Sunday, April 08, 2007

Our life now belongs to Christ, no longer to ourselves

From the homily of the Holy Father at the Easter Vigil
These words of the Psalm, read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism. Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been "grafted" onto Christ by likeness to his death. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ -- he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute. On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary. Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: "For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labor fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart -- by being executed -- and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account" (cf. 1:21ff.). On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ -- there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: "Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me" (Psalm 138[139]: 5). To the Romans Paul wrote: "No one lives to himself and no one dies to himself. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:7ff.).

Dear candidates for Baptism, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves. As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives forever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death. At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go -- he who is Life itself.
And
But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal -- what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God's memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. "Out of the depths I cry to you." Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.
From the Dominican studentate at Blackfriars, here's a slightly different rendition of the Exsultet.

Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! Alleluia, alleluia!

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