Friday, April 13, 2007

The Gift

Now that I'm finally feeling better, I'm going to start tackling that list of things in the post below this one. Thanks for your patience!

We didn't intend to attend the Easter Vigil. Our relative newness to the whole experience of singing with the choir, our children's ages and the fact that we'd be asking them to participate in a Mass that would begin late and probably last at least three hours, even the fact that my husband and I haven't attended an Easter Vigil since the year we were married--all these things made us afraid to try. We made our plans for Easter around the intention of attending our usual Mass at eleven a.m.

But God has plans for us that we don't have for ourselves, and sometimes His plans include relatively small things. As we were preparing to leave the Good Friday services I found out that only one tenor was actually planning to be at the Vigil, unless my husband was there as well. We talked it over with the children, who were more than willing to try attending the Vigil, and before we knew it we were back in church Saturday night, only a little later than we'd been the night before.

It was incredible to be there with them, to sit in the darkened church, to feel the excitement of my youngest one who was eager to see just how all those candles the people were holding would come alight. It was amazing to hear the readings and join in singing the psalms, most of which occurred in almost complete darkness. The contrast when we began singing the "Gloria" and all the lights in the church blazed brightly as the bells rang out, was unbelievable--my second daughter said that it was so beautiful it almost made her cry.

For me, the verge-of-tears moment came at the baptisms. There were nearly thirty, from what I recall. Many of the newly-baptized were young; some were siblings, and their parents beamed proudly as the children became Catholic. But some were adults, too, who approached the sacrament with almost palpable joy, the joy of a seeker who has finally found that pearl of great price.

It was their joy that made my eyes a little misty. For those of us, like me, who are cradle Catholics it can be a little easy sometimes to take this incredible gift, the gift of faith, a bit too lightly. We can forget how graciously God has bestowed this gift, which we do not earn, on us. We can even forget its terrifying cost.

The newly-baptized on Easter night aren't going to forget those things any time soon. As they stand up, dripping and beaming, from their kneeling positions in front of the baptismal font, they remind all of the rest of us just how precious a gift our faith is, just how important it should be in our lives, just how much we should be willing to do to preserve and defend it.

The sad reality is that people do lose that gift. I always think of the parable of the sower, and how even some who receive the Good News with joy can grow weary when the time of trial comes, as it comes for us all. Not for nothing does Our Lord speak of coming like a thief in the night; not for nothing does He warn us that we don't know the day or the hour that we will be put to the test. Our faith cannot grow without Him; we can't remain steadfast without Him; we can't plant it in hope or nourish it in love without Him.

As the newly-baptized gathered at the foot of the altar along with those who, already baptized, were to enter full communion with the Church by receiving the Eucharist and Confirmation, I found myself praying for all of them, and for all of us, to be strengthened in faith against the time of trial. I also found myself praying for those who join the Church with such joy only to leave it two or five or ten or twenty years later, and for those baptized Catholic as children but never raised in the faith, that all of these might somehow, someday, find their way back home.

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