Bishop Charles' Easter Vigil homily

April 20, 2019

Our readings tonight tell us our story: God creating this world and entrusting it to each generation not for exploitation but for future generations; God through Moses rescuing his people from the oppression of the Egyptians; God through King David making a covenant or bond with his people in order that through justice and goodness they might draw other peoples to God; and then God sending his son Jesus into the world so that we and all peoples, through our baptism into the life of the Trinity, might share in the triumph of life over death, goodness over evil, and purpose or meaning over fate and chance.

But there is more. If we limit our understanding of ourselves to a recalling of past stories, determinant though they are, then we will also limit our understanding of faith, reducing it to a kind of chronology – or series of events. Faith is so much more. Faith is alive, now. That’s why of course Churches are not museums, that’s why RE classes are different from history, that is why, though our past is important, even more important is our future; we are a people drawn forward not just propelled forward by God, by Jesus through and with the Holy Spirit.

This reality of who we are in Jesus we were reminded of when outside I marked the Paschal candle by saying: “all time (not just history) belongs to Christ – ko ngā wā katoa nōna; and all the ages – me ngā whakatupuranga katoa.” This belief in the now and tomorrow of Jesus in our lives is crucial to understanding what it means to be a Catholic, a Christian.

Sometimes we hear the term, a “cultural catholic.”  I think that term – I’m a cultural Catholic – is used by some who understand their faith as primarily belonging to their background, part of their history, or their cultural upbringing. It is a neutral description; maybe at some period of time in one way or another it has fitted with most of us.   

But, it is not a statement of faith. On this sacred night of resurrection we do not gather just because of history or a past; we gather because of tomorrow because of our future. I think it is important therefore to consider for a moment what happens when we put the pause button on Jesus. What might take the place of the Risen Christ in someone’s life? If Jesus is consigned to history or background, what is alive and shaping us now? What can happen is that slowly slowly, consciously or subconsciously we get used to ourselves, or a topical cause, or an ideological position or some social media influencer, becoming the guide of my life. Jesus and living faith can as it were, fall behind.

Pope Francis in his most recent document, published just last month, addresses this very phenomenon in a passionate yet non-judgemental way. The document called Christus Vivit or Christ is Alive, came out of his time listening to young people and Bishops gathered for a Synod in Rome last year focussing on young people’s faith and place in the Church. Throughout the document in various ways he keeps on reminding us that Christ is alive, because “we can risk seeing Jesus Christ as just a fine model or even hero from the distant past” but not truly present today (no. 124).  Why this emphasis on Jesus ahead of us as well as behind? The consequences of a thinking that confines Jesus to the shelves of history books are of course multiple, but certainly we gradually stop praying and our future becomes not a journey of sure hope, sure because Christ is Risen and with us (as the Easter candle symbolises), but rather the future becomes a series of endless choices (many of them good in themselves) noisily bouncing around minds and hearts because they have no point of reference outside of themselves. Slowly our lives can become the competing field of other peoples or groups battle for influence.  Pope Francis puts this reality very simply yet boldly: “don’t put yourself up for sale” (no. 122).

What’s our alternative? If Christ is alive, how do we experience that? Kairos is the Christian understanding of time which points to Christ’s presence with us now. Kairos brings the Risen Christ into every moment of chronos or normal sequential day by day time. The Greek word Kairos simply means opportunity but in a Christian setting of faith it came to mean opportunity in the sense of the purpose God daily places before us; a purpose seen because we walk every day in the light of the risen Christ; a light that castes before us opportunities to share it with others bringing hope and purpose to them. Life, far from being random or driven by fate, becomes an abundance of opportunites for good.  

Liturgy is the favoured time of the living Christ’s active presence among us. In fact in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches the Deacon at the beginning of every liturgy turns to the priest and says in Greek: Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio: it is time for the Lord to act, reminding  us that liturgy is an intersection between Eternity and now, between Heaven and earth, between the Saints in heaven and our pilgrim selves on earth.

Let us then tonight renew our deep desire to see Jesus at work among us, leading us forward, through the sometimes dark times of confusion or pain, with the truth and warmth of his light. Let us resolve to reshape any sense we might have of Jesus as consigned to history and instead be in awe of his active presence with us. May we grow in our understanding of kairos or opportunity to help make our broken world, sacred. There are lots of ways, some of them simple like a word or gesture of encouragement, and some of them more programmatic yet also personal as for example these with which Pope Francis recently challenged the young: “defend the common good, serve the poor, be protagonists of the revolution of love and service, and resist the pathologies of consumerism and superficial individualism” (no. 174). Amen.         

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