September 9, 2022

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

God washes holy water over us as a symbol of renewal

Kimberly PohoveyI listened to the song I had listened to many times before, but this time it made me ponder the meaning of the words, “there’s holy water in an island rain.”

I thought of all the times I vacationed in tropical settings where the humidity builds throughout the day until the heavens unleash the waters that wash away the oppressiveness.

As I’m writing this column, it has been a similar kind of day. The temperature rose to the mid-90s, and my dashboard display read 102 degrees as I left work making my way through the stifling air. This evening, the sky grew dark, the wind picked up and then a torrent of rain fell fast and hard. When the sun emerged again, a vivid rainbow crossed the sky.

When I think of holy water, my first thought is the Jordan River, the site of Jesus’ baptism, and countless more. Then I think of the baptismal fonts and church receptacles in which we dip our fingers to make the sign of the cross. Ritualistically, holy water has been used as a powerful symbol of the repentance of sin, baptism into new life with Christ, healing and protection from evil.

The use of holy water in the Catholic tradition is said to date back to the first century, but it is certainly borrowed from the purification and spiritual washing rituals of our Jewish ancestors.

Holy water is most symbolic to us in the sacrament of baptism, when our sins are washed away, and we are offered a new life in Christ.

Funerals begin with the sprinkling of holy water over the casket, and wedding rings are blessed with holy water—as a reminder of our baptismal promises.

In ancient monastic tradition, monks were blessed by their abbot with holy water before they retired to bed each night. We sign ourselves with holy water when we enter church to symbolize our repentance before the Eucharist and again as we exit to protect us against the evils of the world. Even the holy waters of Lourdes are believed to have healing power.

I always have holy water at my house. I sign myself when I feel sick, when I’m in pain, when I just feel like I need the gentle drips of holy water to protect and comfort me. I have used it to sign my children when I feel they need extra protection or healing. Through the years, we have invited priests to bless our homes with holy water. To me, holy water has not only washed away my sins, but washes over me a supreme sense of peace in knowing that I am God’s and he has me under his protection.

The Church teaches that holy water is blessed by a priest, but I can’t help but wonder if holy water that falls straight from the heavens is blessed by God himself. I like to think God sees humanity burdened with heaviness—with our sins, our struggles, the unbearable weight of our personal issues—and when it becomes just too oppressive, he commands the heavens to let loose. He washes away the strains of our lives and grants us renewal and hope. The rainbow afterward is his beautiful, flourishing touch reminding us of his reassuring message of hope.

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of major and planned gifts for the archdiocese.) †

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