Born Again!

(Easter Vigil Homily)

About fifteen years ago a young mom asked me to be present at the birth of her child. Next to my ordination, it was the most emotional experience of my life. I never realized how much mothers suffer in giving birth. But when that infant was born, the joy was great. As the mom held her baby girl, I saw her happiness and choked back my own tears.

You parents know that joy. What a great gift from God is the birth of child! Human birth is wonderful, but tonite we see with eyes of faith, something even greater. For the past year we have accompanied these catechumens: adults, teenagers and children. We now arrive at the goal of a long journey. They will be reborn as sons and daughters of God. This happens thru the Easter sacraments: baptism, confirmation and holy communion.

A dialogue in John's Gospel illustrates this sacramental rebirth: Once a Scripture scholar named Nicodemus approached Jesus to question him. He came at night because he was afraid of what his peers might say. In the course of their conversation, Jesus explained that entrance into heaven requires a second birth. (Jn 3:3)

"But how?" asked Nicodemus. "Can I become so small that I crawl back into my mother's womb?"

"Amen, Amen, I say to you," replied Jesus, "Unless you are born again by water and the Holy Spirit you cannot have eternal life."

Tonite our catechumens receive that rebirth. After professing their faith, one by one they kneel in the baptismal fount. I will pour the blessed water over them with the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Human birth involves suffering - the most intense are the labor pains, but there is more. In the case of that young mom I accompanied, she endured quite a bit during her pregnancy. Afterward it was no picnic either! The same for our elect tonite. In the second reading St. Paul says clearly that when we are baptized, we die with Christ to be buried with him. Only then can we rise to a new life.

St. Paul has in mind a certain way of baptizing. I saw that when I was a student in Rome. They had just excavated a second century church. At the entrance was something like a small swimming pool with three steps leading down one side and three steps leading up the other. The guide explained how on Holy Saturday evening candidates were led into that pool. The priest or deacon asked: "Do you believe in God the Father creator of heaven and earth?"

"I do!" the candidate responded.

"Do you believe in Jesus his only Son our savior who died for us and rose?"

"I do!"

"Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church where we have forgiveness of sins, hope of resurrection of the body and final reunion in the communion of saints?"

"I do!"

Then the candidate was immersed three times while the celebrant said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

When they stepped out of the pool the deacon (or in the case of women a "deaconess") anointed each one with sacred chrism, pouring that oil over their head and entire body. They were then clothed with the white garment, received a lighted candle and led into the Church to participate in the Mass, to receive the Eucharist for the first time.

They had died with Christ, were buried with him and now they rise with him to a new life.

This rite is beautiful, but there is a danger. It is possible to focus on externals, on emotions - and to miss the central reality. We are talking about joining ourselves to the very death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Some people may consider the resurrection of Jesus too incredible to believe. If you are still a "seeker" I do not ask you to make a huge leap of faith tonite, but to do one thing. In your mind's eye join those first disciples peering into the empty tomb. If you followed Pope John Paul's visit to the Holy Land, you remember that he visited the very site of the Sepulcher. To this day the tomb of Jesus is empty.

There is a beautiful Spanish hymn which says:

Alegre la manana que nos habla de ti,
Alegre la manana.
Alegre la manana que trae la buena noticia
Que la tumba de Cristo esta vacia.

Joyful the morning that speaks to us of you.
Joyful that morning.
Joyful the morning which brings the great news
That the tomb of Christ is empty.

If you are struggling with your faith, please at least draw close to the empty tomb and ask yourself what this means. And pray for the gift of faith.

Many who were "born Catholic" tell me they envy these adults baptized at Easter. We have even lost members to churches that re-baptize. But, as St. Paul says, there is only one baptism (Eph 4:5). To be re-baptized is to look down on a gift one has received. What we need to do is fully open that present given us on the day of our baptism. We will all have a chance to do that tonite as we renew our baptismal vows and are sprinkled with holy water.

Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, and the other sacraments all have meaning because of Jesus' resurrection. In fact I want you to know that ultimately it is not Fr. Bloom who baptized, who confirms, who celebrates the Mass. It is Jesus himself who uses me as an instrument.

Tonite we arrive at a goal. But it is actually just a beginning. Childbirth is the goal of a pregnancy, but you parents know it initiates a whole new world of meaning. I'm not saying it is going to be easy. When a child is born he is thrust into a family. He has parents, brothers and sisters, even uncles that he did not choose. So it is with being born again into the Catholic Church. You have a new Holy Father who you should listen to and respect. He has given us a good bishop in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Archbishop Alexander Brunett. And for better or worse, I'm your spiritual father here at Holy Family Parish. There might be days when I exasperate you, but I predict your biggest challenges will come not from me, but from your new brothers and sisters. Don't ever run away from your family. You belong to us and we belong to you.

A family that doesn't have meals together is not much of a family. We expect you to be at the Eucharistic table every Sunday. At Holy Family we work hard to keep our church beautiful. Thanks to those who came before us, this is one of the loveliest churches in the area. Our choirs practice diligently to provide wonderful music. Lectors, eucharistic ministers, altar server trainers, etc. are all dedicated. Deacon Ted and I and others who preach do our best to give a solid message. But the most important thing is the Body and Blood of Jesus. If you understand it is Jesus whom you are receiving at communion, you will never be able to say, "I was not fed at Holy Family." The Eucharist is the food which sustains our soul and spirit.

And we are only a small part of a very large family which has the same sacraments, the same Catechism, the same Holy Father. You can go anywhere in the world and find the Catholic Church. Our ultimate goal is to be part of that great communion of saints. Someday, if we stick with Jesus and his Church, we will emerge from the womb of this world to that final rebirth.


From Archives (Easter homilies):

2011: Seek What Is Above
2010: Forgiven
2009: Eternal Life Begins Now
2008: His Will Is Our Peace
2007: I Have Been Baptized
2006: Peering into the Tomb
2005: Transformation
2004: Ready for Combat
2003: Something To Live For
2002: The Weakest Link
2001: A New Identity
2000: Born Again!
1999: Why I Believe

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WYD Fund Raiser at Hacienda Restaurant