The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

Today’s readings

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

We English-speakers have just one word for time, but other languages have more; those languages recognize the different kinds of time.  Most notably for us, because it is reflected in the New Testament, the Greek language has two kinds of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the kind of time you can measure.  It’s a day or a week or even the timeline of a project at work.  Kairos on the other hand can be thought of as quality time: a summer afternoon spent with your family, a visit to a sick loved one, or a chance encounter with an old friend.  This kind of time is mostly unmeasurable, and in some sense kairos is always “now.”

It’s important to keep these kinds of time in mind because the world sometimes sees time in a rather cynical way.   But that’s not how our God sees time.  Did you hear what we prayed at the very beginning of tonight’s vigil?  Listen again: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age and for ever.  Amen.”  And these are important, even brave words for us to offer on this most holy night.  Tonight’s vigil proclaims that all time is holy, sanctified by our God who has walked with us through our yesterdays, remains with us today, and forges on with us toward our tomorrows.  There is not a single moment of our life, not a single moment of our history that is not holy because every moment has been, is now, and always will be imbued with the presence of our God who is holiness itself.  That’s what we gather to celebrate on this most holy night.

But as we have walked through Lent, and especially through this Holy Week, there may even be a temptation, I think, to come to think that the world, and especially human history, was a creative experiment that went horribly wrong, that God sent his Son to clean up the mess only to have him killed for it, and then in a last move of desperation raised him up out of the grave.  But we know that’s not how this works.  Salvation was not some kind of dumb luck or happy accident.  The salvation of the world had been part of God’s creative plan all along.  Humanity, given the grace of free will had, and has, certainly gone astray.  But God did not create us simply to follow our own devices and end up in hell.  He created us for himself, and so sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, to die our death, and to rise up over it all in the everlasting promise of eternal life.  That’s what we celebrate on this most holy of all nights.

There is a cynical view of our world that would have us believe that everything is futile and that the only possible way to endure this world is to cultivate a kind of cynical apathy that divorces us from our God, our loved ones, our communities and our world.  If we don’t get involved and invested, if we don’t love with abandon, we aren’t likely to get hurt.  We are conditioned to believe that time, and life itself, is meaningless, that there is nothing worth living for, and certainly nothing worth dying for.  But tonight’s vigil debunks all of that.  Tonight we are assured by our God that our present is no less redeemable than was our past, nor is it any less filled with promise than is our future.

This wonderful three-day Liturgy that we call the Sacred Paschal Triduum began on Thursday night.  On that night we sang “Lift High the Cross,” which is reminiscent of the proper entrance antiphon that the Church gives us for the Liturgy of these holy days:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

Should there be any doubt about the glory of the Cross, these words, which are borrowed from the letter to the Galatians, remind us that there is nothing on earth that is so ponderous that our God can’t redeem it.  There is no darkness that our Lord’s Paschal Mystery can’t brighten.  There is no pain or sadness that our Lord hasn’t taken on himself and defeated, once and for all, on this most holy of all nights.

Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation, God’s saving action in the world throughout all time.  Each of our readings has been a stop in the history of God’s love for us.  God’s plan for salvation, and his sanctification of time, began back at the beginning of it all.  Each of the days was hallowed with precious creation, and all of it was created and pronounced good.  Then Abraham’s faithfulness and righteousness earned us a future as bright as a zillion twinkling stars.  Later, as Moses and the Israelites stood trapped by the waters of the Red Sea, God’s providence made a way for them and cut off their pursuers, making the future safe for those God calls his own.  The prophet Isaiah calls us to seek the Lord while he may be found, not spending our lives on things that fail to satisfy, but investing in our relationship with God that gives us everything.  The prophet Ezekiel foretells the re-creation all humanity will experience as they come to know Christ and are filled with the Spirit.  Saint Paul rejoices in the baptism that has washed away the stains of sin as we have died and risen with Christ, and has brought us into a new life that leads ultimately to God’s kingdom.  And finally, our Gospel tonight tells us not to be afraid, to go forth into the Galilee of our future and expect to see the Risen Lord.

We Christians have been spared the necessity and sadness of a cynical view of the world and its people.  Our gift has been and always is the promise that Jesus Christ is with us forever, even until the end of the world.  And so, just as God sanctified all of time through his interventions of salvation, so too has he sanctified our lives through the interventions of Sacrament.  We are a sacramental people, purified and reborn in baptism, fed and strengthened in the Eucharist, and in Confirmation, set on fire to burn brightly and light up our world with the glory of God’s presence.  Tonight we recall these three Sacraments of Initiation and recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptism.  Also, for the first time since Thursday, we have the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist together, drawing strength from the food our God provides.

These days of Lent have been a sanctifying journey for all of us, as we have walked the Stations of the Cross together, fasted together, celebrated the sacraments, taken part in our Project Passion Prayer experience, done works of service, and so much more.  Christ has definitely sanctified this Lenten time for all of us, and has now brought us to the fullness of this hour, when he rises over sin and death to bring us all to the promise of life eternal.

And it is this very night that cleanses our world from all the stains of sin and death and lights up the darkness.  The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that Deacon Ryan sang when we entered Church tonight, tells us: “This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.  The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”  This is a most powerful night!  What a gift this night is, not just to us gathered here in this church, not just to all the Catholics gathered together throughout the world on this holy night, but to all people in every time and place.  Our world needs the light and our time needs the presence of Christ, and our history needs salvation.  Blessed be God who never leaves his people without the great hope of his abiding presence!

And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place.  Brightened by this beautiful vigil, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world.  That is our ministry in the world.  That is our call as believers.  That is our vocation as disciples.  “May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star.  The one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Today’s readings

We English-speakers have just one word for time, but other languages have more; those languages recognize the different kinds of time.  Most notably for us, because it is reflected in the New Testament, the Greek language has two kinds of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the kind of time you can measure.  It’s a day or a week or even the timeline of a project at work.  Kairos on the other hand can be thought of as quality time: a summer afternoon spent with your family, a visit to a sick loved one, or a chance encounter with an old friend.  This kind of time is mostly unmeasurable, and in some sense kairos is always “now.”

It’s important to keep these kinds of time in mind because the world sometimes sees time in a rather cynical way.   But that’s not how our God sees time.  Did you hear what we prayed at the very beginning of tonight’s vigil?  Listen again: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age and for ever.  Amen.”  And these are important, even brave words for us to offer on this most holy night.  Tonight’s vigil proclaims that all time is holy, sanctified by our God who has walked with us through our yesterdays, remains with us today, and forges on with us toward our tomorrows.  There is not a single moment of our life, not a single moment of our history that is not holy because every moment has been, is now, and always will be imbued with the presence of our God who is holiness itself.  That’s what we gather to celebrate on this most holy night.

But as we have walked through Lent, and especially through this Holy Week, there may even be a temptation, I think, to come to think that the world, and especially human history, was a creative experiment that went horribly wrong, that God sent his Son to clean up the mess only to have him killed for it, and then in a last move of desperation raised him up out of the grave.  But we know that’s not how this works.  Salvation was not some kind of dumb luck or happy accident.  The salvation of the world had been part of God’s creative plan all along.  Humanity, given the grace of free will had, and has, certainly gone astray.  But God did not create us simply to follow our own devices and end up in hell.  He created us for himself, and so sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, to die our death, and to rise up over it all in the everlasting promise of eternal life.  That’s what we celebrate on this most holy of all nights.

There is a cynical view of our world that would have us believe that everything is futile and that the only possible way to endure this world is to cultivate a kind of cynical apathy that divorces us from our God, our loved ones, our communities and our world.  We are conditioned to believe that time, and life itself, is meaningless, that there is nothing worth living for, and certainly nothing worth dying for.  But tonight’s vigil debunks all of that.  Tonight we are assured by our God that our present is no less redeemable than was our past, nor is it any less filled with promise than is our future.

Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation, God’s saving action in the world throughout all time.  Each of our readings has been a stop in the history of God’s love for us.  God’s plan for salvation, and his sanctification of time, began back at the beginning of it all.  Each of the days was hallowed with precious creation, and all of it was created and pronounced good.  Then Abraham’s faithfulness and righteousness earned us a future as bright as a zillion twinkling stars.  Later, as Moses and the Israelites stood trapped by the waters of the red sea, God’s providence made a way for them and cut off their pursuers, making the future safe for those God calls his own.  The prophet Isaiah calls us to seek the Lord while he may be found, not spending our lives on things that fail to satisfy, but investing in our relationship with God that gives us everything.  The prophet Ezekiel foretells the recreation all humanity will experience as they come to know Christ and are filled with the Spirit.  St. Paul rejoices in the baptism that has washed away the stains of sin as we have died and risen with Christ, and has brought us into a new life that leads ultimately to God’s kingdom.  And finally, our Gospel tonight tells us not to be afraid, to go forth into the Galilee of our future and expect to see the Lord.

We Christians have been spared the necessity of a cynical view of the world and its people.  Our gift has been and always is the promise that Jesus Christ is with us forever, even until the end of the world.  And so, just as God sanctified all of time through his interventions of salvation, so too he has sanctified our lives through the interventions of Sacrament.  We are a sacramental people, purified and reborn in baptism, fed and strengthened in the Eucharist, and in Confirmation, set on fire to burn brightly and light up our world.  Tonight we recall these three Sacraments of Initiation and recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptism.  Also, for the first time since Thursday, we have the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist together, drawing strength from the food our God provides.

These days of Lent have been a sanctifying journey for all of us, as we have walked the Stations of the Cross together, fasted together, celebrated the sacraments, reflected on living the Eucharist, gathered food for the food pantry, and so much more.  Christ has definitely sanctified this Lenten time for all of us, and has now brought us to the fullness of this hour, when he rises over sin and death to bring us all to the promise of life eternal.

And it is this very night that cleanses our world from all the stains of sin and death and lights up the darkness.  The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that I sang when we entered Church tonight, tells us: “This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.  The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”  What a gift this night is, not just to us gathered here in this church, not just to all the Catholics gathered together throughout the world on this holy night, but to all people in every time and place.  Our world needs the light and our time needs the presence of Christ, and our history needs salvation.  Blessed be God who never leaves his people without the great hope of his abiding presence!

And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place.  Brightened by this beautiful vigil, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world.  That is our ministry in the world.  That is our call as believers.  That is our vocation as disciples.  “May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star.  The one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Welcome to Ordinary Time!  This Church year, this year of grace, actually began last November with the First Sunday of Advent.  Since then, we’ve been through Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord.  Today is our first “green” Sunday; actually the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Ordinary Time actually began this past Tuesday, right after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Monday.  So here we are at the early part of a new Church year with readings that speak of beginnings, which seems appropriate enough.  But before we launch into a look at the readings, just a word or two about Ordinary Time.  There’s a tendency, when we hear that phrase, to think of these Sundays as just “ordinary” or “blah” – nothing special.  That’s what the term “ordinary” means to us English Speakers.  But that’s not what the Church is going for.  A better translation would perhaps be “ordered time:” a time that is marked out, set aside, and always observed.  That means we don’t have permission to skip them, and that we ought to keep them holy.  At their core, “Ordinary Time” Sundays are Sundays made sacred because they are connected to the death and resurrection of the Lord.  They are ultimately a celebration of the Lord’s Day through and through.

So on this first of the “ordered time” Sundays, we have a look at some beginnings. The first of the beginnings is really more of a new beginning.  The prophet Isaiah speaks of the commissioning of a servant.  The servant is Israel, and God is speaking to the nation while they are in exile.  He is calling them back and foretelling that not only will they be God’s servant to bring back and restore and reunite Israel and Jacob, but they will also bring salvation to all the world.  That is how salvation works: when we are delivered, we expected to help deliver others.   Whenever we receive a gift, it is never just for us, so for Israel, they must go out to all the world and bring salvation.

The Psalmist follows up on that notion, giving the servant’s response: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” Let’s take a look at what goes on in this Psalm. First, the Psalmist seems to be involved in some sort of difficulty for which he has been waiting on the Lord. The Lord, for his part, has taken notice, stooped toward him and heard his cry. The response of the Psalmist to his deliverance is one of witnessing. He announces the justice of the Lord and does not restrain his lips.

The second reading from the beginning of First Corinthians seems to be kind of strange for a reading.  All we get are the first three verses of Paul’s letter to them, and it seems to just be a simple greeting: From Paul to the Corinthians, grace and peace.  But these few verses tell us a bit more than that.  They speak to the vision that Paul has of his own vocation, and of his belief in Christ.  First, he proclaims himself to be an apostle.  This is important, because an apostle is more than just a follower or even a disciple.  An apostle is one who is sent with the full authority of the one who sends him.  Paul has never met Jesus, at least not in person, but he had an experience that clearly revealed Jesus to him, and sent him forth with a mission.  Paul then tells us what he believes about Jesus.  He never mentions Jesus without referring to him as the Christ, that is, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  Jesus for him was no ordinary person.  If Jesus was just any old person, Paul would still be out persecuting the Christians instead of leading them as an Apostle.  Jesus is the one the Jews were always hoping for, the one to bring salvation.  Jesus is the Christ who sanctifies his people.

And finally we come back to John’s version of the Baptism of the Lord.  In this version, from the Gospel of John, we don’t see the actual moment, but hear John the Baptist’s take on it.  He stresses that he did not know who Jesus was; he mentions that twice in his account.  That almost seems weird in a way, because we know they were cousins, and that John actually leapt in his mother’s womb when Mary came to visit.  But that was infancy, and the way John came to know that Jesus was the Christ was through revelation.  He was told ahead of time what signs to look for, and when he sees the Spirit come down upon Jesus like a dove after he comes out of the water, then John knows that Jesus is the One.  So finally he becomes the herald of the Lord, the mission he was called to from his mother’s womb.  “Behold the Lamb of God,” he says, “who takes away the sins of the world.”  Now he sees and testifies that Jesus is the Lamb of God.

So we have three beginnings today.  We have the beginning of Israel’s call to be a servant of the Lord, to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth.  We have the beginning of Paul’s correspondence to the Church at Corinth, telling them that they are God’s holy people, having been sanctified by Jesus the Christ.  And we have the beginning of the recognition of who Jesus is in the Gospels, one anointed by the Spirit at his baptism, one who takes away the sin of the world.  It is appropriate that at the beginning of our celebration of ordered time, we would celebrate these three beginnings.

So this is, in a sense, a celebration of time itself, and what we need to get about time is that it is not pointless.  It’s not some meaningless trip through the ages that gets us nowhere.  Time is not a waste of time.  For the Christian, time is sanctified by God who entered into time with salvation through Jesus Christ.  And so today, God blesses our beginnings.  What is it that we need to begin these days?  Is there a call to something deeper as a disciple that we have been putting off?  Is our relationship with God at a turning point, and do we need to get out of our comfort zone to explore that relationship?  Are we being called to take our careers in a new direction, becoming people of greater integrity to witness to the Gospel in our workplaces?  Are students being called to take their studies more seriously, learning the great wonders that God has placed before them?  Are parents being called to bring their families to a holier place this year, remembering that all that they have and all that they experience is a gift?  Whatever it is that we need to start right now, God is sanctifying that beginning by reminding us that all of time is holy and that all of time is a gift.

We must make use of this present moment, this sacred space of time, because we can never get it back once it’s passed.  It’s not too late to make resolutions, and it’s certainly not too late to start working on the ones we have already made.  Today is a day of beginnings, beginnings not just for Israel and Corinth and Jesus, but also beginnings of our own histories, entering into the time with which God is blessing us.  Our offering today is an offering of these beginnings, looking at them as gifts of God, and responding “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Time, Talent and Treasure

Today’s readings

Mike was one of my favorite people in the world.  He owned the service station where my family had, and still has, our cars repaired and maintained ever since we first moved out to the suburbs, almost forty years ago now.  Dad used to joke that with all the cars we brought in there over the years, we probably had ownership in at least the driveway by now.  Mike was the kind of guy who, if you brought your car in for a tune-up, would call you and say, “your car doesn’t really need a tune-up yet, so I’ll just change the oil and a couple of the spark plugs and you’ll be fine.”  He was honest and did great work, and it seemed like everyone knew him.  He taught that to a kid who came to work for him when he was just sixteen.  When Mike retired five years or so ago, Ted took over for him and runs the business just the way Mike taught him.

Mike was a regular at the 7am Mass on Sunday, and after his retirement was a pretty regular daily Mass-goer.  The church would sometimes ask him to help a person in need with car repairs.  This he did gladly; he was always ready to serve.  A couple of years ago, when Mike died, I took Mom to his wake.  It took us an hour and a half to get in to see him and his family, and it was like that all night long.  His funeral packed the parish church, and eight of us priests concelebrated the Mass.  Mike left his mark on our community in incredible ways, and nobody ever forgot it.

Today’s gospel reading speaks to us about what may be the hallmark of Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor.  This two-pronged approach to loving is what life is all about for us, it is, in fact, the way we are all called to live the Gospel.  The scholar of the law is testing Jesus to see if he can come up with a way to discredit him.  But Jesus’ answer is one that the scholar can’t take issue with.  There were over six hundred major and minor precepts in the Jewish law, but any scholar worth his salt knew that they all boiled down to love.  In fact, the first of the laws that Jesus quoted, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind and soul…” was once that so many students of the law had memorized, so this was not new ground for them.  What was new was putting the love of neighbor parallel to that law.

Today we begin our parish’s annual time, talent and treasure campaign for the strength of our parish.  This is the time when we parishioners of Notre Dame renew in our minds and in our hearts that love of God and love of neighbor are the first priority in our lives.  God is the One who gives us everything that we have and makes us everything that we are.  It is our special task in this life to use what we have been given and who we are and have become to give honor and glory to God.  Worship and prayer is the way that we come to love God.  Service and generosity are the ways that we show it.  That is the way of stewardship; that is the way of the Christian life.

In a couple of weeks, our Finance Council will give you details about our parish’s financial condition; you can also read about that in this week’s parish bulletin.  So today, I would just like to give some highlights.  We all understand that it takes money to run an organization.  Gifts received through the Sunday collection not only help with the utilities and day-to-day operations of the parish, but they also provide resources to continue to build and strengthen our many parish ministries and programs.

The budget for the fiscal year that will end on June 30, 2012 is $1.46 million.  This is a four percent decrease from the prior fiscal year.  What I hope you take away from this news is the following:  First, we are working hard to be financially sound and making decisions that make the best use of the dollars entrusted to the parish.  Second, we are forced to make cuts in our budget because we had a shortfall last year of about $91,000.  The only way we can fulfill our parish financial needs is with a commitment from everyone.  If we all do our part, we will be successful.

Some ask how much they should give.  The truth is that only you and your family can decide that; it looks different for every household.  I just ask that you prayerfully reflect on the blessings you have received and consider a meaningful increase.  If you have not participated in offertory giving, I ask you to prayerfully consider an investment of the salary you earn during the first hour of your work week.  Some people find that first hour on Monday morning to be challenging and difficult; wouldn’t it be great to have the motivation of offering that time to the Lord in gratitude for your many blessings?  Whatever you decide, I will not be asking you to return a commitment form this year.  We want to make things easier and trust that you will respond with great love.  So I just ask that you simply increase your offering as soon as you are able.

I also ask that all of you: adults, seniors, children, youth and young adults, all of you consider a meaningful contribution of your time and talent.  There are many wonderful ministries in our parish, and all of them would welcome some fresh blood and new energy.  We are in need of people to greet other people as they come in to Mass.  We can always use help with our religious education and youth ministry programs.  We are trying to revitalize our parish council and worship commission, and we could use people who love the Church to be part of those groups.  Our music ministry could always use more voices and instruments to glorify God in song.  If you are a couple who loves your marriage, we could use your passion to mentor engaged couples.  I’d like to start a health care ministry to help people monitor their blood pressure and learn how to take care of themselves, and occasionally look in on a sick parishioner to make sure their needs are being met.  And that’s just to name a few.

Our parish day of service is next Saturday.  This is a wonderful way to try some service with a limited time commitment, especially if you are not sure how God is calling you to serve.  Please stop in the narthex after Mass to sign up for one or more activities, and don’t forget to sign up to come to the dinner after the 5:00 Mass.  Tomorrow/today we’ll also hear from the Invisible Children and learn how we can reach out to those hurting across the globe.  Our love for God and neighbor can make a difference right here in Clarendon Hills and half way around the world.  Love has no limits!

I think that my friend Mike understood quite well why Jesus put love of God and love of neighbor at the top of those six hundred or so Jewish laws.  He knew the joy that came from being connected to a loving God, and made it his top priority to share that love with others any way he could.  Small acts, great faith, awesome generosity.  This is what it takes for the Church to continue to show God’s love to others.  My prayer is that we will all take time to reflect this week on how we can love God and our neighbor by generously returning a portion of our time, talent and treasure that God might be glorified in all things.  Thank you all for all that you do to make our parish as great as it is.  God bless you.

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord: The Easter Vigil

Tonight’s readings

We English-speakers have just one word for time, but other languages have more; those languages recognize the different kinds of time.  Most notably for us because it is reflected in the New Testament, the Greek language has two kinds of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the kind of time you can measure.  It’s a day or a week or even the timeline of a project at work.  Kairos on the other hand can be thought of as quality time: a summer afternoon spent with your family, a visit to a sick loved one, or a chance encounter with an old friend.  This kind of time is mostly unmeasurable, and in some sense kairos is always “now.”

It’s important to keep these kinds of time in mind because the world sometimes sees time in a rather cynical way.   But that’s not how our God sees time.  Did you hear what we prayed at the very beginning of tonight’s vigil?  Listen again: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him, and all ages, to him be glory and power through every age forever.  Amen.”  And these are important, even brave words for us to offer on this most holy night.  Tonight’s vigil proclaims that all time is holy, sanctified by our God who has walked with us through our yesterdays, remains with us today, and forges on with us toward our tomorrows.  There is not a single moment of our life, not a single moment of our history that is not holy because every moment has been, is now, and always will be imbued with the presence of our God who is holiness itself.  That’s what we gather to celebrate on this holy night.

But as we have walked through Lent, and especially through this Holy Week, there may even be a temptation, I think, to come to think that the world, and especially human history, was a creative experiment that went horribly wrong, that God sent his Son to clean up the mess only to have him killed for it, and then in a last move of desperation raised him up out of the grave.  But we know that’s not right.  Salvation was not some kind of dumb luck or happy accident.  The salvation of the world had been part of God’s creative plan all along.  Humanity, given the grace of free will had, and has, certainly gone astray.  But God did not create us simply to follow our own devices and end up in hell.  He created us for himself, and so sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, to die our death, and to rise up over it all in the everlasting promise of eternal life.  That’s what we celebrate on this most holy of all nights.

There is a cynical view of our world that would have us believe that everything is futile and that the only possible way to endure this world is to cultivate a kind of cynical apathy that divorces us from our God, our loved ones, our communities and our world.  We are conditioned to believe that time, and life itself, is meaningless, that there is nothing worth living for, and certainly nothing worth dying for.  But tonight’s vigil debunks all of that.  Tonight we are assured by our God that our present is no less redeemable than was our past, nor is it any less filled with promise than is our future.

Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation.  Each of our readings has been a stop in the history of God’s love for us.  God’s plan for salvation, and his sanctification of time, began back at the beginning of it all.  Each of the days was hallowed with precious creation, and all of it was created and pronounced good.  Then Abraham’s faithfulness and righteousness earned us a future as bright as a zillion twinkling stars.  Later, as Moses and the Israelites stood trapped by the waters of the red sea, God’s providence made a way for them and cut off their pursuers, making the future safe for those God calls his own.  The prophet Isaiah calls us to seek the Lord while he may be found, not spending our lives on things that fail to satisfy, but investing in our relationship with God that gives us everything.  The prophet Ezekiel foretells the recreation all humanity will experience as they come to know Christ and are filled with the Spirit.  St. Paul rejoices in the baptism that has washed away the stains of sin as we have died and risen with Christ, and has brought us into a new life that leads ultimately to God’s kingdom.  And finally, our Gospel tonight tells us not to be afraid, to go forth into the Galilee of our future and expect to see the Lord.

We Christians have been spared the necessity of a cynical view of the world and its people.  Our gift has been and always is the promise that Jesus Christ is with us forever, even until the end of the world.  And so, just as God sanctified all of time through his interventions of salvation, so too he has sanctified our lives through the interventions of Sacrament.  We are a sacramental people, purified and reborn in baptism, fed and strengthened in the Eucharist, and in Confirmation, set on fire to burn brightly and light up our world.  Tonight we recall these three Sacraments of Initiation and recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptism.  Also, for the first time since Thursday, we have the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist together, drawing strength from the food our God provides.

These days of Lent have been a sanctifying journey for all of us, as we have walked the Stations of the Cross together, attended our parish mission, celebrated the sacraments, spent time before the Eucharist, gathered as a community for a fish fry or pizza fest or a soup and bread supper, and so much more.  Christ has definitely sanctified this Lenten time for all of us, and has now brought us to the fullness of this hour, when he rises over sin and death to bring us all to the promise of life eternal.

And it is this very night that cleanses our world from all the stains of sin and death and lights up the darkness.  The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that I sang when we entered Church tonight, tells us: “Of this night, Scripture says, ‘The night will be clear as day: it will become my light, my joy.’ The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.”  What a gift this night is, not just to us gathered here in this church, not just to all the Catholics gathered together throughout the world on this holy night, but to all people in every time and place.  Our world needs the light and our time needs the presence of Christ, and our history needs salvation.  Blessed be God who never leaves his people without the great hope of his abiding presence!

And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place.  Brightened by this beautiful vigil, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world.  That is our ministry in the world.  That is our call as believers.  That is our vocation as disciples.  “May the Morning Star, which never sets, find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, [the Son of God] who lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

 

 

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I like to be on time for things.  It bugs me when people are late.  I was raised to be punctual, so I am very aware of time.  The author of Ecclesiastes is aware of time today also, but in a slightly different way.  He knows that there is a time and a place for everything; that God is doing something different now than he was before.  It is our task not just to be merely punctual in observing these times and seasons, but more so to be mindful of them.  So often we fly from one thing to the next, hardly giving anyone or anything a second thought.  The wisdom writer would have us be mindful, would have us be open to what God is doing in this moment, and to respond accordingly.  What is God doing in your life, right now?