A child with severe physical challenges was found on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris sometime during the Middle Ages. The passers-by who noticed him were quite taken-aback by the little boy’s appearance. “What is to become of us,” said one woman, “if that is the way children are made now?” “I’m not learned in the matter of children,” remarked another, “but it must be a sin to look at this one.” The incident and the remarks are taken from Victor Hugo’s famous novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The child was respectfully presented to the cathedral chapter and dutifully baptized, receiving the unique name “Quasimodo,” the first word of the Latin Mass Introit for the day — Low Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter.
The word “quasimodo” means “after the manner of” or “like.” St. Peter wrote that new believers especially should be “like” newborn infants, eager for the nourishing milk of Christianity. Although now read in the vernacular throughout most of the world, the Scriptural verse from St. Peter’s first epistle still forms the Entrance Hymn for Low Sunday.
The full passage is well worth a reflection: “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander; like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, for you have tasted that the Lord is good (1Pet1-3).” Low Sunday was the day that the newly converted put aside their white baptismal robes and began to take an active place in the Christian community.
It might have been labeled “low” since it stood in such great contrast to the pomp and circumstance of Holy Week and Easter. Basically it was a day for getting down to business and embracing the full Christian life in earnest.
Here, the full quote from St. Peter is most helpful. Pious writers point out that St. Peter has clearly outlined two steps for the full embrace of the Christian life: rejection of evil and acceptance of truth. Anyone starting (or re-starting) the Christian life needs first a thorough examination of conscience. “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander,” St. Peter insists. Self-knowledge and bold admission are among the first steps in a spiritual recovery program.
Now, no one commits every sin in the book, even though that expression is very common. Most people commit the same four or five sins over and over again. The liar might never curse. The unchaste might never slander. The dishonest might never be violent. The gambler might never imbibe. Exposing those distinctive fatal flaws that have impeded the Christian life for decades is a pious priority. Clearly, the sacrament of reconciliation, preceded by a worthy examination of conscience and followed by a firm purpose of amendment, is a good place to start.
Eventually, the second of St. Peter’s mandated steps will need reckoning: “…like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, for you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
The earnest believer needs nourishment. Certainly and obviously prayer is integral to a sincere Christian life. Regular private prayer like Eucharistic adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary and other devotions regularly observed should bring one back to one’s spiritual roots. The reading of Scripture, perhaps a fresh practice for Catholics, and the reading of the lives of the saints as well as other religious works are indeed worthy habits. “When we pray, we speak to God. When we read, God speaks to us.” Spiritual reading indeed quickens the Christian life.
And of course the regular and even daily participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is clearly integral to the Christian life. Prayer, Scripture, learning, offering, Communion and the experience of community are all clearly felt in the believer’s worthy participation at Mass.
The Gospel for Low Sunday recalls Jesus’ return from the dead glorified but still bearing his sacred scars and wounds. So too the Mass. The glorified Christ descends upon the Catholic altar today appearing as bread and wine, with His Precious Blood separate from His Sacred Body just as at the moment of his death. The glorified Christ is thus still involved in the on-going struggle for righteousness that every believer is experiencing. The path to Christ’s glory was and the path to the believer’s glory is always a challenge, a contest, a confrontation. It’s not easy being a good Christian, just as it was not easy being a good Savior.
Certainly prayer and the sacramental life of the Christian must be accompanied by charity toward the neighbor. Faith that is authentic always bears fruit in love, in justice, in basic good works. Low Sunday is the first step into the fullness of the Christian life.
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