Below is the Homily from Fr. Basil Nixen’s First Mass, given by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB.
InÂ Todayâ€™s parable of the dead man in Nainâ€”which seems like a coincidence, but is actually Divine Providenceâ€” the Word of God is addressed directly to the newly-ordained priest, Fr. Basil.Â (I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome the parents, relatives, and friends of Fr. Basil who have come from far and wide to be with him this weekend.)
- The funeral procession, sad and painful, presents first of all, the figure of the widowed mother who is crying.Â The Lord Jesus, moved by her tears, performs the miracle.Â We see here the tears of the Church for the spiritual death of her sons.Â â€œThe wages of sin is death,â€ says St. Paul (Rom 6:23) and the Church groans and cries with her lost children, who due to sin are dead, and are taken to the tomb.Â Therefore, these tears represent the intercession of the Church for sinners.
- The widowed motherâ€™s son lay in the coffin and â€œhad the hope of rising,â€ says St. Ambrose, â€œbecause it was transported on wood.Â The wood of the coffin, after Jesus touched it, began to be beneficial for life, so that one had the proof that salvation had to be restored to the people through the wood of the crossâ€ (Exp. Ev. Sec. Lucam V, 90: vol. 1, p.429).Â The wood of the coffin is a symbol of the cross.
- Then, the four men, the bearers of the coffin, stopped to hear the Word of God.Â The Gospel says: â€œJesus came and touched the coffin, and the bearers stood stillâ€ (Lk 7:14).Â Then, Jesus said, he pronounced the Word: â€œYoung man, I say to you, arise!â€ (Lk 7:14).Â Therefore, at the Word of God corpses rise.Â See how powerful the Word of God is!
- The Gospel says, â€œThe dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his motherâ€ (Lk 7:15).Â What does it mean, â€œhe gave him to his motherâ€ if not that the Lord restored him to full communion with the Church, a communion which was broken by sin and death.Â This communion has its highest expression in the Eucharist, the sacrament of charity and unity.
If the parable in itself has this profound meaning, what does this communicate to us about the role of the priest in the Church?Â Precisely because in the sacraments, the priest acts in persona Christi, he has the task of raising the dead and restoring them to their mother, the Church.Â He does it through the tears, the wood of the Cross, the Word, and the act of giving the risen sinner back to his mother.
- First of all, the priest must weep for the spiritual death of the children of the Church.Â He must shed tears, understand them, and feel compunction for sinners, for the lost sheep, for the poor people who in the moral life donâ€™t know how to distinguish the right hand from the left.Â Many people are spiritually diseased, or worse, die because of these diseases, and who takes care of it?Â The priest must intercede for the sinner, with groans and tears.Â Maybe the priest-monk is more sensible to these things because he has been formed in the school of compunction, by the recognition of his own vices and sins.Â Thus, he understands human nature and so has compassion.
- The priest knows that the spiritual deceased can be saved only through the wood of the coffin, or in other words, through the cross.Â There is no other way.Â The suffering, the pain, and all the difficulties of life are for us an instrument of salvation and allow us to participate in the cross of Christ.Â The priest must preach Christ crucifiedâ€”but before preaching it, he must experience being crucified with Christ in his own flesh (cf. Gal 2:20), in order to be able to preach with conviction.
- St. Ambrose says, â€œThe dead rise at the Word of God.â€Â The priest must be rooted in the Bible, shaped by the Word of God.Â The monastic formation of lectio divina is a good preparation for the priestly task of preaching.Â Then, the preaching cannot remain on the surface of things, it cannot be the word of the priest, but must be a word of salvation which comes from God.Â In this way, those spiritually sick, or rather, those spiritually dead, will rise when they hear the voice of the Lord saying: â€œYoung man, I say to you, arise!â€
- In the same way in which the Lord gave the risen young man to his mother, the priest must give the reconciled sinner to the bosom of the Church.Â Through the sacrament of penance, the priest serves as an ambassador of reconciliation, and restores the penitent to the Church.Â Reconciliation in this case means re-establishing full communion with God and with others, and as we know, the Eucharist is this communion par excellence.Â The role of the priest is not only to consecrate the Eucharist, but to restore penitents to this great sacrament.Â In the liturgical assembly, they can experience the freedom of being children of God, they can adore the Lord.Â In fact, this act of adoration is the highest expression of its very actualization, the recovery of its very own identity.
Conclusion:Â the dead man of Nain, who rose for a period of time, had to die again, and in this lies the great different between Christâ€™s resurrection and the resuscitation of the son of the widowed mother. Â The resurrection of Christ is a definitive victory over deathâ€”Christ does not die againâ€”and the priest must be a herald of this resurrection, the true gospel and the foundation of our hope.
May Fr. Basil become a priest resplendent of the highest quality, having at his disposition these many tools:Â tears, the wood of the Cross, the Word, and the Eucharist.