BEAUTIFUL BEGINNING

“Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.  From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”
                —2  Timothy 4: 6-8
 
                This past weekend, our family celebrated a new beginning.  We celebrated the baptism of my niece.  She was baptized in the parish where my sister and I were raised: where we received our own baptisms, reconciliations, first communions, and confirmation into our living faith. 
                Two weeks ago, Saint James opened its doors for a new church still in the process of finishing.  All my life before, we worshipped in the same church, the same pews, beneath the same lights and rejoiced in singing from the same red and blue hymnals, but in celebrating Collins, everything was new.
                I studied the church more than I probably should have, taking in the difference in design and wondering to the purpose or meaning in a style or selection of certain work, clear glass versus the stained glass windows I had known.  I don’t know if I thought it better or worse than what I had known for all my life.  I only knew that it was different.  I sat distracted, through the first few songs, but as always seems to be, when we entered into the readings of our preordained missal, I found myself at peace. 
                The first reading was from the Book of Sirach.  This book is special to my father and I for it is from this book, during the Feast of the Holy Family, where we last sat together at Saint James before my grandfather passed.  The reading from that day spoke:
 
“My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives.  Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins—a house raised in justice to you.” 
 
                For the last months, that is exactly what my mother and father did for him, aiding, attending, and caring for him in his last days, and my father and I felt as if God were speaking straight to us and us alone in that living moment.  It is a reading that will always comfort me and affirm in me the mysteries of a Holy Spirit that finds means to speak and affect us all in moments of trial and uncertainty. 
                In receiving the first reading of our mass from this Book, I believed in the overlooking presence of my grandfather somewhere far above and still aware.
                The second reading was another that I knew:
 
“Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.  From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”
 
                It was the second reading at the honoring of my grandmother’s life before we placed her ashes beside my grandfather, just mentioned, her husband since the age of sixteen.  In my life, my grandparents were the most devote and consistent followers of our faith I knew, and to hear both readings speak direct to memories of them on the day of their great granddaughter’s baptism, I felt again the power, mystery, and amazement of an active Holy Spirit.  I felt attuned and aware to how in life we may be offered signs to guide us in awareness, praise, and awe if only we open ourselves to the power of such mysteries. 
                The Catholic Church does not pick and choose readings every week.  They are cyclical, eternal, and yet so often speak directly to a present life condition I, myself, feel—thoughts, worries, hopes, and prayers.  Always, when they do, I am amazed.
                For this mass, we sat as a family: my parents, sister, her husband, their children, my own wife and kids, our cousins, and I was grateful to be a part of all of this together.  I reflected on the readings, their meaning and purpose in my own life experience, and I considered the continuity that exists through family, faith, and fellowship: how even when we pass, our spirit carries forward by our effect on others that still live, and I wonder how far beyond the limit of our own lives we really make a difference.  I believe a simple life of love lived in fellowship with others carries much farther than most of us would ever think. 
                After mass, as the pews cleared, we held where we sat.  As the numbers and crowds thinned, we rose and began to move for the baptismal font.  When we turned around, I was again amazed.  I spotted two family friends first.  I was happy and excited, and as I made my way to greet them, only then was I aware of the totality of friends and family that were present: family from across state, across coasts, and so many from close that made time to be a part of my niece’s celebration.  Before mass, I had seen and been aware of none.  To discover ourselves in the presence of so many, the celebration became even more special.  The awareness made me wonder, too, how often in our lives we go about believing ourselves to be near alone, never seeing the so many near to us—that care and wish to be part in our blessings—until our vision changes, and suddenly we do.
                It is amazing how the celebration of a life brings people together.  Whether its at beginning or end, always there is fellowship—a beginning with hope and, if lived it right, an end celebrated in gratitude.  When my grandparents passed, they tithed part of what their name still retained in this world to the church.  It was partly from this gift that the new baptismal font was afforded.  My niece was the first child baptized in this font. 
                The ending legacy to my grandparents’ lifetimes of faith became the beginning of their great-granddaughter’s baptism into a new life of faith.
                It was a beautiful beginning.
                 
               
               

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