Come to the Water!

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for the Vigil Mass of Pentecost Sunday, 2012

At this Mass, an adult was baptised. Owain had joined the RCIA too late to be ready for baptism at Easter. From the alternative First Readings, Ezekiel 37:1-14 (the dry bones) were chosen.

I am now going to take away your sorrow and restore you to life!

Owain, this is God’s word to all of us this evening, but especially to you.

The reading from Ezekiel gives us the famous vision of the valley of dry bones, immortalised in song. These bones give us a lesson in what it is to become part of God’s life.

First, the bones stand up – the Greek word for “stand up” is anastasia which also means resurrection. Whenever we read in the Bible of someone “standing up” we are invited to see a connection to the rising of Christ. Owain, by your Baptism you will be joined to Christ and share his new life.

Next, the bones are filled with God’s breath. The words for breath and spirit are closely connected – when we breathe in, we inspire, and out, exspire. Owain, through the gift of Confirmation you will be filled with God’s living Spirit.

But it is not enough for the bones to be restored to life; they are to be restored to their homeland, to become part of the new Israel, which is the Church. Today, you will be joined to us by receiving Holy Communion for the first time.

Because of your baptism, you will begin a new life today. The old is gone, the new is at hand.

Earlier today, I saw a toddler, filled with wonder, taking hesitant steps to explore the world around him – a perfect image of your new life in Christ.

I am now going to take away your sorrow and restore you to life!

These words are also for us as a parish. The toddler filled with wonder is a sign for Owain and for us.

It’s easy to become cynical about our Church, jaded at doing the “same old same old” time and time again. So let’s resist that, and remember that we are a church of good news. For instance…

  • Last month, in Ilfracombe, 1500 Catholics gathered to enjoy their faith at the week-long Celebrate Conference. Nearly half the participants were under the age of 18, they spent a week being Catholic and loving it!
  • When I visited Washington DC last year, a poster in the presbytery showed that there were over 60 men in seminary for the Archdiocese of Washington (and it had their pictures to prove it) – that was more than the total number of diocesan priests active in the same diocese. (Here in Cardiff, we have 5 seminarians, compared to 37 active diocesan priests.) Washington DC might not be a place you’d expect to be a hotbed of vocations to the priesthood, but it’s happening!
  • Across the world, our church is growing – in Africa and south-east Asia. We may be painfully aware of decline in Europe, but in many parts of the world, people are becoming Catholics with great enthusiasm.
  • In Johannesburg, South Africa, there’s a church they call the “lemon squeezer”. Apparently its Sunday evening Youth Mass is such a vibrant experience that it’s listed in the local press as one of the top 1o attractions to see while you’re in town!
  • Last year, the only Catholic cabinet minister in Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed for standing up the rights of religious minorities in a Muslim country. Although tragic, this is also a good news story – of a man martyred for having the convictions of his faith.

What about our own parish? I think we see dry bones mixed with green shoots. This Saturday evening congregation is visibly smaller than it has been in recent years, and many of those dear to us have died, or are no longer well enough to attend Mass. Yet there is also good news. This month, four young people from our parish chose to be confirmed. We have a thriving SVP who have launched the Sunday Café project, and we are actively participating in our local Foodbank. We have a two small faith-sharing groups meeting on Mondays and a prayer group on Thursdays. So while we do see some other parish activities shrinking or ceasing, there’s much to celebrate in the life of our own community, too.

Throughout the Easter season we have been sprinkled with holy water and sung “Water of Life”. By our baptism, we stand as members of the Body of Christ – but we also need to breathe the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to do God’s works in our own strength, in fact we can’t. Only by accepting the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus can we find the strength and inspiration to do God’s will in our own life. Today we celebrate that gift of the Spirit, and as the church moves tomorrow back into Ordinary Time, we continue living the lives of exceptional holiness which we are called to as ordinary Christians.

I am now going to take away your sorrow and restore you to life!

Accept God’s gift, and you will become a fountain of living water. By God’s Spirit, we will become a source of living water for all Pontypridd.

Owain, it is time for your baptism: now come to the water!