Dominica in Pasqua III
15 April 2018
This weekend I want to focus our attention on a prominent theme throughout the Season of Easter. The theme is the summons to youthfulness in our life as disciples of Jesus Christ.
To be clear, this call to youthfulness is addressed to all of us. It is not a call to live a younger chronological age, which would be impossible. The call to youthfulness is also not a call to immaturity. Rather, it is a call to live our newness of life in Jesus by adopting some of those characteristics that we might associate with youth. Youth in this sense refers not to one’s age, but to one’s soul. No matter our age, we can each attain this spiritual youthfulness. We are always called to observe this spiritual youthfulness, but all the more in the Season of Easter does this become a prominent theme. In my homily for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday I commented on the direction given to the disciples that after Jesus’ resurrection they were to go back to Galilee and meet him there. The return to Galilee is a return to their origins. It is a return to where they first encountered Jesus and began to leave everything to follow him, forever shunning pathways that would lead away from him. It is a return to the vigor of their first attachment to the Gospel and the vigor of their love for Jesus.
Consider in your life what has been an “a ha” moment, a Galilee moment, when you experienced conversion and when you first came to believe that Jesus conquered death. Whether you were baptized as an infant, or whether you came to Christ’s Church as an older or even an adult convert, what was that moment of conversion like when a personal encounter with Jesus really changed you? Maybe in some cases you still need to pray and open yourself to such a personal encounter. Whatever the case, we commonly use youthful terminology to describe such conversions. It’s a “new birth.” It’s a new “springtime.” It’s a new hope. It’s a new joy. It’s a restored innocence. It’s a vigor, a freshness, and a confidence. It’s a youthful enthusiasm not yet impacted by those challenges and crosses that certainly come to each of us. Since Easter is about Jesus coming to new life beyond the grave it is easy to see why youthfulness would be an apt description for newness of life that we are called to live in him.
In the past couple weeks of this holy season the Sacred Liturgy has already presented this call to youthfulness in several ways. The Gospel of St. Mark from the Easter Vigil told us that upon arriving at the tomb when the sun had just risen on that first Easter Sunday, the holy women found the stone rolled back and inside the tomb was a mysterious visitor. Other gospels identify this visitor as an angel. But St. Mark says the following: “they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe” (Mk. 16:5). Not just a man, but a young man. St. Mark highlights that something about heavenly life seen in the angelic visitor is like youthfulness. One of the great things we do at our parish, thanks to our dedicated choir, is that we actually use the full scripture setting for each Mass when we chant the antiphons at the entrance and at Holy Communion. When those antiphons are so commonly replaced by hymns from a book, however good those may be, I suggest we lose something from the Church’s faith that the Sacred Liturgy is trying to communicate to us. Since our parish chants the entrance antiphon as Mass begins we were enriched last Sunday to hear this: “Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in him you may grow to salvation, alleluia” (Introit, Second Sunday of Easter). Again, the call to live our new life in Jesus; the call to youthfulness. No surprise then that the Collect at the beginning of this Holy Mass had us pray: “May your people exult forever, O God, in renewed youthfulness of spirit” (Collect, Third Sunday of Easter). No matter our age we can live this renewed youthfulness because, as the Collect went on to say, faith, baptism, and the grace of confession give us the “restored glory of our adoption,” which in turn leaves us looking forward “in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of [our] resurrection” (Collect, Third Sunday of Easter).
You know that nothing we do as Catholics exists in isolation, or in a vacuum. Rather, we are the beneficiaries of centuries of faith, doctrinal development, and liturgical life which, all together, proclaim and celebrate our life in Jesus and in his one Church. It seems clearly important then, as an informed Catholic, to be aware of and, to benefit from, knowledge and experience of what precedes us, including the older traditional Latin form of the Sacred Liturgy. With a very few exceptions the Traditional Latin Mass begins by praying Psalm 42 in which the priest and the server speak back and forth the paragraphs of the psalm. The priest prays, “I will go unto the altar of God.” And at two points the server makes his response: “Unto God who gives joy to my youth” (Psalm 42:4). The word “youth” is not placed on the server’s lips because he is in most cases a young man or a boy serving the Holy Mass. There is the literal sense of this psalm in that the traditional author, King David, was a young man when he wrote these words. But, rather for us now, the psalm uses the word “youth” to refer to the freshness, the vigor, the innocence of the soul redeemed by God, a renewal that happens each time we worthily participate in the Holy Mass.
We are first brought to new youthful life as Christians by faith in Jesus and by Holy Baptism which is a spiritual new life of regeneration in the Holy Spirit.* Once having been born to new life, how do we continue to live Christian youthfulness?
We seek to constantly renew and increase a vigor in following Jesus, returning to the force of our first commitment to him. A commitment to daily prayer renews and increases this vigor as we seek to live more deeply our intimate communion with God.
With determined zeal we must shun sin and pathways that lead away from Jesus, acknowledging sin for what it is, a path to selfish, stale, and sterile living. Sin makes us less like the youthful redeemed new man and more like the old man of sin (Rom. 6:6). Being complacent to live in sin causes us to become dry, lifeless bones (cf. Ezekiel 37) and advances us toward eternal death. Penance and discipline in spiritual life help us convert and turn from the path of sin.
We must so yearn for life with God that we seek him constantly like satisfying a hunger or a thirst. In a most particular way, whether we are joyful or sad at any given moment, we should come to Holy Mass with a longing to encounter God on the holy mountain of the sacred altar: I will go unto the altar of God; unto God who gives joy to my youth! Part of coming to Holy Mass with a spirit of joyful youthfulness, a vigorous enthusiasm, is to make frequent confession whereby our youthful baptismal life, harmed and aged by sin, is renewed by the mercy of Jesus. Being absolved in the confessional helps us approach the altar of God living as we should our youthful life of restored innocence while longing for its completion in the glory of the resurrection. In the meantime, like newborns, we long for the spiritual nourishment here that gives us a youthful confidence of inheriting the joy of eternal life, that never-ending youth with the God who loves us!
*Several aspects of the thought developed about Psalm 42 and youthfulness come from the excellent book, Nothing Superfluous, by the Rev. James Jackson, FSSP, pp. 102-103.