“He who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5)./p>
And so He has!
We enter Easter season with new life won for us through the sacraments. The sacraments are as old as the Gospel, yet they are, like the Gospel, ever new.
We enter the season with a new pope. We celebrate now because we have witnessed, with our own eyes, how the Holy Spirit always renews the Church in vigor.
Led by Pope Francis, we enter the season amid a New Evangelization. Prepared by Venerable Paul VI, announced by Blessed John Paul II, detailed beautifully by Benedict XVI, the Church is in a historic phase that is comparable to the first arrival of the Gospel on America’s shores — and perhaps the first arrival of the Gospel in the Greco-Roman world.
We’re blessed to live in the times we do, so soon after the great era of liturgical reform. Some people say the reform began after the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s. But it actually predates the Council by a decade. It was in the early 1950s that Pope Pius XII restored the early Church’s traditions for Holy Week, the Triduum, and especially the Easter Vigil.
The renewal of the liturgy continues in our own day, as we have seen in recent years. The Church retrieves observances from the Tradition, but not for antiquarian interest. When we return to the sources of revelation — Scripture, the liturgy, the witness of the saints — we see these ancient things themselves made new for us, for our time, and for our world.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem preached in the fourth century, but his homilies are still renowned today. He’s best known for the Easter sermons he delivered to new converts. A profound biblical theologian and a warm pastor, he covered many points of Christian life, from morals to prayer to the creed. But his masterpiece was the grand finale to his series. He ended with a stunning explanation of the sacraments of initiation. Step by step, he led his listeners through the rites of the Church, explaining every word and symbol in light of the Scriptures.
When those new members of his congregation stepped into the baptismal pool on Easter Vigil, they were stepping decisively into the stream of salvation history. The sacramental moment had been foreshowed in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. God had willed it from the dawn of creation. Christ had come, in the fullness of time, to call these particular men and women to the water, to the anointing, to the banquet — there to be made new.
St. Cyril was especially good at his job. He excelled as a preacher and teacher, theologian and biblical scholar. He delivered his message with the power of a poet. He was working with material that was already “old” in the fourth century. Yet He was also working with the Lord who made all things new.
He was not unique. What he practiced was mystagogy — guidance in the mysteries — and we find the same methods in the works of other great preachers of the ancient Church: St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and Theodore of Mopsuestia (to name just a few).
They preached at the time the whole world was waking up to Gospel. Over the course of their lifetimes, Greco-Roman paganism crumbled almost entirely to dust. Cyril alone probably guided tens of thousands of converts into the mysteries of faith. Even now, more than a millennium and a half later, when you read his sermons, you can sense the excitement of what was then a New Evangelization.
We find ourselves, once again, called to that work — to a New Evangelization. Pope Francis calls us now to grow in our faith — and share the faith — during this papally proclaimed Year of Faith.
This is our work, yours and mine, as individual members of the Church. But it’s our work together in the work of the St. Paul Center. With your help, prayers, and funding, we are laboring for the formation of a new generation of clergy who preach and teach like Cyril — men with eyes wide open to the mysteries.
You and I are also striving to live lives that make the faith attractive to the unbelievers all around us. We want to be for our world what men like Cyril were for theirs.
When Cyril preached, his congregations roared with applause as he spoke of the sacraments. We know that because we have the diary of a European pilgrim as she traveled through his city.
Oh, for the return of such a day, when Catholics could barely contain their love for the Eucharist, for the baptismal gift, for the strength of their anointing. That’s the day we want to hasten with our work at the St. Paul Center. We seek renewal in Him who has the power to make all things new.
I thank you for joining your own efforts with ours. Please keep us in your prayers and help us as you can. There is so much we want to do this year and next. The world needs once again what the Church Fathers once gave it.