Preparing for the Third Millennium

Author: Fr. Herbert de Launay


For the April 1995 edition of THE ACADIANA CATHOLIC

By Rev. Herbert C. de Launay

In several of his letters, Pope John Paul II has spoken of the approach of the year 2000. He has called upon us to prepare spiritually for this 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. He has spoken of the special significance of this anniversary as we end the second millennium, the second thousand years of the Church's history, and prepare to begin the third millennium.

Our Holy Father is calling upon the Church to repent. We see this in his recent letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente" or "On the Coming of the Third Millennium." This letter was released November 10, 1994. It is available from the U.S. Catholic Conference and the Daughters of St. Paul. Copies may be ordered from area Catholic Bookstores.

The Pope is asking us to repent in preparation for this anniversary of our Lord's coming. Actually, this is a most appropriate form of preparation. It is very Biblical as well. John the Baptist told the people to repent in preparation for our Lord's appearance in their midst. We see this in Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3.

Jesus Himself began His preaching on this theme as we read in Matthew 4:17. "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, `Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

This theme of repentance is central to the whole life and mission of Jesus. The name Jesus means "God is Salvation." The angel in Matthew 1:21 explained that Jesus would receive this name because He would save His people from their sins.

On another occasion, some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign. Jesus answered that the only sign for an evil generation would be the sign of Jonah. Jesus then went on to explain in Matthew 12:38-42 and Luke 11:29-32 that the sign of Jonah is repentance. In the midst of the wickedness of modern times, perhaps repentance will be the sign of God's grace for us as well.

Not only do the gospels begin with this theme of repentance. They end with it as well. In Luke 24:47, the risen Christ tells the disciples "that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations."

One way we Catholics express repentance is through the Sacrament of Penance or Confession. Regular use of the Sacrament of Penance can be a sign that we are following the gospel's call to repent. This season of Lent is a time for repentance. Paragraph 1434 of the Catechism notes that fasting, prayer, and almsgiving express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others.

The first Sacrament of conversion is Baptism. In our Baptismal promises we first renounce sin and Satan. Then we profess our faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each year at the Easter Masses we renew these promises of our Baptism.

I see the Pope's letter as calling for a renewal of Baptism for the whole Church. He is calling for repentance and renewal of our faith in the Holy Trinity. We are invited to use these final years as a big Lent or Holy Week, leading to the Jubilee celebration in the year 2000.

Specifically, the Pope calls upon us to use the first period as a time of repentance. This is the period from 1994 through 1996. Among other things, our Holy Father calls for repentance for the sins of disunity. In this and others of his letters, Pope John Paul II has called for a renewal of ecumenical efforts between all Christian Churches.

The final three years are then to be a time to focus on the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. 1997 will be devoted to reflection on Jesus Christ. 1998 will be dedicated to the Holy Spirit and His sanctifying presence among us. In 1999 we will focus on our Father in heaven.

Our Holy Father is quite active as he approaches his 75th birthday in May. He is also releasing at this time his newest encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae," or "The Gospel of Life." This should be available at area bookstores soon. This encyclical focuses on abortion, euthanasia and embryonic experiments as growing threats to human life. It also speaks about contraception and "in vitro" fertilization, practices which are morally wrong.