Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Morning Mass : Let’s Get Serious

Last night I baptized a young couple who are getting married in December. I also baptized the groom from a wedding I performed last summer. So I thought I'd start my Easter homily with a story about courtship.

A young man put his arm around his girl friend. "I adore you," he said. "I love you, I need you, I can't live without you."

She pushed him aside and said "Tommy, I don't want to get serious."

"Who's serious?" he replied.

In our personal relationships we do sometimes use language carelessly. There was another young man who wrote his girlfriend an impassioned love letter.

"Dearest Susan," he wrote. "I would swim the mighty ocean for one glance of your lovely eyes. I would walk through a wall of fire for one touch of your delicate hand. I would cross the deepest river, climb the highest mountain for a single word from your tender lips. With love, your faithful Arnold. P.S. See you Saturday if it doesn't snow."

I'm afraid that we can sometimes be a bit like those half-hearted Romeos when it comes to our relationship with God. We tell God we love him, but when push comes to shove, we don't want to get serious.

Fortunately, God is very, very serious about us. And he knows us very well. He knows we're weak and need constant help to stay focused and committed to our relationship with him. Through his Church, he gives us an annual opportunity to get back to the basics: every year we renew our baptismal promises at Easter, the heart of our faith.

We could, of course, renew our commitment to Christ any old time. But at Easter we do so with particular awareness of what baptism means—how it liberates from darkness, how it leads from death to life. With the Easter Alleluias ringing in our ears, we're not likely to forget that our baptism is a baptism into Christ's death, giving us a share in Christ's resurrection.

Today at Masses throughout the world, Christians will renew their baptismal vows and profess their baptismal faith. We get a chance to answer "I do" to the most important questions we'll ever be asked.

Over the centuries, baptism became routine in many cultures. In some countries, even today, almost everyone is a baptized Catholic. Baptism's just a given.

But it wasn't always so. The first Christians faced the hostility of their fellow Jews. For generations after that they were persecuted cruelly by the Roman emperors. To receive baptism was to accept the real possibility of martyrdom.

Later in history it wasn't baptism that cost men and women their lives or their livelihoods, but baptism in the Catholic Church. Persecution of Catholics was a very real fact of life for centuries in many European countries, and our fellow Catholics are dying as we speak in such places as Sudan and Iraq, and gravely discriminated against in China and elsewhere.

We are not in Sudan or Iraq or even in one of the Arabian states where baptism is a crime. But it takes courage to be baptized even in Canada—not physical courage, perhaps, but moral courage: the courage to be thought odd, out-of-step, old-fashioned.

And, for some, the courage to accept consequences. Many professionals will face increasing pressures in the coming years as law, politics, and medicine become more and more hostile to the serious Christian. The days of the comfortable pew are long gone, and the cost of discipleship is increasing by the day.

Can Christian faith really be worth the cost?

This morning's Gospel gives three answers to the question. First, faith in Christ gives hope to the hopeless.

Peter and John and Mary Magdalene enter the garden dejected and bereaved. They leave convinced, ready to proclaim "I have seen the Lord."

To meet the Lord, as Mary Magdalene did, to see Him risen from the dead, victor over the worst man could do, builds a fire within our hearts that cannot be quenched by hatred, hunger or disease.

Second, faith in Christ and in His Word gives us the promise of glory. Peter and John and Mary Magdalene invite us 'to see and to believe'—to understand the Scripture and its promises.

Jesus rose from the dead so that we might have the courage to be baptized into his death and thus share his life. "When Christ who is your life is revealed," St. Paul writes, "then you also will be revealed with him in glory."

Thirdly, faith conquers our deepest fear, the fear of death.

Jesus did not rise from the dead to prove a point; He did not rise from the dead to prove his enemies wrong. He rose that we might share His victory over death. Mary Magdalene arrived weeping inconsolably; she left with her tears wiped away by the Risen Lord.

Easter is about life, about victory, about freedom. Baptism is about life, about victory and about freedom. It is baptism that makes us an Easter people, dead to sin, alive to Jesus.

During Holy Week we celebrated the funeral of John Marshall, a pillar of our parish for many years. It could have been a very sad day, a dark day. But the family members filling the first three pews made it feel like Easter; the women had chose to dress in bright pastel colours, Easter colours; and the men were splendid in military and police dress uniforms.

In fact, almost the only man in the funeral party who wasn't in uniform was a WestJet pilot, who explained he couldn't wear his since he forgot to bring enough snack mix for everyone in church.

That is how people face death when they live in the truth of baptism. Easter for the baptized is not long-ago and far away; it is here, it is now: hope for the hopeless, a promise of glory, and victory over all that oppresses us, especially sin and death.

In a few moments you will have a special opportunity to renew your hope, to claim the promise, and to share in Christ's victory.

Brother and sisters, let's get serious. We have been raised with Christ in baptism. So let us "seek the things that are above, where Christ is"—this Easter day, and every day.

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