When I was in school, my teachers and parish priests
compared the celebration of Easter to the earth coming back
to life after the cold, dead winter. They'd point out spring
flowers peeping through the soil and that the trees which had
been leafless and bare were sprouting green again.
"Just like this," they'd say, turning from the
window, "Jesus came back from death to life on Easter morning."
And I'd halfheartedly think, "Great." My reasons for
looking forward to Easter really didn't have much to do with
More hours of sunshine each spring meant I could
stay out later every afternoon and get an extra hour of softball
in after dinner, too. Heavy coats and gloves got packed away.
Best of all, when Easter came, the end of the school year was
near. Now that was really good news.
Easter came and went every yeara little
like waking up after a dreary afternoon of napping. But what
would make this year and this Easter any different?
Why did my teachers make such a big deal?
Now I think I understand: Easter is every year
both the same and different, both old and new.
It's the same because every spring we celebrate
that great event that turned our lives around even before we
were born. God raised Jesus from the dead, this Jesus who took
our sins on his shoulders and died for us so we would not have
to experienceand suffer fromthe separation that
But each Easter is different as well since
every year we're a little different; a little older, maybe a
little wiser, certainly a little more experienced. So every
Lent is a chance for us to look back at our year to see where
we are in our relationship with God, family, friends and ourselves.
Every Easter, we can renew our commitments to what's important
in our lives, just like those plants and trees renewed themselves
outside my classroom window.
For You, By You
There is an important moment that takes place
each year at Easter Mass, whether at the Easter Vigil on Saturday
night or on Sunday morning, that actually helps us pause, look
back and renew ourselves. It's called the renewal of baptismal
promises and usually takes place after new members of the parish
are baptized, received into the Catholic Church and confirmed.
After they have made their new commitment to the faith, the
priest will turn to us and ask us to renew our commitment: literally,
to make new (re-new) those statements which define us as Catholics.
These are statements that were probably made for
you if you were baptized as a baby. At Easter, as at Confirmation,
it's time for you to affirm these things for yourself. Baptism
and Confirmation are one-shot deals: You celebrate these sacraments
once and for all. Renewing your baptismal promises is a little
like keeping your driver's license current. Is everything you
said before still true? Can you see or do you need glasses?
Renewing invites us to remember the truth of our
Baptism and Confirmation, to look more deeply than ever and
to be faithful all year long. It's like making a New Year's
resolution. Easter is a beginning too.
Every year, the questions are the same. Look at
it this way: Renewing baptismal promises at Easter is like being
told that you have a major test coming up. You not only are
told the date and time of the test, but you also get the exact
questions that are going to be asked and have more than a month
to get ready.
The best way to get where you want to go is to
think about the end of a project at its beginning. Now, while
winter is still with you on the outside, is the moment to start
putting Easter in your mind and prayer, your insides.
You're like a baseball player beginning spring
training in February. Unless he prepares well even when it's
still cold and dark out, there's no way he's going to be ready
to play on Opening Day when it's bright and sunny. So target
that moment of renewing your baptismal promises at Easter right
now, at the beginning of Lent.
Before you can live those baptismal promises,
you've got to understand them so you too can say "I do" with
your whole heart on Easter. One way to approach this preparation
is to take apart the promises, think, pray and talk about them,
and then put them back together with personal meaning, not just
a textbook explanation.
Give up 15 minutes of television, talking on the
telephone or listening to music each week to get ready for Easter.
Devote those 15 minutes to thinking about just one part of the
promises, or one piece of one part. You can make that your Lenten
sacrifice. As a reminder, clip the boxes with the questions
in this issue and tape them to your mirror, stick them in your
datebook or use them for a bookmark. By the time Easter arrives,
you'll be ready for your own Opening Day.
No, No, No
The promises have two parts. First comes the rejection
of Satan and sin. You publicly state what you won't accept as
a Catholic. Then you move on to the second part, the profession
of faith, that lays out for all to hearespecially yourselfjust
what it is that you believe that makes you a Catholic. In other
words, this is the one time all year when you actually say,
very simply and clearly, "This is who and what I am."
Take a look at the first set of questions about
rejecting Satan and sin. Even though there are two versions
of this part, the priest will use just one. It doesn't matter
which you think about during Lent and which he picks because
they all lead you to the same decision.
Rejecting Satan sounds very dramatic, especially
when he's described as "father of sin and prince of darkness."
Because it's so heavy it can make you nervous and uncomfortable,
even giggly. But take a good look at the questions.
They ask you to reflect on how you reject invitations
which trick you to focus on things that don't really matter:
money instead of friendship, casual sex instead of a loving
commitment, fame and career highlights instead of spiritual
progress and family loyalty.
Satan seems to work in skirmishes and tiny battles,
wearing you down bit by bit when you give in to little white
lies, picking up one or two answers from the paper next to you
in class until you've accumulated a load that might bury you.
You can choose to reject Satan by not joining
in any crowd that taunts or mocks anyone who is overweight,
ugly, skinny or can't put a basketball through a hoopall
unkind judgments that just might not even be accurate! One face
of evil is to imagine that you look good when others don't,
to wish that they fail or look bad. You can reject Satan's empty
promises by choosing to forgive a person or saying you're sorry
or wrong even if that means losing a little stature or face
among your friends.
You can turn your back on this kind of good-looking
evil by putting others, instead of yourself, first. Spend an
afternoon visiting a neighbor who lives alone instead of cruising
the Internet. Study with someone who's struggling with algebra
instead of making fun of his or her grades. Invite an exchange
student to spend Easter at your house. If this sounds natural
to you, you're on your way to a big "I do" at Easter. If it
sounds unnatural or unfamiliar to you, consider the situation
Yes, Yes, Yes
Giving sin and evil no room in your life is essential
to being Catholic. It's a necessary preparation for making plenty
of room for doing good.
If you follow the second set of questions about
your faith, you'll see that you're asked to express four beliefs:
In God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Roman
Catholic Church. Take one piece of this and walk around with
it for a few days during Lent.
Though what follows here is in the order of the
Creed and of the Easter renewal of baptismal promises, there's
no reason why you need to spend your 15 minutes a week in the
same order. It does seem reasonable, however, to ask yourself,
"What do I really mean by such a promise?" Take time during
this spring training of Lent to find out.
1. Who is the Father to you? My image of
God the Father often starts with my own parents, very disciplined
and loving people. I didn't always understand their limitations
and expectations of me when I was growing up and sometimes I
rebelled against them. As I grew older, I found that the more
I understood what my parents were about, the more I appreciated
God the Father's very personal and individual love for me, even
when it seems strict.
2. Where is Jesus, God's Son, in your life?
Do you make time for Mary, his mother? What do the last days
of Jesus' life mean to you? The next time you see a news report
about a police officer killed while trying to save someone else's
life, think about Jesus dying for you. Does the crucifixion
apply to you and your family? Do you ever shout (or whisper),
"Crucify him! Crucify him!" during the year? I've heard of a
parish that makes this point very graphically. As each person
enters the church on Good Friday, he or she walks up to a large
cross laid out on a table and hammers a nail into the wood.
Where are you on Easter morning? Are you like
the woman who saw Christ but did not at first recognize him?
Are you represented by the disciples who abandoned their friends
on Good Friday and couldn't believe that Jesus had been raised
from the dead?
3. What about the Holy Spirit who guides your
actions and helps you through the tough times? Do you listen
for the Spirit or shut the Spirit out? When you have to make
a big decisionto apologize to a sister or brother or to
ask someone to forgive you for an insultdo you explain
away why you shouldn't do the right thing or do you allow the
Holy Spirit to work through your heart?
This profession of faith (I do) turns your mind
to the Church. This is a good time to make a commitment not
to miss Mass unless absolutely necessaryeven if it means
getting up on Sunday at 6:30 in the morning! Beyond that, you
might spend a few days thinking about your relationship to your
parish by looking at volunteer opportunities or the future possibility
of becoming a priest, sister or brother. It is certainly a moment
to consider how connected you are to your parish and to the
Church as a whole.
Are the saints part of your life? The saints are
often overlooked in the Church today, but they are better role
models than most of the "heroes" which the media instantly create
and abandon once they show just one chink in their shiny armor.
Many saints were people just like you: mostly happy, sometimes
sad, full of hopes and dreams and doubts, victorious and defeated
but always working to be better people.
You can address this very big topic with a small
step: Go to the library, find a book that explores the life
of the saint after whom you or your parish is named or a saint
who is very important to your family or ethnic group.
The "communion of saints" mentioned in the renewal
of baptismal promises is like a spiritual National Guard. You
can call in the saintsboth those recognized by the Church
and those known only to youto give you good advice or
provide an example to follow.
Those saints might also provide some clues to
understanding the resurrection of the body and life everlasting,
difficult subjects to consider when you are a teenager faced
with the death of a very sick grandmother who some say is "in
a better place" and "not suffering." This part of the promises
is also about the faith that keeps you going when you read about
the senseless slaughter of a baby caught in the crossfire of
a drug gang's street fight.
Do You Say 'I Do'?
Understanding, renewing and living your baptismal
promises are huge tasks that allow for a lifetime of practice.
But that's the particular challenge of Easter: Make a strong,
good "I do" answer to each of the questions you are asked, having
given some thought to themeven one part of one questionduring
this Lent. Next year, work on another piece.
The events of Easter are, after all, the core
of our Catholic faith. If Jesus' tomb is not empty, if we can't
say that we believe what may seem impossible and unbelievable,
then "Alleluia" isn't the kind of song we can sing on Easter.
We have little to make us happy churchgoers.
But we are. "This is our faith," the priest
will say after you renew your promises affirming, "Yes, this
is what I believe." If each of us makes this commitment to renew
ourselves, then the Church and the world will be a much better
place in the coming year.
One last thought: No one is looking for your complete
success. You'll decide that you're going to try to live
the rest of the year what you proclaim on Easter Sunday. If
you falter, think of this prayer that is offered to God on the
next day, Easter Monday, at Mass: "Help us put into action in
our lives the Baptism we have received with faith."
This prayer is an important reminder: God doesn't
ask us to be successful, only faithful to the attempt.