GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So rich, so beautiful. There's so much to discuss here. I would like to highlight for our purposes in this reflection a few things. Number one, notice he's not describing the fate of all of the dead. He's describing the fate of the righteous. So the souls of the righteous dead, whom he calls the faithful. There it is right there, the language of the faithful departed, the souls of the righteous dead, they are, number one, they're in the hand of God. Number 2, no torment is going to ever touch them. Number 3, although they appear to have died to the foolish and have suffered destruction, actually, they're going forth from us was one of peace. They are at peace. That's why we'll say often in the Catholic Church, we have a tradition of saying:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Or RIP, you’ll see it on the graves, this image of being at peace. Now it says here:
For though in the sight of men they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself..
Notice this imagery here:
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
Here there's two metaphors being used to describe the disciplining or the purification that these souls undergo. Although they're going to be disciplined for a little while, eventually they'll have the hope of immortality. And the imagery it uses here for this temporary discipline they experience is that of gold being put into a furnace. It's the first one.Why is gold put into a furnace? It's put into a furnace in order to purify it, to cleanse it of its impurities so that it can be fit for whatever use the gold is intended to be used for - jewelry, to make sacred vessels, whatever it might be. That's the first metaphor there. They're not going to undergo torment and destruction, but they will be disciplined for a while. They will have to be purified by the flame of this furnace.
The other image they use also is one of fire, “like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.” Now, in order for God to accept a burnt offering, you don't just lay the animal down or give the animal to God. The animal passes through the flames of the altar and then is consumed by those flames and ascends to God. That's the imagery of a whole burnt offering. It's called an olah
in the Old Testament or a holocaust
in Latin. It's the actual translation of a whole burnt offering. So the imagery that its using here for the souls of the righteous is that they're tested by God, they're disciplined by God, they're purified by God, they’re burned up like a sacrificial burnt offering. But it's not fire. It's not a purification that leads to destruction and torment, but rather one that leads to entry into God's presence, to being accepted by God so that, verse 7:
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them for ever.
This appears to be an eschatological reference to the final Kingdom of God, the final resurrection of the body. You can actually see something similar—and scholars have suggested that Wisdom is alluding to this—in the book of the prophet Daniel, you’ll see at the end of the book, Daniel uses similar imagery for the resurrection of the righteous on the last day. When in Daniel 12:2, he says:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
So this image of them being bright and luminescent is something that will frequently be associated with the glory of the resurrected body. Although it's not explicit in Wisdom, it might be implied here, but what is certainty being described is the Kingdom of God because the Lord is going to reign over them, not just for 100 years or 200 years or 300 years, but forever and ever, and this is what God does to the faithful:
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his elect,
and he watches over his holy ones.
And the Greek word there for holy one, is hagios
, and it gets translated in English as His Saints. Holy ones is the literal term, but Saints is how it comes over into English. So this is a very beautiful passage about the hope of the righteous dead, and it's one of the reasons that the Church recognizes that the souls of the faithful departed, even if they're not yet in the beatific vision, even if they're still being purified, even if they have to be disciplined for a little while, eventually they will be accepted by God as a burnt offering, as a sacrifice, as pure gold, precious in His sight. And so the Church prays for those souls who have not yet been purified, who have not yet entered into heavenly glory, but who have died and who have passed on by interceding for them on the Feast of All Souls.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So let's look at Roman 6:3-9, and I'll try to unpack why this was chosen for today. Paul writes:
Do you not know that 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
What is Paul saying here? Well, I would suggest to you that this is one of the most important passages in all of Paul's letters on the mystery of baptism, where Paul is giving you what might even be called a mystagogy of baptism. What do I mean by that? What does Mystagogy mean? Mystagogy comes from the Greek word, two greek words, mysterion
, which means to lead into the mystery. So mystagogy is a kind of catechesis that took place in the early Church, where they would try to help people go beyond the visible signs that they're seeing in a particular sacrament, whether it's Baptism or the Eucharist, to the invisible mystery behind the action, behind the rite, behind the symbols and signs that are part of the sacramental rite.
So here, Paul, of course, is practicing, and he himself has received, what we call the Sacrament of Baptism, being immersed in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And the Romans to whom he's writing, are also familiar with the mystery, with the rite of baptism. But what he does here is bring out something he assumes they know rhetorically, but which is, in fact, something that I don't think we often think of when it comes to Baptism. When we modern Christians talk about Baptism, we will either tend to talk about Baptism as the sacrament through which we are incorporated into the body of Christ, made a member of the Church. And it certainly is that. We'll talk about Baptism as a sacrament of forgiveness, where the stain of original sin, for example, is forgiven, or any other sins that may have been committed if we're an adult receiving Baptism. That takes place during the sacrament. So it's the sacrament of the forgiveness of sins. And that is certainly true. Or sometimes you hear people talk about Baptism as the sacrament of new birth, right? Like Jesus says in John 3:5:
…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
So if you want to enter the Kingdom, you have to be born a new, born again, born of water and Spirit. It's a new birth through the power of the Spirit, and Baptism is certainly that as well. But what Paul's doing here is describing Baptism as the sacrament of crucifixion, or perhaps we should call it the sacrament of co-crucifixion. It is the sacrament through which a person mystically, sacramentally, but really, is crucified with Christ, dies with Christ, and through that death also enters into the newness of life that anticipates the resurrection, like that which Christ himself experienced.
So you can see this, again, just go back to what Paul says now thinking of Baptism as co-crucifixion. He says:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
And I can imagine the first readers thinking, "Well, no, I didn't actually know that.” That's a different way of looking at baptism. It's baptism into death. So Paul says we were buried with Him. Here, Paul appears to be presupposing a rite of Baptism that involves immersion, right? You go down into the water. It's analogous to being buried with Jesus, just like Jesus goes into the tomb, so too, you go down into the water. Just as Jesus goes down into the ground, so to speak, you too go down into the water. And then as Christ is raised from the dead in the realm of the dead, so too, we too are raised up out of the water to walk in the newness of life. And the implication of this theology is that if we've been united with Him in a death like His, so co-crucified with Him, then we will also be united with Him in a resurrection like His, co-resurrection, so to speak.
And Paul says something fascinating here.
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin.
Ah, here is the key.
Why is it important to understand Baptism as co-crucifixion?
Because if you understand Baptism as a kind of death, its a mystical death, you can understand how it frees you from sin. Because a person who dies is free from sin.
You can’t sin anymore after you are dead.
That’s probably the best part about dying, is that you can’t sin anymore.
So what Paul is doing is saying the freedom from sin that we all recognize as a result of physical death, is actually anticipated and inaugurated sacramentally through dying with Jesus, being crucified with Christ in the sacrament of Baptism.
So just as a person who dies physically is freed from sin, so now a person who dies mystically with Christ is also set free from the slavery to sin, so that they can walk in the newness of life in Christ through the power of the spirit.
And so he says:
But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
So what Baptism is about then, is a dying with Christ so that we might walk in the newness of life and also anticipate the freedom of the kingdom of the God that Christ already experiences, because after his resurrection not only does sin have no power over him, but death has no power over him.
He has broken the bonds of sin and death so that all those who are baptized might follow him as well.
So if you look here I have a little chart to highlight this approach to Baptism, just to help you understand the mystagogical approach that Paul is giving here in Romans 6.Visible Sign
Baptismal Immersion ➔
Dying with Jesus
Emergence from Water ➔
Rising with Christ
So on the one side you can see that the visible sign is baptismal immersion, going down into the water and then coming up out of the water.
So you have baptismal immersion and what we might call baptismal emergence, going down and then coming up out of the water.
And then on the other side, the invisible mystery that that visible sign is both signifying and effecting is dying with Jesus, or being crucified with Christ, and then rising with Christ to new life.
I hope this helps you to kind of think about Baptism in a different way because, I don’t know about you, I’ve been to a lot of baptisms, but most of them have not emphasized this element of it, that the infant, or an adult, is about to be crucified with Christ, that you are about to die with Christ, so that you can rise with Christ, not only on the last day, but also now to walk in newness of life in the spirit.
And so, in order to kind of show this, I'd like to close with a quotation from the Catechism. One of the ones that really struck me the first time I ever read it, I was looking at the Catechism, paragraph 1011 and 1012. This is in the section on Christian death and on the meaning of death. And I being struck by it because, if you've ever studied the theology of the sacraments, you'll probably have heard the idea that the sacrament of Baptism is completed by Confirmation, right? That Confirmation is the completion of Baptism, and that is certainly true in terms of the sacramental initiation, the rights of initiation. But according to the Catechism, the ultimate completion of baptism is not just Confirmation. The ultimate completion of baptism is physical death. Listen to these words and think about the mystery of baptism as co-crucifixion in light of them. Here I quote paragraph 1010:
Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
That’s St. Paul.
“The saying is sure: if we have died with him, we will also live with him.”
Also St. Paul.
What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already “died with Christ” sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and so completes our incorporation into him in his redeeming act...
All right, so pause there. Notice what the Catechism is saying. Baptism is a sacramental dying with Christ in order to live a new life, and this sacramental dying with Christ is completed by physical death. Physical death completes what begins in your baptism and so completes your incorporation into Christ and his redemptive act. So at the end of the day, your baptism will only be completed at the hour of your death. So your whole life is a kind of baptismal mystagogy of being configured to Christ day by day, gradually, year by year, moment by moment, action by action, all the way until the very end of your life, at the moment of your physical death when you will be perfectly and completely configured to Christ crucified.
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