Fr-Hartmann-21Although it was more than 20 years ago, I remember it vividly. I was meeting friends for a round of golf.

I pulled into the parking lot at the same time as one of them, and we got adjacent parking spaces. No sooner had we gotten out of our cars and my friend was excitedly coming around to show me something presumably very important.

He held in his hand a series of black and white printouts which, to my naïve

A newly married couple hold rosaries in their hands as they leave Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 24. Pope Francis' postsynodal apostolic exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), was to be released April 8. The exhortation is the concluding document of the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A newly married couple hold rosaries in their hands as they leave Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 24. Pope Francis’ postsynodal apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), was to be released April 8. The exhortation is the concluding document of the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

eyes, looked pretty much like storms being tracked on radar. Fortunately, I said nothing before he shared that these were printouts of the ultrasound which his wife had the previous week.

For my friend, these were proof that the baby was healthy, thriving … and a boy. (The pride in the last point was generally only shared with groups like our golf foursome – never with his wife.)

In his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis draws from imagery used by St. John Paul II when he devotes a wonderful reflection to the dreams we have for marriage and family life.

Examples can come to us easily: little girls dreaming of their wedding day; fathers dreaming of tossing a ball with a son; a couple dreaming of the days to come when restful retirement will afford a renewed courtship in old age.

But our Holy Father offers a view with very poignant depth about this dreaming that we should all have: “A pregnant woman can participate in God’s plan by dreaming of her child. For nine months every mother and father dreams about their child. You can’t have a family without dreams” (AL 169).

The Scriptures are filled with many examples where dreams were the moment and means of God’s communication to a person. This does not mean that all dreams are divine, if only private, revelation.

It means that when we are searching for the presence of God in our lives, and we are open to his messages, our dreams and aspirations can become formative moments of discernment. Thus, when a mother and father devote at least some prayerful part of the nine months of pregnancy to dreams for their child, they are placing themselves in the midst of love to be given, hope to be nurtured, and aspiration to be realized.

Love, hope, and aspiration – these are the hallmarks of God’s plan for our lives on earth. To dream of these is to dream of God’s plan for us, our children, our families and our church.

The weeks after Easter Sunday, with all of nature’s reminders of transformation, life, and hope, fit well into our dreams. In these weeks there are countless moments of anticipation and aspiration, but there are also profound moments of accomplishment and threshold. Any churchgoer knows, in a special way, among the “rites of spring” are baptisms, first Communions, confirmations, weddings, and even ordinations.

Notably, most of these sacraments will be celebrated in the context of the Eucharist.

Each, in its essential definition as a sacrament, is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. Each stands as a unique moment — a unique opportunity to dream — where one’s loves, hopes, and aspirations intersect with God’s grace.

Thus, we are transformed to the very core of our being; families are transformed in their relationships; and the church is transformed as it becomes more fully the Body of Christ.

There has already been a fair amount discussion and debate about Amoris Laetitia.

As our Holy Father drew from the great wisdom of St. John Paul II  — primarily his encyclical Familiaris Consortio (“On the Christian Family in the Modern World”) — and used the image of the dreams we have for ourselves and our families, there is implied a means to interpret the message that God is offering us in these “rites of spring.”

Whether our connection this spring to the celebration of these sacraments is as a recipient, a parent or an observer from the pew (or maybe when we are readers of a papal document, our disposition should start from a surety about love, hope and aspiration being moments of intersection with Christ’s grace.

This should be part of the inspiration and the commitment for parents bringing their children to the church for baptism and first Communion. This should be part of the desire and the invigoration of young adults coming forward for confirmation.

This should be identifiable in the vocation discernment of couples entering matrimony and men entering holy orders. This should be their dream!

Love, hope and aspiration intersecting with the grace of God make these rites of spring the transformational moments they are intended to be. Like a young father joyously anticipating the birth of his first child, to stand within a community of faith with the proper disposition for baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, matrimony, or holy orders makes each of us a herald of hope!