Mar 27, 2016

Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection

Some time ago in my travels, I got a phone call late at night. It was from a hospital, the maternity wing. A baby had just been born. Although a healthy little child, when the umbilical cord was being cut, there was a complication. The blood would not clot, the bleeding would not not stop. The little baby began fighting for his life. Doctors and nurses immediately began every procedure in the medical book, the instincts of their training in saving lives took over. For the boy's family it was the ordeal of their own Good Friday.

When I arrived on the scene, I was quickly escorted to the Intensive Care Unit for premature and newborns. All around where incubators attached to machines and monitoring devices. Around some of them I noticed mothers and fathers, sitting patiently, waiting and watching. Every so often, I would see a little foot appear from inside a baby’s insulated cradle, or a little hand raised up just enough to touch the see-through window of their little “womb with a view”. It was all very quiet.

However, at the other side of the room, I saw doctors and nurses in medical gowns huddled together in a circle over one small particular table. Above it was a surgical light that shone down upon it brightly. I couldn't see what they were doing, but surmised that this was the newborn baby I was called upon to baptize. But then something happened.

As I watched, the once animated medical team then stopped everything they were doing. They stood back. Some of them took off their masks and untied their gowns, and wiped their brow and shook their heads in disappointment and sadness.  The doctor, I presumed, then looked at his watch and glanced over to the large clock behind him on the wall and took note of the time. Like the eclipse of the sun, the large light that shone so brightly above the little child was switched off. And it was dark.

One by one, they left. The nurse who had called me came over. She didn’t need to say anything. She apologized for having me wait so long, but suggested that maybe I might accompany the team to visit the family to give them the news that her child had died. I told her that I was to baptize the little boy and that I regretted I was too late. But then thought. Out of comfort to the mother, I would at least do what she had asked, even though my training had taught me that sacraments are for the living, not for the dead.

The nurse and I approached the table. Upon it was the body of the child, his head covered with a little knitted cap, a plastic breathing tube was taped around his little mouth, his perfectly formed body was as white as marble, motionless, beautiful in a way, like a porcelain figurine. I asked the nurse for some water. She gave me a syringe already filled. Not knowing the baby’s name, I bent down and while releasing three drops of water that trickled over his brow, I whispered into his ear, “Little child, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.  I stood up and said a secret prayer to his guardian angel to take his little soul to heaven.

But then something happened. As I looked down at his tiny white body, I thought I saw his chest move a little. Instinctively, I dismissed it, thinking that the longer you stare at something the mind can play subtle tricks. But then, I looked again. The little chest expanded out, then in. Maybe this what happens shortly after death when the body begins to “settle”. But then again, the little chest was indeed moving, in then out. I turned to the nurse. Her eyes also saw. She saw, and believed what I was hoping to be true. The baby’s heart, all by itself began to beat again. The child had returned to the land of the living!

Suffice to say, after that moment there was pandemonium, excitement. The doctors and nurses came flooding in, the huge surgical light was again thrown on again. As I quietly and gently moved away, I watched and prayed from the sidelines as machines were rolled into place, more doctors and nurses streamed in with vials of blood and surgical instruments. Hidden in the corner, I prayed my rosary for the little boy. “You can do it, fight for your life, fight to live another day!”

After a good hour, my rosary beads worn away, I think I prayed every Mystery, - Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous and Glorious, the baby was breathing on a respirator, color had returned to his little body and his heart appeared once again to be beating strong.  I told the nurse that it was now time to visit the mother and father to announce to them that their son was indeed alive - that he had, in a way, risen from the dead. This was Good News indeed. (What of that little child? Well, that's probably another sermon for another Sunday!)

But let's put this in perspective. Two thousand years ago, no one actually witnessed in real time, the resurrection of Christ from the Dead, except the angels of heaven. It was such a unique event, beyond our comprehension. It was not a medical wonder or a mind game of his first disciples. Jesus Christ was dead and buried. But his resurrection was unlike anything that ever happened, and always will be for as long as we live. His resurrection brought to perfection a new order of life, beyond our imagination - a life we long and hope for, even after death. Although no mortal eye could see Christ rising from the dead, every day, if we are patient and know how to look through the eyes of faith, the eyes of a believer, we will indeed catch little glimpses, hints of it, that give us hope. 

It might happen when we witness a medical wonder, or the joy of new life being born, or the radiant smile of someone receiving love after being abandoned and forgotten for so long. Even an act of charity and caring outreach to someone whom every other passerby ignores or leaves forgotten, brings someone back from the dead and gives life and hope, even if it's just to live for one more day.  It only has eternal meaning, if we believe that the one who was crucified on Friday, died and was buried, rose to life on the third day and who lives, not in our memories, but before us in the Sacrament of his glorious Body and Blood. And for those who have been baptized into his body the Church, and washed clean of their sins, we receive here and from this altar the anecdote of eternal life, the medicine of immortality.

May the waters of our baptism stay always fresh, and may this Easter Sunday, and on every first day of the week, may we taste again and again, the life giving power of the resurrection the dead and life everlasting.

He Ascended into Heaven

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity, a privilege, to offer the graveside prayers at our Catholic cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 19...