Bishop of Lake Charles
Easter Homily 2009
“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.” John 20:1
On the night of the Easter Vigil, the deacon approaches the bishop following the reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. The deacon faces the bishop. Earlier we entered the darkened church and lit our candles from the Easter Candle that stands before us. The Gloria has just been sung. The bells that remained silent over Good Friday are rung. We have just heard St. Paul proclaim, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8). There in the presence of new light, surrounded by the Christian faithful and those who will soon become Christians, the deacon announces to the bishop: “Most Reverend Father, I bring you a message of great joy, the message of Alleluia.” At this point, all stand and the “Alleluia”, which we have not heard since before Ash Wednesday, is sung. Christ is risen! Alleluia!
The deacon acts like Mary of Magdala, who on that first Easter morning, “ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciples whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2), and reported that the tomb was empty. When Peter and John ran to the empty tomb, they did not know what had happened. No doubt they suspected the body had been stolen. However, when they arrived at the tomb, Simon Peter “saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place” (John 20:6-7). When John entered the tomb, he saw this and “believed” (John 20:8). No thief would have troubled himself to roll up the cloth. Jesus, as though awaking from a deep sleep, had neatly rolled the cloth up and placed it aside. “I bring you a message of great joy, the message of Alleluia.”
Today is the Resurrection. We bring to Easter the forty days that we have journeyed with Jesus in the desert. And what have these forty days brought us? They have brought us the experience of death to self. St. Paul speaks of that dying. “We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin” (Romans 6:6). In thinking less of ourselves, in offering up our penances, taking on greater acts of charity, and above all being reconciled to God and neighbor for the sins we have committed, we have, in the words of St. Paul, “been absolved from sin” (Romans 6:7).
As I wrote to you on the First Sunday of Lent, the Sacrament of Reconciliation was given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ himself to absolve us from our sins. Through that great sacrament we experience the grace of justification about which St. Paul speaks. The burden and weight of sin and guilt are lifted from our shoulders, and we come to know the abiding Grace of Jesus Christ. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above” (Colossians 3:1).
To whom do we proclaim the “message of great joy”, the song of “Alleluia”? Do our lives even speak to others that we believe in the passage from death to life? St. Peter teaches us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (I Peter 3:15). Do we know that message of hope and are we courageous enough to proclaim it?
We live in a world of three crises. The first crisis is the one that is on everyone’s mind, the economic crisis. It is rooted in the material world, for while it brings suffering to many, Our Lord tells us we must not be afraid. The second crisis is a moral one. The pursuit of pleasure, the rejection of God’s will, the break-up of the family, the disregard for human life—all of this and more bear witness to a society that has lost its balance. The third crisis is a cultural one. When opinion is mistaken for truth, when hardly anyone can define an objective good, and when beauty is destroyed, then the human is left very much alone, alienated in a way that easily forgets love, compassion, forgiveness and hope—those things that make life worth living.
We say that Christ has come to deliver us from all this. He came to show us an empty tomb. He also came to show us a cross that leads to that empty tomb. He asked us to identify with that cross. The reason for our hope is clear, if we have died to self and strive to live in Christ.
What “message of great joy” do we bring? A faith that witnesses to the truth, no matter what other people say; a hope that gives us the courage to live our rejection of sin; a love that forgets the self and lives for others. As the deacon brought me the “message of great joy”, may we all announce to others the joy of our Catholic faith, the reason for our hope, the empty tomb, and a cloth rolled up in a separate place.