I love jumping out of a plane, out of a perfectly good airplane, and enjoying that minute of free fall that you get. It’s an amazing experience, and there’s nothing like walking to the edge of the plane and being willing to throw yourself out. If you’ve ever had the experience of going to a cold pool, and you stand on the edge, and you have to will yourself to jump into the water. It’s so hard. Multiply that by about 10, and that’s skydiving.
One time while I was still in the seminary, I was trying to take a group of seminarians. Some of them wanted to do it. Some did not. They all wanted to do it, but most of them were a little bit terrified of doing it. So, they were trying to get out of it. The place we were at was near the ocean. I wanted to jump out over the ocean because I hadn’t done that before. The morning of the sky dive they all chickened out. They said they were not going. They couldn’t do it. I didn’t tell them this, but on the drive back home I found another place on the ocean about two hours north that had sky diving. I said, “Guys, I’ll take the first shift. Let me drive.” So we’re driving there, and we pull off the exit. They didn’t know where I was going. Next thing you know, we end up at this place for skydiving. We get there, and there are about five or six of us seminarians. I had gone a number of times, so I just wanted to watch the other guys jump out first. I stayed on the plane and went after everybody. One by one they jumped.
The funniest moment was when Fr. Joe got ready to jump out of the plane. They count you down. They say, “three, two, one, jump.” Fr. Joe is at the edge of the plane. They counted him down, and he locked his hands on the side of the plane so that he couldn’t physically go out of the plane. They counted down again, and he put his hands on the side of the plane and braced himself so he couldn’t go out. The third time he got the will power, and he jumped out of the plane. The funny thing is that when we got down on the ground I asked Fr. Joe, “What happened?” He said, “Mike, I’m going to tell you what. I had every intention of jumping out of the plane. I thought I was going to jump out of it. When you said ‘three, two, one’ I was ready to jump and my body just wouldn’t let me. My body went like that, and I was totally stuck.”
I was thinking about the gospel today where Jesus said, “I have the power to lay my life down, and I have the power to raise it up again.” In skydiving, all you do to lay your life down is to take that step and jump. Now, here’s the thing. When you jump, there’s no going back. Once you step out of that plane, you’re free falling for a minute and you’re hoping the parachute opens. That’s it. Jesus says I have this power to lay my life down and to take it up again. He’s talking ultimately about dying for the sheep, dying for us. When he is crucified, he would ultimately give himself. When he is arrested, there would be no turning back. From that moment on, he had lost all human power. He still had the divine power, but he totally let that go. From that time forward, from the arrest forward, until the crucifixion, he was laying his life down.
Now you know on the cross, one of the thieves was talking with him, and he said, “You’re God. Why don’t you just come down from the cross?” And he could of, because he is God, but he had the power to lay his life down. He had the power to sacrifice himself.
With advanced skydiving, you get to watch what is called an altimeter. When you get to a certain height above the ground, you have to pull the parachute. So in a sense, at that moment, you have to make the choice and pull the parachute. The next thing you know it seems like you’re going up. You’re just flying down, then all of a sudden, it seems like you’re going up in the air because the parachute stops you. There are two moments in skydiving. The moment when you jump out of the plane is like laying down your life. You’re just totally surrendering. The next moment is when you’re opening the parachute, and you’re taking your life up again.
Jesus obviously suffered and died in the crucifixion. He laid his life down, but then he had the power to take it up again. We hear that after the three days in the tomb, he rises from the dead. He goes to all the disciples and shows them, “Look, I have risen. I had the power to take it up again.”
Now in Baptism, each and every one of you, and myself included, we are baptized into Jesus. We are one with him in Baptism. We have that same power to lay down our lives and to take it up again.
I was talking with my sister recently. We were just talking about married life and the priesthood. I said one of the things I decided in the seminary was if I got ordained and when I got ordained, I would tell myself that I was freely choosing it. My rule was I could never, from the time I got ordained until the time I die, I could never be resentful about being ordained because I freely chose it. And, going on 14 years right now, so far it’s been that way. I’ve never one day been resentful for not having a family or not having children or all the other sacrifices you make because I freely chose it.
I think a lot of times in our lives we slide into situations. I know from preparing married couples. One of the things we have to help a couple not do is slide into marriage. A lot of couples in this day and age start dating, then the next thing you know they’re living together, then the next thing you know is, well, we’re living together so we may as well get married. They never really make that choice to get married. They just kind of slide into it. Then about five years into it they say, “What did I do?” It’s like that with a lot of choices in our lives. Sometimes we slide into decisions that we never really make and then we become resentful. The truth is, with all of our choices, we have to make that choice to dive fully into it.
Jesus had the power to lay his life down. We have the power to jump out of the plane and to lay our lives down, but ultimately, you’ve got to make the choice. This could be from anything. High school students, this could be what college you’re going to go to. Freely make that choice. Don’t just go into there because your parents want you to. Make the choice for what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. When you’re deciding on your career, make a choice. Do it with God and decide wholeheartedly that’s what you’re going to do with your life.
There’re also bad choices that you don’t want to make. Don’t slide into the bad choices of drugs and drinking and whatever else it might be that could totally destroy your life. Maybe you didn’t really make the choice, but you slid into it. Married couples, you’re in. If you got married, you’re married for the rest of your life. Why be resentful. You made the choice. Love your wife or husband, through good times and in bad, through sickness and in health. Be totally 100% committed. Jump out of the plane. Don’t try to hold yourself back. Because if we’re not totally committed, we’re going to be resentful
Then I look at the taking your life up again. When you pull the parachute and all of a sudden you go up. There’s going to be times in our lives where God calls us to a resurrected life. He may be calling you out of some form of sin in your life. Don’t just be lukewarm about it. “One of these days I’ll give it up. One of these days I’ll quit. One of these days I’ll be kinder. One of these days I’ll be more patient.” Pull the chute! Rise! Live the life of the resurrected life that God has called you to. The worst thing for us to be is halfway or paralyzed or stuck. We have to completely lay down our life with Jesus. He gives us the power with, in, and through him to lay it down.
I just want you to think about that. How are you being called to lay your life down right now? How are you being called to lay it down? And is there any way you’re being called to rise with him? You can’t do it on your own. We cannot overcome sin on our own, but in, with and through him we have his power to rise. How are you being called to live in his resurrected life? Just as Jesus had the power to lay his life down and to rise it up again, so do you.
So, unlike my friend Fr. Joe, who was paralyzed at jumping out of the plane and put his hands like this, hopefully (and it might take a few tries), each and every one of us can take that jump. Jump out of the plane, lay our lives down so that we may, at some point, pull the chute and take it up again.