As I was preparing my homily this morning, I received a telephone call relating to me the great pain and suffering that Jack, (not his real name), is going through with his family. My heart sank and I felt sad for Jack and his family. However, my reflection drew me not only to pray for Jack and his family, but led me to try to relate the meaning of today’s Easter celebration to the pain, struggles and suffering in life, in today’s world. Jack’s story is only one of many stories that I know of. I am sure every one of you here too know of similar cases and are perhaps, even experiencing the pain, struggles and suffering in life.
Today, Christian churches all over the world, celebrate Easter, the celebration of Jesus rising to life three days after His death on Good Friday. Jesus is not dead; He has risen. Jesus is alive! Pope Francis shares that, when we celebrate Easter, we are more than celebrating Jesus has simply coming back to life. We are celebrating that Jesus, our Risen Lord, is LIFE itself, because He is the Son of God, the Living God!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as Jesus is LIFE itself, then we are celebrating a deeper Truth, a divine Love and a lasting Hope that Easter will bring into the life of Jack and all the suffering in the world, because Jesus, Our Risen Lord is indeed present in the pain, struggles and suffering of life.
The Gospels tell us that after the death of the Master, the disciples’ faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died; they were all hiding in the upper room; huddled in fear. Being on the brink of despair, when the women announced to the disciples that Jesus has risen, it was like a ray of light in the darkness that was threatening to devour them.
Let us note that in the event of today’s Gospel, before the women became messengers of Jesus’ Resurrection, they too, like the disciples were filled with sorrow and grief for all that had happened to Jesus, whom they loved. We know that as they arrived the tomb, they found that the stone of the tomb had been rolled away. They were completely perplexed; as that was “completely unexpected and something completely new”.
Pope Francis, in his Easter homily on 2013 shares that, “Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own securities of life . . . we are afraid of the surprises of God; but, as in today’s Gospel event, we are also sure, that God is always full of surprises!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when God chooses to surprise us, it is because He wants to remind us that we are not alone; that He is in our midst, regardless of how painful, helpless and hopeless we may be in. Our Risen Lord may not wipe all our problems and pain away, but we can be sure that He will NEVER desert us, and leave us on our own. Our Risen Lord is present to us; He is within our hearts, and we need not go round searching for Him everywhere.
Our Risen Lord, in all probability, may not appear to us in some brilliant apparitions and visions, but we can be sure that He is more present and closer to us when our challenges and pain in life are most difficult. However, we need to listen attentively to His voice, recognise His voice and respond to Him with sincerity and fidelity. And, if we are able to do this, without doubt, we will experience the “newness” of living in God’s Presence that will surely bring us His Peace, Joy and Happiness that nothing in this world and no person in this world can give.
To this, my sisters and brothers, Pope Francis adds,“Let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.”
Reflecting on today’s Gospel further, we can see that when the two men in brilliant clothes appeared to the women, who were searching for Jesus’ Body, they said to them, “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?” Pope Francis reminds us, “Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and if we live in this manner, then, that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive! Let the Risen Jesus enter your life, welcome Him as a friend with trust for He is LIFE! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following Him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the Peace you are looking for and the strength to live as He would have you do.”
“Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; He is the everlasting ‘today’ of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us. Having Risen from His Death, Jesus is present in our hearts and life as victory over sin, evil and death, and indeed, He is Victory over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human.”
Tonight, we have amongst us, 83 to be Baptised and 18 Christian brothers and sisters who will be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church. To deepen your experience of tonight’s transforming experience, of becoming a son and daughter of God our Father through your Baptism, and to be able to receive the Eucharist, the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and for being in full Communion with the Catholic Church, I would like to urge you to continue to reflect on your experiences of RCIA journey, and recall and reaffirm those times when you were touched by the Lord.
I have no doubts, that God had touched every one of you at different points and moments of your RCIA journey. If you were to look back on what you were before you began your RCIA journey and what you are today, I too would have no doubt that Our Risen Lord has transformed you; today, as you stand before us, we can be sure that you are a better spouse, better parent, better child, and indeed a much more wholesome person. We are sure of this of you because we are sure that the Spirit of the Risen Lord has been quietly transforming your hearts, through His deep and personal love for you.
As for the rest of us who have been Catholics for some years, or for many of us, since birth, today’s Gospel too reminds us to reflect on our faith journey, and recall and renew our faith in the Lord. To confirm that Jesus has Risen, the two men in dazzling clothes asked the women, “Remember, what Jesus told you when He was still in Galilee? That the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day?” And they remembered His words.”
In Pope Francis’ homily, he says that “It is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with their Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9).
To remember what God has done and continues to do for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.
And as I conclude, on this great Easter celebration, “let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in His Resurrection.”May He open us to the ‘newness’ of life that will transform us to become more like Christ. May He make us men and women capable of remembering all that He has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May He help us to feel His Presence, His Peace and His transforming Love daily. And may He teach us each day not to look for solutions and consolations among the dead, but to turn to our Risen Lord, who is ALIVE amongst us . . . and who will give us the strength and wisdom to be witnesses of His Resurrection
(Cf. Adapted from Pope Francis Easter Vigil Homilies of 2013).
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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