Hi Via. I’m sure all this must be rather overwhelming for you, as well as, hopefully, very exciting. In a short while, you are going to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, and thereby become a full member of the Roman Catholic Church. And let me say at once that we here, at St Philip’s and St Clare’s and Lift Jesus Higher welcome you into our company with open hearts and arms. I know you have been prepared over several months by Deacon Louis for this moment, and I know you have been coming to Mass every Sunday with Patrick, your husband and sponsor. But I suspect that you have never experienced before such a liturgy as this one.
Tonight, the Catholic Church pulls out all the stops for this Easter Vigil ceremony. She displays herself at her very best. Rather like one of those birds who put on a full display of their gorgeous colors to attract a mate, the Church brings together a vivid, rich display of liturgical highlights to attract and welcome you, Via.
You witnessed at the beginning of this evening the splendid tradition of blessing and lighting the sacred fire and came with us into the darkened and still atmosphere of the Church, where with lighted candles, we listened to the awesome proclamation of our Easter faith – Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Then you joined with us in listening, like the Jewish people of old, to the Old Testament stories of how their God chose them as His special people to be a holy light to the pagans, to draw them out of the darkness of their fear and ignorance, to know and love the only true living God. As we listened to these ancient stories, we realize that they are our stories as well, because Christianity is born out of Judaism. We Christians now are also, like the Jews, as St Peter reminds us in his first letter:” a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Yes, you, Via, are shortly to become a member of that chosen race, that royal priesthood, that holy nation. You are going to become, as a result of the sacraments you will receive tonight, God’s daughter, sister to Jesus, and companion of the Holy Spirit. You are to become a member of God’s own family in heaven, the Trinity, and at the same time, a member of his family here on earth, the Catholic Church. Wherever you go on this earth, throughout the rest of your life, you will never be alone. You will always and everywhere be a member of the community of salvation, the pilgrim people of God, on our way together to the Promised Land of Heaven. The lights that came on during the singing of the Gloria, as well as the dramatic, exultant chanting of the Alleluias, are meant to prepare you for that moment of your baptism, when the chorus of angels and saints in heaven will burst forth with shouts and cries of joy to welcome another companion and witness to the glory and majesty of God and His Church!
The Book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, describes these saints and angels as a great “cloud of witnesses”, who are encouraging you, Via, and indeed all of us, to lay aside sin, and “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the one who began our faith and who will bring it to perfection” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 2) . None of us ever really chose for Jesus. No, Jesus was already seeking us out, always had us in mind, chose us in fact, as St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians (1: 4) even before the foundation of the world to belong to Him, to become one of his disciples and heir to heavenly glory. Jesus rejoices tonight, Via, because his plans for you, for your salvation, for your heavenly destiny, now come to fulfilment. Now, you are, as that letter to the Ephesians affirms, the recipient of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly placed. You have been destined for adoption as God’s own child, you have received redemption through the blood of Jesus, shed for you on the cross, and obtained a heavenly inheritance. You, Via, heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, believed in Christ and now you are to receive the promised Holy Spirit, the pledge that you are indeed to attain heavenly glory as a member of God’s own people” (cf Ephesians 1: 3 – 14).
Via, I say to you, never, ever throw away these riches. No matter how much persecution, how much suffering or trial you may go through, during your life on earth, never forget this night, never mistrust the promises you have been given by Christ. I say with great sadness that many who have been baptized, and confirmed, and, indeed, received communion, no longer walk with us as a member of our community of salvation. We do not judge, we cannot, our sins and lack of love and faith, have contributed to the sins of the Catholic Church, that in many cases, have driven people away from membership in her. But we are human beings, prone to fall and to fail, and to disappoint expectations. But not Jesus. Jesus is, and always will be, faithful to his promises to us. So, whatever comes at you throughout your life that is negative and evil and troubling, do as the letter to the Hebrews urges, and “keep your eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). You will find Jesus in many places, in His word, in the poor, in nature. But especially you will find him in the gathering of his people, in the Mass, where he makes himself present in his word, in his body and blood and in his people. Do not stay away from the assembly of God’s people, as so many have done, and gradually lost faith in Jesus, and thereby lost themselves.
Via, you will have such a story to tell people after tonight. Don’t be afraid to share it with them, the story of how Jesus sought you out and drew you to himself, how he led you from your homeland , to your husband , Patrick, to a new human family, and also to a spiritual family, all of us who are your sisters and brothers, who welcome you as one of our own, and will pray for you , not just tonight, but always , and who look forward to sharing heavenly glory with you forever .