“You Cannot Kill Me; I am Already Dead” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, July 31, 2022

During the tyrannical reign of Idi Amin in Uganda several years ago, Christians were widely persecuted. Death squads were sent out by order of Amin to kill pastors. I recently read the story of one such pastor who was preparing for Mass in the sacristy when a group of soldiers burst in and the captain pointed his gun at him and said: “Pastor, you’d better say your prayers, because we are going to kill you”. The pastor was suddenly inspired to blurt out the words: “You can’t kill me. I am dead already.” After a long pause, the captain suddenly put down his gun and said “Pastor, please pray for us.”. The pastor did so, and, as they left the church, the captain said to him “Don’t worry, pastor. I will put the word out, No one will touch you.”

Astonishing as that was, something even more miraculous was to take place. The following week, who should turn up for Mass but that same captain. The pastor said that he had the coldest, deadest eyes he had ever seen, but as he kept attending Mass, his heart was converted and he became a Christian and gave up being a soldier. Word soon came to the ears of Idi Amin about the conversion of one of his best soldiers, and he had him arrested and executed. 

“You can’t kill me; I am dead already”. Do you realize. brothers and sisters, that the same thing can be said of each one of us, who are baptized? St Paul testifies to this in our second reading today, when he writes:” you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. Earlier, in the same letter to the Colossians, Paul clarifies what he is referring to. “You were buried with him in baptism, and you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God” (Colossians 2:12). Our baptism into Christ is, for us, a spiritual kind of death and resurrection. St Paul repeats the same idea in his letter to the Romans (6: 3 -4):”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”. 

“Do you not know…” says Paul. Sadly, I would have to say, from my experience, that most Catholics don’t know, don’t realize that their baptism, and those of their children, is not just a rite of passage, a necessary ritual to be gone through to get married and have a funeral in the Catholic church, or to get one’s children into a Catholic school. No, baptism effects a transition into a whole new way of life. This was better expressed in the early church when baptism was by full immersion . The candidate for baptism would take off their old robe, signifying their previous pagan way of life, and go down into the baptismal pool where the priest or deacon would immerse them fully underwater three times, while saying : “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. The baptism would thus represent a “drowning” of the old pagan, sinful self, and rising into the new life of Christ in the Spirit, whereby one became a son or daughter of God the Father. The newly baptized would then proceed up the opposite steps at the top of which they would be clothed in a brand-new white robe and proceed to the bishop to be confirmed before taking their place in the Christian assembly for the eucharist. We have tended to obscure the full reality of the change baptism makes in one’s life by dividing the ceremony for children into three separate sacraments: baptism, eucharist and confirmation. But from the beginning of the Church, they were meant to be celebrated as one, and for adults who have not been baptized at all with a Christian baptism, they are celebrated in the one ceremony when the person becomes a Catholic, usually at the Easter Vigil. 

This whole ceremony is what Paul is referring to symbolically when he writes in our second reading today: “you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator”. The old pagan forces of sin and death , which held us captive through fear and guilt no longer hold sway over us, as St Paul goes on to say in his letter to the Romans :” For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that our body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So, you also must consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6: 5- 11).

You notice how often Paul writes: “We know…”. He clearly expected the Christian communities he was writing to, to understand fully the effect of their baptism. These pagan communities would know, from experience, how they had been living barbaric, sinful lives, in the darkness of ignorance. When the early Christian missionaries preached the gospel to them, they became enlightened to the truth of Christ, and at their baptism, experienced a freedom from the hold and pull of sin in their lives and a further freedom from the fear of death, knowing that death was simply the transition to everlasting life in heaven with God. Those truths are still valid today, brothers and sisters, but, as I said earlier, sadly many Catholics seem to be unaware of them. We seem to be slipping back into a new darkness, a neo-paganism where we are still ruled by our old sinful natures and under such fear of death, that we try to ignore it and bury our deceased loved ones as quickly as possible, so we don’t have to think about them or about our own death to come. Death still has dominion over us; sin still has dominion over us. How has that tragic state of things come about, despite our being baptized, confirmed and having made our first communion?

An answer to this question lies in the fact that, for many Catholics, they have been sacramentalized, and catechized, but have not been really evangelized. In other words, they have not realized that their baptism is not an entry into a particular form of belief, or religious institution, but into an encounter with a person- the person of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man. If all you have done, when baptized, is to take on particular beliefs and doctrines, or certain liturgical practices, this will not be enough when you are confronted with a society who dismisses and disregards and disrespects the beliefs and practices you have taken on. Only if, when baptized, you realize that you are united with the person of the God-Man, Jesus, and you immerse yourself into a personal relationship with him, will you be able to resist the distortions and threats of a post-Christian world, and hold fast to a Christian way of life. To be baptized is to take on the whole heart and mind and spirit and will of Jesus, to be clothed in a new “self” or nature, the nature of Christ, who is divine. As St Peter reminds us, in his second letter, at our baptism, we have become “sharers in the divine nature of God”. We are different from those who have not been baptized. We are made sons and daughters of God; they are not. We have been freed from the burden and stain of original sin; they have not. We have access to eternal life; they have not. We have an existential glory, given by God; they do not. Through union with Christ in baptism, we already live the identical life he lives in heaven; they do not. We can call God our “Father” and pray the Lord’s Prayer authentically; they cannot.

But , and it is a big “but”- this spiritual life is not manifest and glorious as it will be when Christ comes at the end of time. Although at the mystical level of union with Christ, participation in the death and resurrection of Christ is instantaneous and total, at the practical level of life on earth, this union has to be grown into gradually. Already “dead” in theory, we as Christians must still put this death into practice, by ,as St Paul says in our second reading , “killing , day after day, the old, sinful self which still lives in us.” We are “slow diers”.

 We keep wanting to turn away from our union with Christ and go back to our earlier submission to Satan. When our first parents were created, as the book of Genesis tells us, they were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). However, the human race, in the persons of Adam and Eve, lost its way, and its image of God, by trying to locate the “knowledge of good and evil” outside and apart from the will of God, and became the slave of sin and sinful urges. This is the “old self” which we are all born into, and to which we must die. The new self, which we take on in baptism, is reborn in Christ, who is the true image of God, as Scripture reminds us, cf Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:3. Through baptism, the human race can both recover its original image of God, and reach true knowledge of what is right and wrong, of good and evil, as Hebrews 5:14 tells us. Without being reborn into the true image of God, which is Jesus Christ, human beings will continually confuse good and evil, right and wrong, which we see happening in our day and age, with regards to decisions concerning abortion, euthanasia, same-sex unions and transgender ideology. The mind, which has not been enlightened by Christ, will continually tend to confusion in these areas, the self which has not been transformed by a personal relationship with Christ, will continually believe , wrongly, that we have the blessing of God on our thoughts, decisions and activities, even when distorted and erroneous,  because we have never really and fully known God, through prayer and the studying of his word in the Bible and Church teaching.

To be reborn in Christ, through baptism, is to reject the pessimism and cynicism of the writer of our first reading, who claims that all of human life and endeavor is a vanity, and a “chasing after wind” (Donovan) because, at the end, we all die and return to dust, whether we are rich or poor, slave or free, weak or powerful. In the renewal of life, given by Christ in baptism, we recognize, in the words of our second reading, that neither being Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, really matters – only being reborn into a whole new relationship with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Whether we are rich or poor, powerful or powerless, strong or weak, our baptism elevates us into a new way of life, a whole new way of looking at this world and all it holds out to us as desirable and pleasurable. “One’s life “, says Jesus, in our gospel today, ‘does not consist in the abundance of possessions”, but in the possession of a new nature, the divine nature of God, which only baptism can give us. To all that threatens us in this life, and wants to steal, kill and destroy us, we can stand firm and say “You cannot kill me; I am dead already, and alive to a whole new life in Christ Jesus, my Lord”