Sunday, April 16, 2017

New. Life. - Homily for Easter Sunday (2017)

A very blessed Easter to you and your families.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

A couple of years ago, I had the blessing to visit the catacombs in Rome. The catacombs, as you likely know, are the underground tombs where, during ancient days of persecution, Christians would not only bury their dead, but also celebrate the Holy Mass. I vividly remember the stairway as it plunged me underground. The brown darkness. The stale air and the smell of soil. The muffled sound. The tightness of the confines. Death…. It was there that I offered the Holy Mass.

After an hour or two, I came out of the catacombs and I remember the first taste of fresh air—there was a delightful hint of flowers—which I had taken for granted before I had gone underground. The sunlight was annoyingly bright (and how quickly I had become used to the darkness)! There was a sense of freedom, of openness, …

This was the memory that came to my mind as I prepared the words for today. It is, as I look back, a memory that provides a kind of microcosm of my life. There was a time when I was in a dark place, where the faith was stale and confining—and then there was a time when I began to “seek what is above”; I emerged from the world of death and began to breathe the fresh air of beauty and goodness and truth.

This is the question that all of us are faced with today: that is, at this very moment, in which place are you? Are you in the stale, dreary, lifeless kind of faith? or are you in the world above—where things are new and full of hope? How would you describe your faith right now?

And what is your expectation of Christianity in general? What is your expectation for today? Oftentimes, we expect things to continue as they are. So, if we’ve found little, we oftentimes expect little.

*          *          *

I’m sorry if I’m rambling a little bit today, but I’m really, really tired. We had the Easter Vigil last night and it was totally awesome—30 people came home to the Catholic Church! It was so beautiful. But it is also a really late night and here I am at the Mass at Dawn with you all. If you think this morning’s Mass is long, last night’s Mass lasted over two and a half hours! (And Monsignor was going at a really snappy clip, too!)

It was actually pretty funny: there was a young boy in the front pew—he was one of three to be baptized. And this young boy of about 10 has little idea that this Easter Vigil is going to clock in under three hours. And so we start Mass and it’s dark in here and we get through one reading. And then another. And two readings becomes five. And by the time we reach the homily, we’re nearing one hour!

And maybe I was imagining things, but I think I started to see him slowly—so slowly with each reading—slowly…  start… to…. lean forward….

And before he was able to get any sleep, his godparents brought him and the others to the baptismal font. And Monsignor asked them about whether they renounced Satan and believed in God and they said I do in that “hey, it’s past my bedtime” kind of voice. And then this young boy climbed into the baptismal pool—

And his eyes became wide: “Ooh!” This water's cold!

And Monsignor takes a big bucket of water and says “… I baptize you in the Name of the Father”—and pours the cold water on the boy. And he goes: “Oh—Brrrrhhrrrhrhrh!”

And before he can catch his breath, Monsignor pours more water: “… and of the Son…”—And now the young boy is laughing! Laughing not in the “this is silly” kind of way, but in the “this is totally awesome, invigorating, I don’t know else to respond” kind of way.

And by the time the third pour with the words “And of the Holy Spirit” were said, I knew what was happening. This young boy was being woken up. He was being filled with the Holy Spirit. This was a new day—a day that would never be forgotten. Shoot, I’ll never forget it. (I nearly laughed myself silly and cried at the same time. It was beautiful).

*          *          *

I say all this because at the very heart of Christianity is the belief in tremendous—miraculous!—transformation. Jesus died. He was as dead as a doornail. And then three days later, He is raised from the dead. This isn’t reincarnation. This isn’t re-animation. This is the Father filling His Son with a whole new and glorious life.

And it is totally reasonable to believe this. I mean, not only do the guys-in-power see it, but the women do too. Their voices matter-- or, at least, I think so. Of course, we may have learned something silly in college that filled us with doubt and plunged our faith into darkness. And we would have dismissed the ridiculousness of our misguided professors if but for one thing: some of us had already started to doubt the truth of Christianity. For those of us, we had begun to doubt because we didn’t see the tremendous, miraculous change in the very lives of those around us who claimed to be Christian. I mean, so what if this Jesus died and rose—what difference does that make in my life?

Let's admit it: for many of us, the life of faith, like that Easter Vigil, had grown long and tiresome. We have lost some of the eager expectation that was the hallmark of our beginnings in that faith. 

*          *          *

At the heart of Christianity is the scandalous assertion that this crucifixion-resurrection drama can play out not only in the life of Christ, but in every person who welcomes it. How many lives of the saints—men and women just like you and me—how many of their lives start in less than heroic (ok, let’s just say it: sinful!) ways? I mean, you think you and I are horrible sinners? Tell that to St. Paul or Augustine or Ignatius!

The Father of the Prodigal Son, on seeing his return, cries out: “My son was lost and is now found! He was dead and is now alive!”

Those words—we’re always using those words about ourselves and about forgiveness and so on. You see? The Resurrection not only shows us the victory of Christ; but it also reveals to us the very miraculous change of anyone who truly receives this same Jesus. You—you, dear brothers and sisters!—you were dead and are now alive!

This was the whole point of Lent. What was the reason for the season? The reason for Lent is to prepare us for New Life—to transform us from stale, dead ways to the new, fresh breath of new life.

So, for example, when we went to confession, there our Father forgave us of our sins—He freed us from all of that weight of all of that baggage we had been carrying for so long. We were given a new beginning of goodness. When we fasted, we learned about how much we take for granted and how attached we have become to things. That peanut butter and jelly sandwich after a long day’s fast—man, that never tasted so good! That fasting suddenly infused so much beauty and appreciation in something so simple as a PBJ for me. 

… And yeah, maybe your Lent was horrible—maybe you were a total failure. But do you know what? God was doing something in you there. He was making you humble. You see: we often think that holiness and salvation are totally up to us. They’re not. They are firstly up to God. After all, He says, “Without me, you can do nothing.” We don’t really believe that some times. We come up with a stellar plan for Lent and we beat ourselves up when we don’t follow through. Perhaps God is saying: “Ok, did you ask me for help? Do you really believe that you are really actually and totally dependent on me for everything?”

*          *          *

 At the end of the Lenten Season, I look up at the Cross and not only do I see Jesus, my Savior whom I love and owe everything. But at the end of the day, I also see myself. I see everything that was dark and evil and stale and dead in me—I see everything Jesus has taken and crucified. Crucified because He wants me to have a new life, a free life, a beautiful life!

*Looking at the Cross* That’s me before I emerged from the catacombs. That’s me when I was in a dark place: depressed, anxious, searching for meaning, angry, impatient, and resentful …

Amazing Grace: “I was blind, but now I see.”

I was lost but am found. I was dead, but am alive.

I am walking around right now in gold-- you in your Easter dresses and nice, crisp suits. We are all saying: "Hey, we're not in the tomb anymore!" We just have to live that-- which means that the dark parts of our lives need to go up on that Cross and truly die. Only then will we truly experience the beauty of this awesome, transforming Christianity.

The Resurrection is real, my dear friends. And not only because a couple saw it on that Easter morning. But because I have experienced it in my own life, too.

*          *          *

This is my prayer for you today: that our Father can say about us—indeed, that we can say it about ourselves: “I was lost and am now found. I was dead but am now alive!”

I want us to expect this kind of transformation from Christianity again.

I want the world to expect to see this kind of transformation from Christians again.

I pray our Lord may bring this resurrection into our life through the crucifixion of our old, stale lives of sin—I pray that our Lord may do this so that we can attest to the world the reality of our faith. I pray that we can speak this in word and in deed to all—I was dead, but am now alive!—and to proclaim this humbly yet confidently.

I want people to say not only of Jesus Christ, but of each one of us: “Wow, he is risen. He is risen indeed!”

May this be our expectation this Easter. May God grant us this New Life! Amen.

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