Saturday, April 11, 2009

When We Were Baptized Into Christ Jesus, We Were Baptized Into His Death.

The first time I attended an Easter Vigil was in the first year Pope Pius XII decreed that this solemn liturgical celebration should not be held on Holy Saturday morning, but on the following evening, at midnight, or at least, after dark. I was 20 years old, a member of the choir at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Holyoke, Mass. Gilles, the choir director, asked me to chant the Exultet, the hymn of praise that followed the blessing of the Paschal Candle.

I cannot count how many Easter Vigils I have attended since that night, as a choir member, then as a seminarian, and later, as a priest. I am sure that many of you who attend the Vigil have a similar sense of awe and wonder in beholding the Easter candle’s flame, and watching the light spread from one candle to the next, until the darkness has been banished by the Light of Christ. There are no spectators at the Vigil, only participants, who share in the wonderful light, the fullness of life that is Jesus risen from the dead, as the first fruits of all who will rise again.

Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans, boldly states the truth of this wondrous event. The Resurrection is not merely something that happened to someone else, even if that someone is Jesus Christ our Lord. It is something that has happened to me, and to you. For most of us, it happened very early in our life, shortly after we were born. For many others, it happened much later, by our own choice, when we accepted the call to become members of Christ’s church, and were baptized.

When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. In other words, we entered the tomb with him, joining him in death, so that just as He was raised from death by the Father’s glory, we too might live an new life.

We must be aware that our old self has been crucified with Jesus, so that the sinfulness of our body may be destroyed, so that we will no longer be slaves of sin. I remember one young person who said to me, when we were talking about this passage from Romans, one spring day long ago: “Father, that might have worked when I was a little girl; but now that I’m a teen, I am beginning to believe that my baptism did not kill the sin in me.” She made a very good point. Paul, in this passage from Romans, continues the same thought: “It will only be when a person dies that he [or she] will be finished with sin.” That doesn’t mean that every one of us will continue to be sinful until the day we die. Mary, the mother of Jesus was not sinful from the day she was conceived until the day she died. John the Baptist was freed from sin when Mary visited his mother, Elizabeth, months before he was born. But John, and Mary, and even Jesus himself, were not free from temptation until the day they died. And if that’s true for them, it is also true for us.

We need to remember the last part of this passage from Romans: Having died with Christ in baptism, we will return to life with him. We know that Jesus, having been raised from the dead will never die again, for death has no more power over him. You also – and I – must consider ourselves to be dead to sin, and alive for God in Christ Jesus.

When you are tempted, remember that you are already dead to sin, through your baptism. Praise the Father for sending his only-begotten Son to redeem you, personally, from the power of sin. Praise the Son for sending the Holy Spirit to inspire you with the faith, and the courage, to do what God calls you to do. Praise the Holy Spirit for granting you the grace, at every difficult moment in life, to resist temptation, to avoid sin, one day at a time.

Don’t strive to be perfect! Try to be more cooperative with grace tomorrow than you were yesterday. And if it should happen that your aren’t as cooperative with grace today as you were yesterday, try to do better tomorrow than you were today. One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all He’s asking of you.

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