1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
March 26-27, 2005, Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday Cycle A
Who can tell me what it is that we celebrate today? Today we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus, the Christ. We Catholics celebrate the resurrection with a very particular liturgical action, a very solemn, and serious, and sacred action. Who can tell me what that is? It is Baptism. For the last 6 weeks, or 40 days, the whole church has been preparing for baptism. Some us were preparing to be baptized, including several hundred in this archdiocese alone. But for most of us we have been preparing to renew our baptismal promises. Back in the beginning of Lent I heard one of my favorite homilists, Rev. Michael Himes, professor at BC, talk about the importance of Lent in preparing for this solemn, and serious, and sacred action.
You see, when we renew our baptismal vows we are going to be asked if we believe in 3 main truths or realities. This act of believing is a very specific kind of believing. It is not giving our intellectual assent to some philosophical idea. It is not even the act of weighing in on the truth or falsity of these realities. This kind of believing is entering into these realities, with our whole being, in a way that we are shaped by them. We are asked to acknowledge that because of these realities we will live our lives in a certain way.
Last weekend I was talking to one of my young friends and he said that he really couldnít believe in God because he couldnít see God. We talked a little about how it is possible to believe in someone that you have never seen but I realized after that he was really talking about giving his intellectual approval to the idea that God existed. That is not what we are about to do. Here is a closer example to the kind of belief I am talking about.
How many people here believe in the United States
of America? Has anyone here ever seen the United States of America? Of course
We may have seen parts of it or citizens of it, or some of its seats of
government but no one can see the United States of America. But I am willing
to bet that everyone here lives his or her life in a way that expresses that
in the USA. For example, if I ask what you think about the war in Iraq,
I am guessing that most of you get some kind of a feeling in the pit of your
stomach, whether you are for or against our policy as a country. The feeling
is not in your head but in your gut. That is getting close to the kind of believing
we are talking about.
For example, if I ask what you think about the war in Iraq, I am guessing that most of you get some kind of a feeling in the pit of your stomach, whether you are for or against our policy as a country. The feeling is not in your head but in your gut. That is getting close to the kind of believing we are talking about.
As Fr. Himes pointed out in his Ash Wednesday homily, most of us were not ready at the beginning of Lent to solemnly renew our baptismal vows. Well as good as my intentions were, I stand here minutes away from being called to renew them and I canít say that I am that much more ready.
The first reality that we will be asked to pronounce our belief in is: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth? Am I prepared to say I believe that? In order to say yes, I have to be prepared to say that I believe that creation has meaning, life has meaning, my life and your life have meaning. And (here is the hard part) that meaning is NOT one that I assign to it. The origin of my life, the purpose of my life, and the destiny of my life are assigned to me; I donít determine it. I am not in control. I am creature, not creator. That is counter to everything our culture tells me: you have to get control of your life; you have to take charge; you have to pursue your agenda. Am I prepared to say that I will live as if †I am creature and not in control?
The second reality we will be asked to pronounce our belief in is: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, Our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? In order to say yes to that, I have to be prepared to say that, even though humans are not creator but creature, even though human beings are not in control and their value is determined for them, the value of each human being is so great, so precious, so incredibly awesome that God became one of us! Some one once said that if we imagine Jesus put on humanity as if God were putting on a suit of clothing, the amazing thing is: that suit of clothing did not need any alteration; it fit God just right, off the rack. And not only did God become human but he suffered and died and rose from the dead so that our humanity might share in Godís divinity! If human life is that precious, and that incredibly awesome, how must I treat each human being that I come in contact with, starting with myself? How must I treat my family and friends and neighbors and strangers? How must I treat those I like and those I donít like? Am I prepared to say that I will live as if human life is that incredibly awesome?
And lastly, we will be asked to pronounce our belief in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. You know I used to think that the Spirit got the short end of the stick in our creed. The father and son each have their own section which calls out different aspects of them, but the Spirit, I used to think, gets lumped in with the church, and the communion of saints, and all. Only lately have I begun to understand that all of those are aspects of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who draws us out of our selves into relationship with God and with others. In order to say I believe in the Spirit, I have to be prepared to say I believe that the primary way that God relates to us is God and US, not God and ME. Am I prepared to say that faith and religion are not private relationships with God but have their primary meaning in Godís relationship with a community? Am I prepared to say that all the different communities I am part of are exactly how I think they should be? Am I prepared to say that the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely as perfect as I can imagine? Can you? If not, am I prepared to let the Spirit lead me in a direction that makes that Church a better community? Am I prepared to let the Spirit open me to be changed for the better by the church? What about my family? My business community? My neighborhood? My country? Is the United States exactly what I would hope a country would be? Am I prepared to let the Spirit move me to make those communities better and to let the communities shape me for the better?
As Fr. Himes warned me back in February, the last thing I want to do is to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord by perjuring myself in church. I stand here minutes away from renewing those promises without a lot of confidence that I can say yes I believe in those realities. I am going to call on my keen sense of the obvious and guess that most of you are in that same position. You didnít take real advantage of those 6 weeks of Lent either.
†In fact there are only two things that make me foolish enough to plunge ahead. The first is that I put my trust in the power of Jesusí saving act. It is not my worth or value but the value that is assigned to me, and to you, by the second person of the Trinity becoming human, suffering and dying for us that lets us say we believe. The second is that I am not going to say I believe (at least I hope not). I am going to stand here with you and WE are going to say WE believe. I donít know that I would have the courage to say that alone. But with you, I do have that courage. My fervent prayer is that we all take that leap of faith, and together profess: We believe.