The First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 21 this year, was a brilliant day. In a cloudless sky, the sun shone in all of its splendor through the magnificent stained glass windows of St. Joseph’s Cathedral for our Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. People were seated throughout the cathedral to pray for and encourage our catechumens (those preparing to receive the sacraments of Baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil) and our candidates (those preparing to make their Profession of Faith and receive the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist at the Vigil).
Jean Barillet, the French artist who developed the windows, could not have imagined a more spectacular scene. As we sang the opening hymn, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” by Ludwig van Beethoven, the radiant colors played out over the congregation. The first verse of the hymn sings beautifully, “Fill us with the light of day.”
Our Archdiocese is richly blessed with people who trace their ancestries to countries all over the world. The stained glass illuminated that stunning communion. Much more than exterior lighting was at work; the Holy Spirit was clearly lifting our souls. The convictions expressed in the prayers, the hymns, and the responses gave splendid evidence of the emotions felt in the celebration.
“Christ Be Our Light” was a telling hymn for the celebration. The windows of the cathedral play out that theme. The rear windows on the east side portray shepherds and kings bringing gifts to the Infant Jesus, Simeon welcoming him to the Temple, and Jesus speaking in the Temple at the age of 12. Light begins to emerge in those windows and consequently is developed in other windows depicting Jesus teaching, preaching, and working miracles. The light becomes dramatic in the west windows up front, portraying Jesus instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper and then dying on the Cross to effect our salvation.
The triumph of Jesus as Light and Lord is seen in the Resurrection on the east front windows: Jesus appearing to Peter and John, to Mary Magdalene, and to the Apostles Easter night.
Through the journey of our catechumens through Lent to Easter, we are all reminded of our commitment to Jesus our Light. As the catechumens receive through this sacred season the Creed, the Bible, the Our Father, and the Commandments, we renew our own appreciation for these gifts of earth-shaking value.
In our pilgrimage from winter to spring, we understand the importance of fundamentals. We have seen recently in the Winter Olympics the incredible skills of athletes on the ice and in the snow; we observe major league baseball players in spring training, the abilities of college basketball players preparing for the “Final Four,” the talents of virtuosi preparing for musical concerts. All of these developments are possible because of concentration on fundamentals.
The fundamental exercises of the spiritual life are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. When all is said and done, Lent is the time for more intensive return to the basics. The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten,” meaning “spring.” Lent is our springtime of our souls. Public and private prayer, particularly our participation in the sacrament of penance and in the celebration of the Eucharist, the religious act of fasting, and the practice of almsgiving are central to following Jesus Christ. We all have dreams, visions, and aspirations. In God’s love, it is behavior which enables us to follow the Lord to Easter.
I take this opportunity to thank you for the wonderful ways you undertake the exercises of Lent. Even before Lent began, you contributed $1,085,296 to Catholic Relief Services for the relief of the victims of the horrific earthquake in Haiti. Thirty-eight parishes have not yet made their reports, but the generosity is already impressively clear.
It is very early for the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal 2010, but the donations up to now are evidence of significant commitment. The total is $1,447,872, which is $310,612 ahead of the amount at this time last year. March is a critically important month for the Appeal. You have my profound gratitude for the tremendous ways you meet the needs of the Archdiocese and those who otherwise might fall through the cracks without the help of the Appeal.
We continue to move forward as a family of faith. We pray for and support the catechumens and candidates who are preparing to become full members of the Catholic Church at Easter. Our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving are roots for our lives, developing our character as we are more strongly united with Jesus Christ Our Lord.
The windows of the cathedral follow the Lord to Easter. They also illumine our eyes as windows of our souls. Pope Benedict XVI says in his Lenten Message this year, “Because people are created in God’s image, they not only need food, water, shelter, and jobs; they need God and they need love.”
We follow the light and love of the Lord. A favorite expression of Pope John Paul II was that of Saint John of the Cross, “In the twilight of our lives we will be judged on love.” May Lent be a season of special blessings in God’s love for all of us. Thank you for sharing this wondrous communion in God’s light.