Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This weekend is one of great joy for our parish community. First, we celebrate on Saturday evening the rededication of our newly renovated and restored church with Bishop Frank J. Caggiano. Second, the Church marks the conclusion of the Christmas season with the feast of our Lord’s baptism, and as a parish community, we celebrate all the children baptized here in the last calendar year. These small children testify to the great gift of life and to the love of their families. Thus, in celebrating the baptism of Jesus, we can also be encouraged at the signs of life and grace that are present among us and in our community.
The coinciding celebrations this weekend of the Baptism of the Lord and the rededication of our church also call to mind some of the great joys and mysteries of the Christian life. To rededicate a church is to mark a solemn, vital moment in the life of a parish community. The restoration of our church building is an image of the restoration that God desires to bring to every human heart. This restoration will come about for each of us in our own personal walk with the Lord and by means of our participation in the sacramental life of the Church and in the life of the parish community. In a mysterious and beautiful way, God also desires to bring about restoration in the wider community through each of us – this is why Pope St. John XXIII spoke of Christians as the “eighth” sacrament, for to those who had not received any of the other sacraments, an encounter with a Catholic Christian might be the means for them to receive God’s powerful grace. What a joy it is to share our faith with others! What a mystery that God entrusts this role to us!
When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the voice of the Father spoke, revealing the truth of Jesus’ identity – beloved Son, filled with the Holy Spirit, set apart for a salvific mission. In the consecration of the altar during the rededication of the church, we see the altar (a symbol of Christ) being anointed (a symbol of the Holy Spirit), and set apart for a salvific mission (“take this all of you and eat of it…do this in memory of me”). The church building is consecrated entirely to God’s purposes. Now, before His baptism, Jesus was already the Incarnate Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in the flesh. Thus, baptism bestowed nothing new upon him, but rather revealed His identity. In a similar way, the church was already set apart for sacred worship, already a place of prayer, already a sanctuary intended for a spiritually salvific mission. But in dedicating the church, as in baptism, the identity of the church is revealed more fully, and God is invited to dwell among us in power.
The mystery of the Incarnation is placed before us again as we look at the physical structure of the church. As the building is dedicated to God, we, the people who constitute this parish community are swept up into the mystery. For the Incarnation is extended to each of us in baptism. Through this first sacrament, we are washed clean of original sin and made members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Thus, the Church (capital C) is the Body of Christ prolonged in time and space, through the centuries, across the world. Each member of the Church pertains to this incarnate body. The church (small c) of brick and mortar images this incarnational truth. Thus, even when the church stands empty, it is a reminder of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. But when it is filled with those who make up the Body of Christ, the Church (and church) is powerfully expressed. The mystery of our participation in the Body of Christ is placed before us. The joy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit received in baptism is renewed. The voice of the Father which spoke the true identity of Jesus that day at the Jordan River speaks again. This church has been set apart for God’s saving purposes. We too, by virtue of baptism and in a renewed way on this great feast of the Lord’s baptism, have been set apart to share with Jesus in that saving mission. Let this church stand as witness, and let our lives witness to each person we meet, that in Christ, all things are to be restored!