given to all Christians by Jesus and guaranteed in its purity by Peter’s Successors.
Pope Benedict said: “Today it is up to you, brothers and sisters, to offer the Risen Christ to your fellow citizens. Who can go to them and proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death? Someone may object: ‘Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth, and we have ours. Let us all try to live in peace, leaving everyone as they are, so they can best be themselves.’ But if we are convinced and have come to experience that without Christ life lacks something, that something real – indeed, the most real thing of all – is missing, we must also be convinced that we do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life. Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life” (Homily, Mass for Religious, Luanda, Angola, 21 March 2009).
26 March 2009