In the midst of the Fota Liturgical Conference recently held in Cork, Ireland, His Eminence Raymond Card. Burke preached the following sermon at a Pontifical Mass celebrated on Sunday in the local church of Ss Peter and Paul. The readings for the Mass to which the sermon refers are those of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Romans 6, 3-11 and Mark 8, 1-9, the account of the second multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
Saint Paul instructs us on the reality our life in Christ, which has its source in His Incarnation, Birth, Hidden Life at Nazareth and Public Ministry culminating in His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we begin to live in Christ. We, like branches, are grafted into the Vine Who is Christ, drawing our life from Him. Christ receives our hearts into His glorious pierced Heart, where He cleanses them from sin and animates them by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Fire of Divine Love. Let us listen to the words of Saint Paul:
Brothers, all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.His language is not merely figurative, even as the attraction of the crowd to Christ did not arise from some insubstantial populism. Life in Christ is a true participation in His suffering and dying, a true carrying of the Cross, which brings a share already now of the perfect happiness which is the sure and final destiny of the Way of the Cross.
Dom Prosper Guéranger comments on Saint Paul’s inspired teaching on the Christian life with these words:
The holiness, the sufferings, and then the glory of the Lord Jesus – in a word, His life continued in His members – this is St. Paul’s notion of the Christian life: a notion most simple and sublime, which, in the apostle’s mind, resumes the whole commencement, progress, and consummation of the work of the Spirit of love in every soul that is sanctified… If the very first effect of the sanctification of one who, by Baptism, is buried together with Christ, be to make him a new man, to create him afresh in this Man-God, to ingraft his new life upon the life of Jesus whereby to bring forth new fruits, – we cannot wonder at the apostle’s unwillingess to give us any other rule for our contemplation or our practice than the study and imitation of this divine model. There, and there only, is man’s perfection; there is his happiness… If we be of St. Paul’s school, adopting, as we shall then do, the sentiments of our Lord Jesus Christ, and making them our own, we shall become other Christs, or, rather, one only Christ with the Man-God, by the sameness of thoughts and virtues, under the impulse of the same sanctifying Spirit. How much we need to return to the simple and sublime notion of holiness of life, to draw upon the grace of our baptism, in order to remain on the way of the Cross which alone brings us happiness! (The Liturgical Year, Time after Pentecost vol. 2)How much we, living members of the Body of Christ, need to be more deeply and securely united in heart with the Heart of Jesus, so that the Church may bring the truth and love of Christ to our culture! I think of my homeland, the United States of America, which celebrated yesterday Independence Day. The Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, invoking “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” to justify the people’s separation from the governance of the King of Great-Britain, in order to found a new nation, made clear the truths upon which the new nation was to be founded: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The document rightly observes that all government exists to secure the respect and safeguarding of these fundamental rights.
Yet almost two hundred years later, in 1973, the highest tribunal of the nation took away the right to life from the innocent and defenseless unborn, and on this past June 26th, in defiance of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” the same Supreme Court redefined the nature of marriage and its fruit, the family, the first cell of the life of society. The deadly confusion and error which such decisions represent for the United States of America, and similar confusion and error in other nations, demand from the Church a clear, courageous and tireless witness to the word of Christ, to the truth written upon every human heart, the truth upon which the happiness of the individual and the common good absolutely depend. The Church cannot stand by silent or idle, while a people is destroying itself by lawlessness, even if the lawlessness be clothed in the garment of the highest judicial authority.
Where does the Church find the clarity, the courage and the tirelessness to give witness to the truth which transforms society for the good of all? It is in the Heart of Jesus as He pours forth the grace of the Holy Spirit into our hearts, especially through the Sacraments. As we are blessed once again to celebrate some days in the deeper study of the Sacred Liturgy and, in particular, in the deeper study of the relationship of the Sacred Liturgy to the royal priesthood of the baptized, today’s readings from the Holy Scriptures remind us that the baptized are consecrated to serve the saving work of Christ in the world, to give their lives, with Christ, for the transformation of the world.
Pope Saint John Paul II, in his first Encyclical Letter, Redemptor Hominis, reflecting upon the kingly mission of the baptized, reminded us:
Nowadays it is sometimes held, though wrongly, that freedom is an end in itself, that each human being is free when he makes use of freedom as he wishes, and that this must be our aim in the lives of individuals and societies. In reality, freedom is a great gift only when we know how to use it consciously for everything that is our true good. Christ teaches us that the best use of freedom is charity, which takes concrete form in self-giving and in service. For this “freedom Christ has set us free” and ever continues to set us free. The Church draws from this source the unceasing inspiration, the call and the drive for her mission and her service among all mankind. The full truth about human freedom is indelibly inscribed on the mystery of the Redemption. The Church truly serves mankind when she guards this truth with untiring attention, fervent love and mature commitment and when in the whole of her own community she transmits it and gives it concrete form in human life through each Christian’s fidelity to his vocation. This confirms what we have already referred to, namely that man is and always becomes the “way” for the Church’s daily life.May these days of study of the Sacred Liturgy lead us all to find in the Mystery of Faith, in the Eucharistic mystery, the pattern of our daily living for our salvation and the salvation of our world. May we be inspired to seek the truth of Christ by uniting our hearts to His own in the Eucharistic sacrifice. Thus we will strengthen ever more our life in Him through Baptism and bear abundant fruit for our freedom and the freedom of all men.
Let us now lift up our hearts, together with the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, opened by the soldier’s spear on Calvary and forever opened for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, may our hearts be purified of sin and inflamed with pure and selfless love. So may we live the truth of the Mystery of Faith, in fidelity to our baptismal consecration, for the salvation of the world.