Saturday, March 26, 2016
Baptism Calls Us to Martyrdom (Easter Vigil)
Tonight my words are all for you, Helen and Meghan, as you prepare for baptism. And for you, Andrew and Robin, candidates for full communion in the Catholic Church. And for you, Vincenzo, as you are confirmed and complete the sacraments of Christian initiation.
Everyone else here is just eavesdropping on us!
But you’ll need to be patient with me, dear friends, because I might disappoint you on this greatest of all nights. You might be expecting a message that matches your feelings, a festive homily full of the joy of this moment.
Instead, I am going to read to you from a handwritten letter written just three weeks ago. It’s neither festive nor joyful, at least in the usual way of thinking.
The letter is a report from the Missionaries of Charity—“Mother Teresa’s Sisters”— in Yemen. It begins in a very ordinary way: “Sisters had Mass, breakfast as usual. As usual Father stays back in chapel to say prayers then to fix things around the compound.”
“8 a.m.: Said apostolate prayer and then all five [Sisters] went to [the] Home.”
“8:30 a.m.: “ISIS dressed in blue came in, killed guard and driver. Five young Ethiopian men (Christian) began running to tell the Sisters ISIS was there to kill them. They killed them one by one. ”
“The Sisters ran two by two, because they have ladies and men’s home[s]. Four working women were screaming ‘Don’t kill the Sisters. Don’t kill the Sisters.’ One was the cook for 15 years. They killed them as well.”
The rest of the account is too painful to read. Four of the five sisters were murdered. The fate of the priest is still unknown.
You’re probably asking why I would dim the brightness of this holy night with such a story. Let me reply with a question of my own: “Why do you think these people were murdered?”
They weren’t murdered because they were Ethiopians. They weren’t murdered because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They weren’t shot and bludgeoned because they were Sisters.
They were murdered because they were baptized. Because they were Christians.
And that, dear Helen and Meghan, is what you are about to become. Christians.
Robin, Andrew and Vincenzo, you are already Christians. But you are about to become fully initiated—to move, so to speak, to the front lines.
Which leads to a question that would have seemed a bit silly even ten years ago, but which is very serious tonight: are you ready to be martyrs?
Are you ready to be witnesses—that’s what the Greek word martyr means—to the faith you will publicly profess tonight?
I can almost hear you thinking, ‘well, might as well say yes. Not very many terrorists in West Vancouver.’ But bearing witness doesn’t begin with facing terrorists; it begins with living our Christian life so faithfully that others can see us doing it.
The letter about the martyrs in Yemen makes a very interesting point. ISIS knew exactly how to find all the Sisters and the priest all at once: it was because they were faithful to their daily duties. ISIS knew just when they would say their prayers and just when they would leave the chapel to care for the sick.
You might wonder whether such faithfulness to routine was wise in a war zone. But the Missionaries of Charity see it very differently. In the words of the letter, “because of their faithfulness they were in the right place at the right time and were ready when the Bridegroom came.”
I do not wish you, dear friends, a martyr’s death. But as you step out in faith tonight, I do pray that because of your faithfulness to the Gospel you will always be in the right place at the right time, ready when the Bridegroom comes.
Because, as I’ve told you before, Christianity is a matter of life and death. The world has tried for centuries to water down the story, and to some extent it’s succeeded. But every Easter the Church reasserts that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” Every Easter we proclaim that those who are united with Christ in a death like his will be united with him in a resurrection like his.
St. Paul tells us that this life and death story includes being dead to sin and alive to God. That is a glorious part of tonight’s liturgy—our passover from the darkness of sin into the light of life. The last of the Old Testament readings we heard contains a promise of deliverance, not only from slavery but from all our impurity, from all the idols that lead us along false paths.
We’re promised a spirit of truth that will help us follow the truth in how we live, the way that leads to life.
And all of this is anchored in the greatest life-and-death reality of all: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The angels ask the women a question that we must answer ourselves: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Despite the cruelest of tortures and an unjust execution, Christ lives. And because he lives, we live—for dying he destroyed our death, and by rising restored our life.
The story of Sister Anselm, Sister Marguerite, Sister Judith and Sister Reginette is not a story of death; it is a story of life—the same new life that Christ offers you tonight.