Easter Sunday 2013

March 31, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Today we celebrate the most important day in history.
Because today we celebrate the historical fact that 2000 years ago
the man known as Jesus of Nazareth,
who had been killed by the leaders of Romans and the Jews
on a Friday, rose from the dead on Sunday.
And he didn’t rise like some perverse Zombie or walking dead vampire,
but in a body marked by his wounds,
and perfected and glorified by his resurrection.
And not only did he rise, he lives now forever, with his body,
at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

Now, we believe this to be an historic fact, not a private whimsy.
To be sure, it is a matter of personal faith
—we cannot prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But it is not merely personal faith—it either happened or it didn’t.

If it did NOT happen, then all of us here are well-meaning,
but mistaken, and more or less wasting our time here today.
And to the extent we allow our faith in the resurrection
to effect the rest of our lives, we waste that effort too.

But if it DID happen…
What should that mean for us? and for the world?
If it is true, it was the most incredible and important event ever,
and the world and time and all people
should literally revolve around that event.
It should clarify once and for all what it means to be a human being.
And it would testify to the truth of all the things
Jesus of Nazareth taught in his lifetime,
and set those up as the foundational principles of all good human living.

Think of it.
It would mean that there really is a God who made us just to love us,
and so we could love him and our neighbor.
That he loved us so much he really did send his only begotten, co-eternal Son,
into the world to destroy sin by his suffering and death on the Cross.
And that Divine Son really did strip himself of his heavenly glory
to become a human being, just like you and me in all things, but sin.

It would mean he is looking for you,
like a Good shepherd searches for his one lost sheep.
That he calls all who are weary and find life burdensome to come to him,
and he will give you rest.
That he loves his people with all his heart, like a bridegroom loves his new bride.

It would mean he loves you personally—it was he who chose you.
That if you believe in him, even though you die, you will live.
That he has gone before you to prepare a place for you
in his Father’s heavenly house.

But it would also mean that “unless you turn and become like children,”
and “unless you are born of water and the Holy Spirit,”
and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,”
“you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”

It also means that “if we love him” and if we want to “inherit eternal life” with him,
we must:
“keep the commandments…
You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, …
Honor your father and mother,”
and “keep holy the Sabbath”
It would mean:
“that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment”,
and “that every one who looks at a woman with lust
commits adultery with her in his heart.”

And while all this sometimes seems impossible,
if Christ is truly risen from the dead, then it must be true that
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And that he told us all this so that:
“[his] joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Imagine if Jesus really did rise from the dead.
It would mean that he established Simon Peter as the Rock
on which he built his Church,
giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven,
and promising the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
And that, as he prayed at the Last Supper,
all might be one with Him in that one Church with Peter.

Imagine….
…if Jesus Christ really did, in time and history,
rise from the dead and open to us the gates of paradise….
wouldn’t that make today
the most joyful glorious day of the year?

But wouldn’t that mean we’d have to change a lot of the way we live?

Some say, well, it’s just what I believe, not what I know to be true.
Friends, I do not know how man ever landed on the moon.
And I don’t even know for a fact that man ever did land on the moon.
But I believe it to be true.
Partly because I’ve heard and read about it;
partly because I have confidence in the people who told me about it.
Heck, partly because some many people seem to believe it.
I believe, but I don’t know perfectly as an eyewitness.

Regardless of how we came to believe, if we believe in the Resurrection
we believe that it is a fact, not a myth,
historical not whimsical,
real not hypothetical.

And if we believe it really happened, why don’t we act like it really happened?
Sure, today we do, at least for a couple of hours.
But what about tomorrow and the rest of the year?
Why don’t we act like Jesus
has realigned everything man understands and lives for,
that we understand and live for?

And why are we so timid to talk about it with others?
Why do we act like it’s some sort of fairy tale we should be ashamed of?

Alright, maybe it is a little hard for some to believe
—but if you believe it why can’t they?
I mean, after all, if it’s true, it’s the best news they’ll ever hear—
it will bring them happiness and peace they’ve never known to be possible,
yet have been searching for all their lives.

Maybe it’s because we’re afraid we’ll lose a friend.
So what?
Maybe you’ll change their lives and you’ll gain the best friend you ever had!

Or maybe it’s because we don’t believe as much as we think we do.
But why not, when Christ has done all he has for us?
Think of all the times you’ve prayed to him and he’s come to your aid.
Think of the times you’ve gone crying to his side, and he gave you peace.
The times you prayed for a miracle and—voila–it happened.

Then again, maybe you don’t recall these things happening in your life.
Maybe you haven’t had the experience of Christ
that you wish you could have.
Or maybe you don’t understand or know much about him
—or maybe you don’t agree with some of the things the Church
says about him.
Okay.
Then let’s change that.
Don’t settle for lukewarm Catholicism—who would want that?
Certainly not Christ, who said if we were lukewarm he would “spit us out.”

Today, St. John tells us in his Gospel that he didn’t understand
what Jesus had meant when he had told them
he would rise on the third day;
John didn’t understand until he saw the empty tomb
—notice, not the risen body, just the empty tomb.
But when he sees the empty tomb: “he saw and believed.”

We also read that St. Mary Magdalene,
didn’t believe at first either.
Scripture tells us:
“she ran and …told them,
‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.’”
But if we read on in the next few verses
we see that Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb
and after awhile saw a man there she thought was a gardener.
So she said to him: “Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
And then:
“Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” …Teacher.”
And she believed.

Here are 2 of Jesus’ most devout followers.
And yet at first they didn’t believe.
But when John opened his eyes to what Jesus had told him,
“he saw and believed.”
And when Magdalene finally asked Jesus
he called out to her, and she believed.

Some today would like to think that belief in Christ and his resurrection
and the effect they have on individual lives is coming to an end.
But we know otherwise.
You are here because you believe.
Maybe not as fervently as you should or would like to.
Maybe you don’t allow that belief to permeate your life,
to change the way you live.
Maybe you don’t share your faith with others nearly enough.
But you believe, or you wouldn’t be here.
You believe, even as you want to believe even more deeply.

Today, hear our Risen Lord calling out to in his word,
and in whatever truth resonates in my words.
See him in the believers assembled here today
members of His Church, united with millions more throughout the world.
And see him most especially in his body and blood in the Eucharist.
Hear. See. And believe.

And may your faith and the joy and the power of the Risen Christ
change your life today,
tomorrow and in eternity.

Easter 2013

RESURREXIT SICUT DIXIT! ALLELUIA! He is risen as he promised! Alleluia! What a glorious day, on which Our Savior, Jesus Christ, rose triumphant from the tomb and conquered death and sin and all evil in the world. Let the earth “shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!” This is the day our Catholic faith lives for, and takes its life from, as we received in our baptisms a share in the risen life of Jesus. Let us rejoice, and no longer live under the slavery of sin and Satan, but in the freedom of the children of God, members of the very body of Christ.

My thanks to all who contributed so much in time and energy and prayer to helping the parish enjoy a truly Holy Week (more on that next week). And to all parishioners and visitors, from Fr. Kenna and myself, a holy, blessed and happy Easter Day!

In past Easter columns I’ve included Easter messages from Pope Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there is nothing similar from Pope Francis. HOWEVER, below is a beautiful Easter Vigil homily he delivered as Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2008. (Note this is an unofficial translation I found on the internet).

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis):

1. In the shadows of the Temple we have followed the signposts of a long road. God chooses a people and sends them on their way. Starting with Abram: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation.” (Gen 12:1-2). Abram went forth, and became the father of a people that made history along the way, a people on the way towards that which was promised. We also recently made our way listening to [the telling of] this history of traversing lands and centuries, with our eyes fixed on the paschal event, the definitive Promise made reality, the Living Christ, victor over death, resurrected. Life in God is not sedentary, it is a life on the road…and even God Himself desired to be on the road, in search of man…and became man. On this night we have traveled both roads: of the people, of man, towards God and that of God to man, both roads leading to an encounter. The anxiousness for God sown in our human heart, that anxiousness of God given as a promise to Abram and, on the other hand, the anxiousness of God’s heart, His immeasurable love for us, are to be found here today, before this paschal event, the figure of Christ Resurrected that resolves in itself all searches and anxiousness, wishes and loves; Christ Resurrected is the goal and triumph of these two roads that meet. This is the night of an encounter…of “Encounter” with capital letters.

2. It is brought to our attention how the Gospel we have just heard describes the Encounter of Jesus Christ, Victorious with the women. Nobody stands still…all are in movement, on the move: it is said the women went, that the earth shook strongly; the Angel came down from Heaven, making the stone roll, the guards trembled. Then, the invitation: He will go to Galilee, that all go to Galilee. The women, with that mix of fear and joy –that is, with their hearts in movement — back up rapidly and run to spread the news. They encounter Jesus and approach Him and fall to His feet. Movement of the women towards Christ, movement of Christ towards them. In this movement the encounter happens.

3. The Gospel announcement is not relegated to a faraway history of two thousand years ago…it is a reality that repeats itself each time we place ourselves on the road towards God and we allow ourselves to be met by Him. The Gospel tells of an encounter, a victorious encounter between the faithful God, passionate for His people, and us sinners, thirsty for love and searching, who have [finally] accepted placing ourselves on the road…on the road to find Him…to allow ourselves to be found by Him. In that instant, existential and temporal, we share the experience of the women: fear and joy at the same time; we experience the stupor of an encounter with Jesus Christ which overflows our desires but which never says “stay,” but rather “go.” The encounter relaxes us, strengthens our identity and sends us forth; puts us on the road again so that, from encounter to encounter, we may reach the definitive encounter.

4. I was recently mentioning that, in the midst of the shadows, our gaze was fixed on the Paschal event, Christ, reality and hope at the same time; reality of an encounter today and hope for the great final encounter. This is good because we breathe losses [literally, “disencounters”] daily; we have become accustomed to living in a culture of loss, in which our passions, our disorientations, enmities and conflicts confront us, separate [literally, “eliminates our brotherhood”] us, isolate us, crystallize us inside a sterile individualism which is proposed to us as a [viable] way of life daily. The women, that morning, were victims of a painful loss: they had had their Lord taken from them. They found themselves desolate before a sepulcher. That’s the way today’s cultural paganism, active in the world and our city, wants us: alone, passive, at the end of an illusory path that leads to a sepulcher, dead in our frustration and sterile egotism.

Today we need the strength of God to move us, that we have a great shaking of the earth, that an Angel move the great stone in our heart, that stone that prevents us from heading out on the road, that there is lightning and much light. Today we need our soul shaken, that we’re told the idolatry of cultured passivity and possessiveness does not lead [this could also be translated as “give”] to life. Today we need, after being shaken for our many frustrations, to encounter Him anew and that He tell us “Be not afraid,” get back on the road once again, return to that Galilee of your first love. We must renew the march begun by our father Abraham and which signals this Paschal event. Today we need to encounter Him; that we find Him and He find us. Brethren, the “Happy Easter” I wish you is that today an Angel rolls away our stone and we allow ourselves to encounter Him. May it be thus.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles