by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, I met with some elementary school students who participate in vocation clubs in their parishes.
In the course of our conversation, I asked them what they thought was the most important day in my life. One student, aware I had just celebrated my 10th anniversary, suggested the day I became archbishop of Kansas City. I acknowledged that, indeed this was a very important and special day in my life, but it was not the most important.
Another student proposed the day I had been ordained a bishop. Again, I acknowledged that this was a very important and special day, but not the most important day of my life.
A third student answered the day when I was ordained a priest. I told them that this May I will celebrate the 40th anniversary of my priestly ordination. Truly, it is a day that I will never forget and it changed my life forever, but still it was not the most important day of my life.
The most important day of my life was the day of my baptism. On that day I received the very life of Jesus Christ. I was given an eternal destiny to live with Our Lord and all the saints forever. Nothing that has happened to me since or will happen in the future can ever come close to being as significant or important as the day of my baptism.
At my baptism, I received a share in the eternal life of the triune God. I became a brother of Jesus Christ, an adopted son of the heavenly Father, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. In essence, I became a living tabernacle for God. And the same is true for all of you.
Just over a week ago, we celebrated the beginning of the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday. I am always edified by the large number of Catholics who come to Mass on Ash Wednesday. There is something about the signing of our foreheads with the ashes from the burnt palm branches of last year’s Palm Sunday celebration that resonates with people.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality. The ashes symbolize the fleeting nature of any worldly pleasures or accomplishments. Through symbol, the liturgy reminds us that some of the same people waving palm branches and welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem as the Messiah would, in a few days, be part of the mob calling for his crucifixion.
Lent could be described as a six-week meditation on our baptism. We begin with the sober reminder of the passing nature of this world and how nothing material can satisfy our deepest longings. We end on Easter with the renewal of our baptismal promises, recalling the great gift of our baptism, as well as the responsibilities that come with it.
God has given us this incredible gift of sharing in his life. Yet, with every gift there come some obligations or responsibilities. We are called to live in a manner that is consistent with our dignity as living tabernacles carrying the very life of Jesus Christ.
Some will come to believe in Jesus or not believe in him based on how we represent him in the world. Since we correctly claim to be part of the body of Christ, others can properly expect that they should be able to recognize Jesus by the manner in which we live our lives. People have a right to anticipate encountering in us the living Jesus. Wow! That is quite a privilege, but also quite a responsibility.
In the baseball world, spring training has begun. It is amazing what professional athletes will do in their efforts to compete well on the athletic field. They will be very disciplined in their diet and exercise regimens. Athletes will think nothing of spending long hours performing repetitive drills to ingrain the skills they need to be able to compete well.
Batters will spend hours attempting to perfect their swing. Pitchers will work diligently to develop a new pitch. Fielders will devote an enormous amount of time repeating the same fielding and throwing drills so that their execution in games during the regular season and the playoffs, will be second nature.
Lent is a time for the Christian to return to the basics. It is a time to ponder the gift and beauty of God’s love for us revealed in his Son. It is a season that beckons us to deepen our friendship with Jesus by ramping up our prayer life. It is a time to free ourselves from disordered attachments — things, activities and relationships that pull us away from our first priority, God.
Imagine what our relationship with Jesus would be like if we spent as much time in prayer as we do watching television, on Facebook, texting and/or talking on the phone. If God is your number one priority, check your calendar to see if your daily schedule verifies this.
Let us begin Lent by anticipating where this season will end. On Easter, we will be asked: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
If our answer to those three questions is “I do,” then how can God not be our number one priority?
I encourage all of us to make a commitment during Lent to give God more time. You might participate in daily Mass, spend a weekly or daily hour in eucharistic adoration, read the Bible — especially the Gospels — prayerfully, pray a daily rosary, make a daily examination of conscience, or all of the preceding.
If you believe, as do I, that the day of your baptism was the most important day in your life, what are you doing to nurture that life in Christ that is within you?
Jesus can change us if we spend time with him. If Jesus is truly ruling our hearts and directing our lives, then we can change our families, our parishes and northeast Kansas.
Think about it.