The Catholic faith is not simply a collection of doctrines, or a body of knowledge, or a system of beliefs. Nor is it simply a tradition or a cultural or religious expression although it is all of those things and more. Fundamentally, Christianity is an experience: a life-changing, personal experience of the risen Jesus Christ. Everything else in our life as Catholics, flows from that personal encounter with Jesus Christ. If we truly seek him, then we will always find him. But when we find him, we need to be ready for the consequences, because nothing about our lives can be the same. We are called to new life.
This week, at St. Joseph in Grande Prairie, three adults received the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. They will now find that they are propelled into a new life in Christ. That means they will begin to see the world in new ways. First, they will have to begin to look for God at work everywhere: through the natural world, through the good work of God’s people trying to bring love and compassion into the world in real ways, and through the church. It is easy to overlook the good that God brings into the world, amid all the bad news on television, online, and in movies. However, God is alive and active and always working for the good of his people. But, if you don’t look for the good you won’t see it.
Secondly, they will have to say goodbye to their old life, because they are already living a new life. An image from the Bible comes to mind about the process of coming to “new life”. Recall the Israelites fleeing from Pharaoh in Egypt. They come to the Red Sea. Now they have the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them. God, working through Moses, parts the sea and they walk through on dry ground with walls of water on either side. They get to the other side and the waters return to their natural depth, killing Pharaoh’s army. Now on the other side, the Israelites must live a new life.
What they discovered was that freedom as a free people was not always easy. In Egypt, as slaves, they had been provided with meagre food and lodging. They were not free, but they knew how to live that life. Their new life was uncertain, full of new dangers, hardship and deprivation. However, God was with them in a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud to remind them of his presence (Exodus 13:21-22). God provided them with manna and quails for food, and water to drink. They had to suffer, and ask for help, but God always provided for them.
New life in Christ means letting go of old thinking, old seeing, old habits and old expectations. New life requires new thinking, new seeing, new habits and new expectations. It will not always be easy. But, I pray that the newly baptized will trust that God will be with them, through others in the church. Our God is a faithful God. Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist are gifts God gives for the journey. And once God gives a gift, he does not take it back.