7-2-2017 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jul 3, 2017
13th Sunday / OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
I want to say a few words today about our second reading, taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans—his first letter listed in the NT. The letter was written in the mid-50’s, only twenty years after the death of Jesus. It is highly theological, and quite sophisticated for its early date—which is to say, difficult. Paul wrote this letter to a small community in Rome, consisting of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, all of whom were very new to the faith.
And what was St. Paul’s message to them? Take a look at the first line of our reading today: "Are you unaware (do you not know) that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" Into his death. Hmm.
What is one fear that all of us share? I think it is pretty safe to say that most of us fear death. All of us have a will to live—an instinct to live, a fighting spirit that avoids death at all cost. Despite that, as Christians, death is constantly in our vocabulary.
From the beginning. Take a look at Baptism, the first sacrament we receive. The language and the imagery puts death squarely before us.
1) At the beginning of the ritual, a small cross is placed on a baby’s forehead by the priest, the parents, and the godparents. What is the cross? Yes, an important religious symbol. But it is also a symbol of crucifixion—the sacrificial death suffered by Jesus.
2) And what is the major symbol of baptism: water. Yes, water is a sign of cleansing—removing all sin. But water is also a symbol of death. Water is powerful and dangerous. If a child or adult is baptized by immersion, the head is sometimes dunked under water—no doubt causing a slight panic. Dying with Christ.
3) And what about the Eucharist? Our central act of worship. Death appears once again. After the consecration, what do we say? "When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again."
The examples just keep coming. When we enter a church, what do we do? We make the sign of the cross with holy water—the water of baptism, and the cross of the crucifixion. We look to the front of the church, and we see a crucifix—the death of the Lord.
So what is it about us Christians and death? We are certainly different from our culture which goes out of its way to avoid death, to keep us separate from death and any reference of death—a culture that emphasizes youth and the many pleasures that keep us distracted from death.
And the ancients were no different. St. Paul puts the word death squarely before them. Why? Not to frighten them, but to free them, to liberate them. Because Christ faced death as well, and won! St. Paul says, "death no longer has power over him." Or us. Death was nailed to the cross and buried with Christ—to bring life to all.
I heard one preacher say that hearing and speaking the word death is like an inoculation for us. An inoculation puts a little of the disease in us to build up our immune system—to keep us free from the disease. Our talk of death is like an inoculation, to remove our fear, to build up immunity—to make us strong and no longer afraid of death. With St. Paul, we can say, "Where, O Death, is your victory; where, O Death, is your sting."
St. Benedict told his monks, "Keep death constantly before your eyes." Did Benedict want his monks to be morbid and sad and fearful of death? No. He wanted them to live each day fully, in Christ, without fear. To proclaim his death, until he comes.