TUESDAY HOMILY: Being Born from Above
The life of the early Christian community shows us how to live the newness of life to which the Risen Jesus calls us.
Jesus was lifted up on Good Friday like a serpent in the desert and exalted from the dead on Easter Sunday in order, as he informs us, so that we might in fact be born from above and through that grace and a faithful response have eternal life.
That eternal life - the world's greatest offer - is not something that is exclusively a post-mortem retirement prize but something that is experienced, embryonically, right now.
As St. Paul announced to us at the Easter Vigil in the epistle from his Letter to the Romans, through baptism we enter into Christ's death and resurrection so that we might walk in newness of life - in other words, so that we might be born anew from above and experience now a foretaste of that life in its fullness to which baptism and the journey of faith leads.
This Year of Faith is meant to help us precisely to experience this spiritual rebirth by grace from above. It's meant to lead us to experience a resurrection together with Jesus. It's supposed to introduce us here and now into the eternal life of God, which Jesus defined as knowing in a personal way the Father and the Son whom the Father has sent, and abiding in God's life and allowing God to abide in ours.
The reality is that for many Catholics, the Year of Faith and the celebration of its high point - Easter - has left them basically unchanged. The tapers that were ignited by Christ's paschal triumph over the darkness of sin and death have been extinguished. The holy water with which they were sprinkled as a renewal of our baptismal promises and graces has dried up. Their Lenten reforms are part of a distant past.
Rather than experiencing the revolution that happened in the lives of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, the disciples on the road to Emmaus and doubting Thomas - rather than newness of life and a spiritual renaissance by grace - most have reverted to the "same old, same old" life they had before.
What would the new life Jesus describes to Nicodemus look like? We see several of its markers in today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
St. Luke describes for us several things that marked the new life of Christian faith in the early Church. The Spirit who blows where he wills was breathing into the first Christians a way of life that was so new, realistic, and beautiful that many were busting down the doors of the early Church to enter in order to have a piece of that life.
The first element we see is how familial the early Church was. They were of "one mind and heart." Since they knew they had been raised in Christ, the minds and hearts sought the things that are above. They experienced a real fruit of communion that exceeded unanimity in thoughts and desires; it was so strong that no one claimed any possessions as his own but they had everything in common.
This was not proto-communism, which forcibly takes others goods to distribute them among all. It was totally voluntarily as Christians did what members of any loving family do: they pooled their resources in order to strengthen and family and care for those in most need. Rather than selfishly and suspiciously holding on to their own things and sharing just a portion of their goods, they sold their property and houses and confidently gave the proceeds to the Apostles, trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles to distribute those goods to care for the good of the entire spiritual family.
It's hard to overstate the amount of reborn faith such actions entailed. Today, many Christians, even though they profess the theological virtues, place more of their faith, hope and love in money and the pseudo-security that money provides.
The first Christians were impelled not just to share from their surplus but all they had with other not only because of genuine fraternal love but also because they believed Jesus when he taught that they shouldn't worry about food, drink, clothing and shelter because God the Father knows what they need and cares for them more than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. They had found a treasure buried in a field that relativized all former treasures.
But that was just the beginning of their common, family, risen life of faith. Later St. Luke tells us earlier in the Acts of the Apostles that they were devoted to all form of communion: to the apostles' teaching, to prayer in the Temple and elsewhere, to sharing meals in their homes, and to the Eucharist that was making them one body, one spirit, one mind and one heart in Christ.
St. Luke tells us that this risen life of sacrificial familial love was so attractive that the "Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." The ancient world had never seen a life like the Christians before. It was rare for people to sacrifice everything even for family members; the Christians were sacrificing everything for those who before baptism may have been complete strangers. The human heart, however, is made for love, and when they saw this type of real love, the love to which Christians are born from above, they were drawn to experience it themselves.
Jesus had once said that in order to enter into his kingdom, we had to become like little children, who trust enough that they're able to share. The "wise and the clever" of the world will tell us that we should never sacrifice because there's no shortage of people, like modern Nigerian email spammers, who are willing to prove us all gullible naïfs and prey on our generosity.
And so we hear the message about being born from above, but we don't really want to die to our present situation to experience that resurrection. We're told about the Spirit blowing where he wills, but we put on our windbreakers rather than lift high our sails. And that's one of the reasons why neither we nor our parish communities experience anything close to what the early Church underwent after Jesus' resurrection.
During this Year of Faith, if it's going to lead as it's intended, to a new evangelization, it's key that we and our Catholic communities become true evangelizing communities who live the newness of life according to the Holy Spirit that is supposed to characterize us. And that requires faith to imitate the early Church, to be "all in," without waiting for everyone else to be all in first.
This is a challenging call, but it's a call that is followed by so many missionaries, priests, religious, consecrated men and women, married couples who intentionally seek to raise a large family and so many who sacrifice everything in response to the Lord who held nothing back to save us.
"You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?," Jesus provocatively asked Nicodemus. The question for us as disciples is whether we understand the radical nature of the call to newness of life that by his Resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit he not only makes possible but summons us to adopt.
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on catholicpreaching.com.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lord’s invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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