Christianity does not begin by reforming society; it begins by regenerating men.
Fulton Sheen Missions and the World Crisis(1963) 62
To be in the Church is surely the most wonderful of all things, it may not really feel like it, in fact it may well feel the complete opposite, but that may in fact be the point: the Church is not simply made up of people whom I like or whose company I keep, but rather of all the baptized. Through our baptism we enter the Church, we put on Christ, we share in his death and resurrection, we are regenerate: born again of water and the Holy Spirit to share new life in Him and to live out that new life and love in the World.
This is what Christ gives us freely, as a gift through his offering of himself upon the Cross. Thus, the prophet Zephaniah in this morning’s ﬁrst reading can say that ‘I will pour out a spirit of grace and a plea for mercy when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced’ it anticipates the saving work of Christ, it is a prophesy which ﬁnds its fulﬁlment in Him. That is why a few verses later at the start of Chapter 13 he says ‘On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness’. Our baptism and the death of Christ on the Cross is that fountain which washes us from our sins and uncleanness, which heals and restores us to live Christ’s risen life.
This is why St Paul in his letter to the Galatians can extol the wonderful nature of baptism – we are all equal in our common baptism, there are no distinctions whatsoever between those who are saved in Christ, who have put on Christ. There is then an equality in baptism and salvation, which makes Christianity radically different, we are the new Israel, the body of Christ, and the community of the baptized is open to all those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ. In becoming his we are called to be like him and to share in both his joy and sufferings, so that we ﬁnd our true identity and true meaning in our lives when we put on him.
It is not then for nothing that Our Lord asks ‘But who do you say that I am?’ It is a question which he asks his disciples and which he also asks each and every one of us, ‘Who do we say that he is?’ Some long-haired proto-hippie communist? A prophet? A misunderstood charismatic healer? Or God? The Creator and Sustainer of all, begotten of his Father before all worlds; con–substantial, co–eternal, and the only name under heaven or earth by which we may be saved, the gate, the sheep–fold, the Good Shepherd, Our Great High Priest and willing victim, pierced for our transgressions, wounded for our iniquities, to cleanse us and all humanity of its sin and uncleanness, to heal and restore us, so that we may share his risen life, and have eternal life in Him.
Our response to this has to be to take up our Cross and follow him – we have to be ready to be cruciﬁed, to suffer and die just like He did, and to live in a world which sees us and our faith as of no relevance or importance whatsoever, where we are to be pitied and blamed by ‘enlightened’ secularists and atheists who with a patronising sneer despise us and all for which we stand. Their attitude is not different from those Roman magistrates who condemned our forebears for refusing to worship a human being, the emperor, and saving that honour for God, and God alone.
As Christians we honour and worship the God who loves us, who gave himself for us, gladly and willingly, to heal and restore our human nature, so that we might be born again not of the flesh but by water and the Spirit, so that we and all the world might be transformed and have the fullness of life in him.
Since we are all one in Christ Jesus let us follow him, let us live lives where we carry our Cross each and every day and love him and serve him, in that knowledge that whatever happens there is nothing which can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our lives may not be easy, but whatever we face good or ill we do so in the knowledge that we are loved by God, and that in living out our faith in Him in the world, His grace is at work in us, transforming us through the sacrament of his Body and Blood which we have come here to receive, to be strengthened for our journey of faith, proclaiming Christ’s truth and saving love to the world, and following him, by taking up our cross, and losing our lives for his sake, for what indeed would it profit someone to gain the whole world but lose his own soul? Power, wealth, possessions, position, honour, all the things of this world are empty and without meaning or worth compared with Christ.
Let us follow him, and deepen our trust and faith in Him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and pray that his grace may be at work in us So that we may believe and be transformed, and share our faith with others that they too may believe and be transformed and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.