Born Again

(Easter Vigil Homily)

I once had the opportunity to be present at the birth of child. Next to my ordination, it was the most emotional experience of my entire life. I never realized how much mothers suffer in giving birth. But the joy when that baby was born was so great. Tears streamed down my face as the mom held her new baby girl.

Parents who are here know that joy. What a great gift they receive from God in their child. Human birth is so wonderful, but tonite we see with eyes of faith, something even more wonderful. For the past year we have accompanied these catechumens: adults, teenagers and children. We have arrived at the goal of a long journey. They will be reborn as sons and daughters of God. This will happen precisely thru the Easter sacraments: baptism, confirmation and holy communion.

Once a man came to Jesus to ask him a question. He came at night because he was afraid his friends might make fun of him. He asked Jesus the most important question. "What must I do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?"

Jesus said, "You must be born again."

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

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

Tonite our catechumens will receive that rebirth. After they profess their faith, they will one by one kneel down in our baptismal fount. The blessed water will be poured 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 and not just pains of labor. In the case of that young mom I accompanied, she endured quite a bit during her pregnancy. And afterwards 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 have to die with Christ and 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. At the Easter vigil they were led into the pool by their sponsor. The priest 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 priest said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

When they stepped out the pool they were anointed by having oil, sacred chrism, poured over their head and entire body. They put on their white garment, received a lighted candle and were 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.

For some people this is just a beautiful drama. But those who want to see it that way are ignoring one thing. What we heard in the Gospel: the empty tomb. Some people here may find the resurrection of Jesus just too wonderful or too astounding to believe. If you want to try, I ask you to start by joining those first disciples peering into the empty tomb. There is a beautiful Spanish hymn which says:

Alegre la mañana que nos habla de tí,
Alegre la mañana.
Alegre la mañana que trae la buena noticia
Que la tumba de Cristo está vacía.

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, I ask you to peer into the empty tomb and to ask yourself what this means. And pray for the gift of faith.

So many people who were "born Catholic" tell me they envy these adults who are baptized at Easter. We have even lost members to churches that re-baptize. But, as St. Paul says, there is one baptism. What we need to do is fully open that gift we received on the day of our baptism. We will all have a wonderful chance to do that tonite when 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 have arrived at a goal. But it is really only a beginning. Childbirth is the goal of a pregnancy, but it is really only the beginning of 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 chose. 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 great bishop here in the archdiocese of Seattle, Archbishop Alexander Brunett. And for better or worse, I'm you're 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. Here at Holy Family we work hard to keep our church beautiful--and I truly am convinced we have one of the most beautiful churches in the area. We have choirs which practice so diligently to have wonderful music. We have dedicated lectors, Eucharistic ministers, altar server trainers and so on. 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 same 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):

2016: The Greatest Gift
2015: Disciple Makers Week 1: Totally Fixable
2014: Journey to Hope Week 1
2013: Peter's Joy
2012: To Get Rid of My Sins
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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