20 September 2005

Homily - 18 September 2005

“For to me Christ is life and death is gain” (Philippians 1:). Paul must know something that we do not know. “Death is gain,” he says. How can this be? What can we possibly gain in death? Our life is ended; it is over and we return to the dust from which we came. As we die it seems we lose our ability to function; we lose our control; and we seem to lose even our freedom. Oftentimes projects are left unfinished and relationships are left strained and broken. Children are devastated; parents’ hearts break, and strangers take no notice. “We pass swiftly and then we are gone” (Psalm ). In all of this, what do we gain?

We are utterly powerless in the pangs of death but, says Paul, “for to me Christ is life and death is gain.” In death, we gain Christ and in gaining Christ we gain life, for he himself is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Death yields to life for Christ has conquered it and destroyed it!

“I am caught between the two,” says St. Paul. “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” (Philippians 1:23-24). Paul found himself longing for death so that he might live with Christ but at the same time he knew that he was needed to teach and support the early Church and to spread the message of the Gospel. Many of us find ourselves in this same place. We desperately long to leave this life to be forever with the Lord Jesus but we also know that our life is not yet over and there is still work assigned by the Lord for us to do. It is a difficult place to be, being caught in the middle.

What is it, we might ask, that made Paul so ready to die? What did he know that we do not? Says the prophet Isaiah: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call to him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Paul sought the Lord night and day, and day and night he wrestled with the Lord, always seeking to learn his ways. For the sake of Christ, Paul suffered greatly but he heard the Lord Jesus say to him, “My friend, I am not cheating you,” “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways” (Matthew 20:13 and Isaiah 55:8).

When we hear the Lord to say us, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” we may feel cheated by the Lord (Luke 9:23). It may seem as though the Lord takes away our freedom, our own desires, and even the beauty of life. But this is not the case. It is only through the cross that we truly become free; it is through the cross that our deeply held desires are at long last finally fulfilled; it is through the cross that we see the tremendous beauty of the Lord. As he struggled with the Lord, Paul learned the secret of the cross that leads to lasting joy and peace and eternal life. He knew the great beauty to be found in this life but he also knew that this beauty is nothing to be compared with that to be revealed. Paul surrendered himself to the Lord so that Christ would be magnified in his body (see Philippians 1:20). As we struggle with the Lord and doubt the purpose of the cross, the Lord says to us, “My friend, I am not cheating you. I have walked this road before you. It is difficult but it gives life and freedom and beauty; it is necessary.”

If we, like Paul and the saints, surrender our own desires to the Lord we, too, will magnify the Lord in our bodies, “whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). But, I wonder, are we willing to surrender to the Lord? We know that doing so will bring about a tremendous flood of grace, a grace that brings peace and joy, but also a grace that brings about the sufferings of Christ. Can we allow ourselves to surrender completely to his will? Our Holy Father Benedict, in his first homily as the Bishop of Rome, asked us:

"If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope [John Paul II] said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.

"And so, today, with great strength and conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ - and you will find true life. Amen.” [Inaugural Homily, 24 April 2005]

This is why Paul was able to say, “death is gain.” He was not afraid of Christ and he knew that in death he would “receive a hundredfold in return.” He knew that through the cross he would come to share in the glory of the Lord and to look upon the One who is Beauty itself. He saw the hints of that beauty in life and longed to see if fully revealed. He opened wide the doors of his heart to the Lord; will we not do the same?

“The Lord is [truly] near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). The Lord is very near to us; he is about to come to us in a most profound and awesome way upon this altar through the hands of his minister. “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.”

No comments:

Post a Comment