Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 1st Sunday in Lent

Readings: Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pet 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

1. This Lent I would like to do the Sunday homilies on the various themes of baptism that I will be alluding to in my opening blessing. It’s a way of emphasizing the importance of baptism as a Lenten theme. This Sunday the topic is: Baptism joins us to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The rediscovery of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ as the very heart and core of the Christian faith was one of the great achievements of the 19th and 20th century Catholic Church. It had been lost sight of over the centuries due to a variety of cultural and historical circumstances and the Catholic Church had become the poorer for it. But through the work of many liturgical and historical scholars that centrality was recaptured and later fully accepted by the Second Vatican Council as the best expression of what is at the very heart of Catholic Faith.

2. The phrase, Paschal Mystery, refers to the whole dynamic of what occurred in the last days of Jesus’ life, but especially his passion, death, resurrection and ascension. The Church sees in this "passing over" the core event of Christian faith, the foundation from which everything else flows. It is this event that saves all of humanity and all of creation. It is an event that happened in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and it continues happening today in the Holy Spirit poured out in the Church and the world, and will continue to the end of time.

3. The way that we fully enter into this dynamic of the Paschal Mystery is, first of all, through the sacraments, esp. the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. They bring us into the Christ-dynamic of the Paschal Mystery. But just as the Paschal Mystery happened in the life of Jesus and extends forward in history, so it begins in us with our own baptism but then extends forward through the rest of our lives.

The second way we enter this dynamic of the Paschal Mystery is by seeing and living our lives as a process of transformation through passion and death to Resurrection.

4. It is mostly in facing the reality of death that the Paschal Mystery becomes real for most people. As a part of our own entry into the Paschal Mystery each of us should do some reflection on the reality of death during this Lenten season, our own death and the deaths of those we love. I especially like a quotation from Sheila Cassidy’s Sharing the Darkness: "At a religious level perhaps the most important gift (for a care giver to the elderly and the dying) is a paschal overview—the ability to hold in the same focus the harsh reality of suffering and the mind-boggling truth of resurrection, of life after death. One must develop the ability to stand with feet firmly planted on an earth inhabited by wounds and vomit bowls, but with the gaze focused beyond the mess of the here and now to a future of hope beyond imaginings. More than anything, one must know deep in one’s guts that death is the beginning, not the end." (p. 7)

5. We don’t usually think of Christian death as an act of faith in God, and yet that is precisely what it is. St. Paul knew that when he wrote: "We were buried with him by means of Baptism into death..." (Rm 6:4) Remember though that we don’t go through this alone, but in union with the communion of saints. Many years ago a seminarian told me of an old man who was dying in a hospital. The seminarian was serving as a chaplain and he visited the old man and prayed over him every day. The old man said nothing. And then one day at the end of the prayers the old man motioned to come closer. The seminarian did so, and heard the old man say weakly: "Thank you for dying with me." That says it all. In Baptism we become participants in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.

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