One of the little chores that has accrued to me over a couple years of working as a parish priest is to change the holy water in the stoups in the church. You see, when it's humid most of the time, as it is in the summer here in the Hudson valley, the holy water gets dirty before it evaporates. Exposure and having everybody sticking their fingers in it takes its toll. It gets these earth-colored floaties that congregate around the bottom and show up very well in our lovely white marble stoups. So every couple weeks or so, the holy water has to be changed.
Here's the procedure:
1. Get dedicated holy water sponge and bucket.
2. Soak up dirty holy water with sponge and empty it into the bucket.
3. Wipe out stoups if they need it.
4. Use the dirty holy water to water a particularly blessed plant. Like many of the humble saints of this world, her identity is a secret.
5. Get dedicated holy watering can, and fill it.
6. Pray over the water, asking God's blessing on everyone who uses and prays with it devoutly, that it might be an effective recollection of their own baptism. Make the sign of the Cross over the water, and bless yourself with it.
7. Fill the stoups and empty the whatever remains into the holy water bucket in the back of church.
The byproduct of this little job is that whenever I go to another church, I now notice whether the holy water is clean or not. The other day I went for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at another parish, and noticed that the holy water was pretty grungy. Walking home, I got to thinking about it. Dirty holy water is a pretty good metaphor for my own Christian life.
It does the job, more or less. You can still bless yourself with it, and if you don't really look, you might not even notice what a mess it is. Even though its dirtiness obscures the brilliant light of God that desires to show through it, this doesn't destroy the blessing God recalls to those who seek a way to pray. It's still an effective sign of Christ, just one that isn't as clear and pure as it could be with some diligent attention.