Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014

April 20, 2014 Father De Celles Homily

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, VA

Last night at the Easter Vigil, we began that beautiful liturgy,
standing in total darkness.
Suddenly a light pierced the darkness—the Easter fire moving into the Church
atop the great Easter Candle: and all the darkness was shattered.

The contrast between the darkness and light was stunning,
a truly dramatic way to begin this most Holy Feast,
and altogether fitting considering the contrast
between the horrible death of Jesus on Friday,
and His glorious resurrection today!

But this dwelling in contrasts is not new today.
In fact, for the last 40 plus days of Lent the Church has been focusing
on some huge contrasts in our lives.
As we’ve meditated on the suffering of Jesus,
we’ve discovered that he suffered because he loved us
and wanted to free us from our sins, and the sins around us.
But at the same time we’ve discovered that sin is nothing less than
failing to love as we should
—not as we’d like to imagine love is,
not as others try to convince us love is,
but failing to love as love really is,
as God, who is love, created to love to be.

So we see this radical contrast between Christ’s love for us,
that leads him to accept the most terrible suffering
—the scourging, the mockery, the spittle, the nails,
carrying the Cross, and the torturous death on the Cross—
the contrast between that amazing love,
and our miserably consistent choices not to love,
especially not to love him.

And so much of Lent rightly focused on sorrow for our sins
—sadness that in response to this beautiful love that Jesus has for us,
we repeatedly returned its diametric hideous opposite.

And yet even in this sorrow of Lent,
the contrast between Christ’s love and our failure to love
led us to see another contrast:
the contrast between our necessary sorrow for our sins,
and the inherent joy we discovered in the fact that
in spite of, and even because of our rejection of his love,
Christ still loves us so much that he suffered and died as he did.

Now, in the last week, and especially Friday, that contrast seemed to fade,
and any joy was completely overwhelmed by sorrow,
as we hung our heads in shame with St. Peter at our denial of Jesus’ love,
and as we wept with the Blessed Mother and the Magdalene
as we witnessed the pain of our loving Savior.
Only sorrow remained.

Then, suddenly, the contrast between sorrow and joy returned,
as the earth stood still holding its breath at the cusp of death and new life:
the Crucified Lord has Risen!
The darkness is there, we see it, it envelopes us, but then in an instant,
the light shines forth, first piercing the darkness,
and then totally obliterating it.
For a brief moment we saw the stark contrast between
sorrow and joy, suffering and glory, darkness and light,
death and Resurrection.
And then all that was left was the Resurrection:
how can we think of sorrow, suffering and death:
all is joy and glory!
Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!
Christ is risen, he is truly risen!

The power of the infinite love of God for man—and for each one of us—
has conquered evil and saved us from sin.
And so we rejoice and sing “may God be praised”—“Alleluia!”
And the world is changed forever!

Or is it?
If the Love of God has conquered sin and death in the resurrection,
is there still sin, suffering and death in the world?
Of course, yes.
Does the resurrection really eliminate the contrast between
the perfect love of Christ
and our oh so many failures to love as we should?
Of course not.

Sadly, for too many of us, the contrast between God’s love and human sin
remains all to present and real
—for us personally and for most of the world around us.
And the danger is that the joy we rightly feel
in responding to the good news of the resurrection
may become merely a mask to cover or an excuse to ignore that contrast.

Yet the resurrection is real, and the joy sincere and just,
because the victory is complete.
By His Resurrection Christ has thrown open the door to eternal life with Him
to all who choose to pass through.

But only if they choose to pass through that door
—that door which is the love of Jesus.

And so we’re faced with yet another contrast:
the choice to love and the choice not to love.
And, still another contrast besides:
recognizing that our definition of love is often radically opposed
to God’s definition of true love,
ours based largely on selfishness
and his based totally on selfless self-giving, as the Cross makes clear.

But this is a day of joy,
not a day to wallow in hopeless and discouragement.
And so we learn from our Savior,
and go back to the time when Jesus confronted the same contrast.
Just hours before he went to the Cross, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
There, standing on the precipice of all his suffering,
as he looked a few hours into future he saw very clearly
the contrast between the great pain he was about to enter into,
and his perfectly innocent human desire to avoid that pain.

And then he looked ahead, far ahead into the distant future, for centuries to come,
and saw the contrast between his suffering for the love of mankind,
and all the sins that would go on being committed in spite of that love
—even the sins you and I will, sadly, commit this very day.

And he saw all this and said “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”
The human way, or the divine way.
And then he chose: “Not my will, but thine be done.”

This is our choice today:
between God’s will and ours,
between God’s sublime way of loving
that leads friendship with God in this world
and eternal happiness with him in the next,
and our corrupted way of loving that leads only to despair and death
—here and in eternity.

In a certain sense, the choice is really easy:
who doesn’t want to live now and forever
with the God who loves us so much he died for us?
Who, in the midst of suffering and sorrow in this world,
doesn’t want the one who conquered death itself to be our brother?
Who doesn’t want eternal life over eternal death?
Who doesn’t to love and be loved by Jesus?

But then again, it’s not so easy.
The contrast remains: our ways are not God’s ways.
We have to change.
And one choice is not enough—we have to constantly, from moment to moment,
repeatedly and continuously renew that choice to love.
And we will be tempted by the scars and shadows
of our old sins and the weaknesses they built up in us.
And we will be constantly tempted by those around us—including the devil—
who chose the other way: chose their will, not God’s will.

But the wonderful thing is,
the Resurrection wasn’t just one day that came and went.
It endures, as Jesus Christ IS risen!
Christ is alive!
And the same power that lifted up and transformed
his torn and mangled and dead corpse,
into the glorified body that rose from the tomb,
and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven,
that same power flows out on us to lift us up out of sin and sorrow,
and into the love and joy we were meant for.
The power of his grace changes all things—if we chose to change,
if we chose to love and if we chose to accept that grace.

For 40 days we reflected on the stark contrast between
God’s tremendous love for us and our repeated failure to love him.
And we mourned for these sins, and for the pain we’ve caused Our Lord.
But today we celebrate and rejoice
in the power of that love
to help us to become the men and women
he created us to be, that he calls us to be,
and that he suffered, died and rose for us to be.

Even so, the contrast remains and is real.
So let us not use the joy of this day
as a mask to cover or an excuse to ignore the enduring contrast between the way of divine love and the way of human sin.
Rather let us allow this joy to draw us toward
that by the power of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ,
and choose to always live in the love of Christ,
so that that contrast between us and Him becomes less and less every day:
that we might love as he loves,
by the power of His love that conquers even death itself.