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Celebrating the Liturgical Gifts of January

The Blessed Mother, Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord and the saints teach us to say “yes” to God’s plan


I am happy to turn the calendar to 2021. I feel the weight of the page in my soul. I realize that not every sorrow of 2020 will be wiped away in the new Catholic calendars we distribute in the parish. However, we celebrate many gifts in the liturgy and faith tradition throughout January that may help us all take to heart the pain, the disappointments and the fears of our past year.

I have listened to many pastors these past nine months. Concerns about their elderly parishioners and the future of their parish schools echo in my heart this new year. Many priests will retire early because this crisis has drained them of leadership. Many priests are exhausted and now suffer from depression. Loneliness has crept into hearts during the pandemic like never before. We have relied on God to offer grace through livestreaming. We may feel disconnected from our people in our pews because masks cover their expressions. Somedays, I feel I have tucked the Church in a drawer for safekeeping.

Years ago, a friend, who was an only child, told me that his parents had kept their wedding china in a hutch behind glass doors in the dining room. He said to me that they never ate in the dining room during his years at home. He would ask his mother why they never shared a meal in the dining room and never used the china in the cabinet. For over 50 years, his mother said she was saving the china for “good.”

Well, “good” never came for that family. He grew up and the parents died. Perhaps this is what we are facing as a Church today. We priests need a new awareness of our traditions, our liturgies, our prophetic voices in the world. Our leadership and ministry will shepherd new ways of speaking love, kindness and hope. Our ministry is to discover our traditions and vocations again, speaking out on behalf of those whose voices are silent.

Our faith tradition understands people’s struggles to make ends meet and to provide hope for their children. Storms, fires, racial tensions and the effects of the pandemic are all ways that need our attention and resources to lift the poor. These issues are our “good.” Good is here right now. These issues are why the Church exists, to celebrate the mission of Christ Jesus in our world. Our sense of “good” is about living the Gospel beyond the confines of the sanctuary and taking it into the world to make a difference.

We take to heart Mary’s “yes” to God’s call. On the first day of January, we are reminded to act from God’s voice and fidelity within our own vocations. Mary is not only the Mother of God but a model for us in which to listen, to act and to lead. As clergy, we take Mary’s liberating voice to those encased in grief in this new year. We speak “yes” to the mystery of the Lord’s plan for the world.

The solemnity of Epiphany invites us to awaken the light in our world’s darkness. The revelation of God’s hope is our work as priests. Again, this January, we have the opportunity to reveal Christ in the places where fear has taken hold in this past year. The gifts we receive we offer as gifts.

We have in our liturgical cabinets the graces to heal. We open the doors to good. We stand among our people and live the mysteries that may have been put on hold, locked up in our sacristies because of the pandemic and our fear. In this new year we also actively listen again to the saints of North America whom we celebrate in the first week of January.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann may help us ignite a new fire in our Catholic schools and help heal the families and parishes that have experienced closure during the pandemic. St. Elizabeth Ann may help us take our concerns and sympathy for people who are experiencing poverty in family life and fear about reaching out beyond the parish in times of COVID-19. Our parish schools and communities cannot exist in fear.

The Baptism of the Lord may help us live our common baptism again. We are in this life and Church together, renewed and revitalized in the Holy Spirit. I pray we may dip our hands into the water again in our parish churches, fonts that have been dry because of the virus. We also dip our hearts in the font of love. Ordinary Time will reveal the “good” we live, and hope to become.

FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, Colorado.

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