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 March 5 , 2007VOL. 45, NO. 5Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Lent: Bringing the image of Christ
to perfection in us

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

As I send out my column for this edition of The Voice, we are concluding the first stage of Lent – the great 40 days of preparation for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

That means we will have gotten our ashes, made our resolutions and begun the set of practices and prayers we have decided to follow in order to answer the Lord’s call to open our hearts to the graces of this holy season.

One of the most significant parts of starting Lent in our diocese is the enrollment of the catechumens among the elect, the inscribing of their names in the Book of Life as a sign that they are called to be baptized, confirmed and to receive their First Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil.

And in that same ceremony those Christians who are asking for full communion and participation in the life of the Church will also be called to this great grace.

So, there’s a lot happening.

Our challenge is to see how all of the pieces fit together, how they are not just discreet bits of devotional practices but are a living whole that is animated with a vibrant spirit.

In looking for a way to speak about this “animating spirit” of our Lenten practices, these words from one of the Lenten Prefaces caught my attention: “As we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ, you bring the image of your Son to perfection in us.” There, that’s what Lent is all about. Here’s what gives it life.

In about 40 days we will recall those “events that gave us new life in Christ.” The whole Church will pray – pray in great assemblies with solemn rites, and pray in small groups with words that come spontaneously to our lips, and pray in the secret places of our hearts, often in a dialogue too deep for words – pray with our hearts and minds fixed on how much Christ has loved us.

As the Preface text makes clear, this prayerful recollection is not a sort of wistful nostalgia for what once occurred long ago.

Our prayer is a time for something to happen now. We recall the past, but this changes the present: the image of Christ in us is brought to perfection.

The love for his Father, which Jesus expressed “to the end,” and which the Father accepted in raising Jesus from the dead, is deepened in us today. That’s how his image is made even sharper, more perfect, clearer in us.

The agent accomplishing this is the Holy Spirit. It is the mission of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity to come into the world and to imprint the image of Jesus wherever we let his shadow fall.

He came upon Our Lady at the Annunciation, and Jesus came to be within her womb. He comes upon the bread and wine at Mass, and these signs become the very presencing of Jesus’ sacrifice.

In Baptism at the Easter Vigil, this same Holy Spirit will come upon the elect and imprint in them the image of Christ. So then, the Father “will see and love in them what he sees and loves in Jesus”: perfect self-sacrificial love – love for God and love for others.

In Lent, while the elect are preparing for this transformation, we who are already baptized, already stamped with the image of Jesus, go about our intensified routines of prayer, fasting/self-denial, and good works, so that this image will be deepened.

And our hope is that we will come to the Paschal Vigil with the face of Christ in us brought to a whole new level of perfection.

I’ve written this reflection to help us all remember that Lent is a mysterious thing, a time when, while we are about important things, the most important “doer” or agent is the Holy Spirit. We act so that we can give him an opportunity to act, to change us.

My reflection also aims at helping us understand better that being a Christian is about a form of life. Often in the popular culture our religion is categorized as a private thing, a set of opinions and practices and sentiments that each of us picks up in order to have a more pleasant or meaningful life. In this view, membership in the Church is a sort of accessory we add on in order to make life better.

No. Being a Christian is not something that enriches life. It is life. For his disciples, to know Christ is to live. And the very prospect of losing him would be worse than death.

So, that’s the agenda for the 40 days: to live, to live more. To put off all that is not Jesus in me. That is, to overcome every part of me that is not dedicated to the Father’s will and the service of his children.

Let us pray for each other, that when we walk out into the light of the moon on the Saturday night Easter Vigil, Christ will shine out from us in the sight of the Father.

 

Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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