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A time to regroup and move on

The season of Lent is a time when many people travel the journey of faith in the catechumenate. Perhaps some of us do not yet understand this tradition well, both ancient and renewed.

Some of us remember a time when the emphasis in preparing for baptism was on instruction; the intellectual exercise of learning about our faith.

 

But the renewed catechumenate, without putting aside the intellectual exercise of learning about our faith, also marks the journey with a series of ceremonies or rites. At churches throughout Hong Kong, those journeying in faith—the catechumens—will take part in these rites.

 

This emphasis on rites is also well understood within Chinese tradition. The rites carry within them a richness of meaning. Rituals can be extremely powerful and even criminal gangs, like triads, appropriate this power through their own rituals and rites.

 

Indeed, rituals belong to every culture. Some are everyday rituals, such as praying a blessing at meals, or once-in-a-lifetime rituals, like marriage, graduation or ordination.

 

The ceremonies are important, because of the meaning which they carry. The special clothes, the special words and music, the processions, the lights—in many ways rituals, like those of the catechumenate, appeal to the deepest senses in our humanity.

However, from two aspects, ritual can be valueless. Of course, rites can be hollow and meaningless, in which case we can leave them aside as useless. Or, the rites themselves can be rich, but they can be undertaken in a mechanical and spirit-less way so that their inner meaning can never be felt.

 

In the case of the catechumenate, the rites themselves are rich enough—though often unfamiliar. It is up to the catechumen and their sponsors to enter deeply into the meaning of the rites.

 

In our first reading for today’s liturgy, God’s call to Abram is accompanied by a ritual of blessing. From this blessing, we learn that Abram was willing to step out in trust, even though he did not know what the consequences would be.

 

In the gospel reading, the apostles have an experience of Jesus’ greatness, which is still a puzzle to us. Certainly, they did not understand the experience of the transfiguration at the time it occurred.

 

From this experience, they were willing to step out in trust, even though they did not know what the consequences would be.

The season of Lent invites all of us—not just catechumens—to this kind of trust. We are invited to deepen our faith. Surely this is not just an intellectual exercise!

 

Even though we do not know what lies ahead and even though we are sometimes puzzled, the rituals of Lent, stretching over many weeks, speak to us of the hope which our saviour has brought us when he robbed death of its power and brought life and immortality.

 

As we begin our Lent in the familiar ritual of Ash Wednesday, through to the great rituals of the Easter Triduum, we are called to the hope which cannot be taken from us.