Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter
Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.
Today is the last Sunday before the Ascension, and as the Church has been doing for the past three weeks, She prepares us for that mystery by taking the Gospel from John, where he reports what Our Lord said at the Last Supper. Today’s selection is principally about prayer, with Jesus telling the Apostles that now their prayer will be particularly efficacious, for it will be made in Jesus’ name, and since those who pray in His name love Him, the Father loves them and readily grants their petitions.
Those of us who have real experience of prayer know that this Gospel message is a hard one to understand. The meaning itself is rather straightforward--God hears the prayers of those who pray in Jesus’ name—but the actual lived experience of this message is different. It seems God does not answer our prayers, even good, selfless prayers; prayers begged for someone else’s good or for something we need that is necessary or seems necessary for our salvation. And as Our Lord says in the parable of the Sower, many fall away in time of temptation—they lose the faith precisely because they feel their prayers go unanswered.
So how can we best accept this saying of the Lord, “Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, He will give it to you”?
First of all, we must read this verse in conjunction with the rest of the Lord’s teaching on prayer. Three passages come to mind: the Our Father, Martha and Mary, and the egg and the scorpion. The Our Father is the only prayer that Jesus taught His disciples and so it functions as His greatest teaching on prayer. All its petitions are of a spiritual nature: we ask that God’s kingdom come to fruition, that all would honor His name, that we be forgiven our sins and be delivered from temptation and evil. The request for our daily bread, the only petition which seems worldly, has been interpreted by the Fathers as referring to the Eucharist. Even if someone would argue it refers to our daily bodily needs, it is still the case that the great majority of the petitions concern spiritual needs, not material needs. And a third of the petitions concern the glory of God, not us.
With Martha and Mary, we see one person busily working at worldly concerns and the other person sitting quietly with Him. When Martha asks for the Lord to do something about that, He replies that Mary has chosen the better part and will not be deprived of it. He does not honor Martha’s request because it is asked badly and she has not prioritized properly. In contrast, the Lord listened to Mary, for the Church says on her feast day that it was her tears, not Martha’s, that moved Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead. Because she sat at the feet of the Lord and listened carefully, rather than deciding that earthly considerations were more important, Mary learned how to ask the Lord for what she needed or wanted. Thus we learn from these two sisters that our petitions must be grounded in time spent with the Lord; contemplation must precede petition, because otherwise we will ask badly and then misunderstand when prayers seemingly go unanswered.
Finally, there is the egg and the scorpion. In the 11th chapter of Luke, Jesus says, “What father among you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone; instead of a fish give him a serpent; or instead of an egg, give him a scorpion?” This is a key passage on prayer, and an important complement to Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel. The son asks his father for something that will nourish him: he asks for the bread, the fish and the egg because he is hungry and needs to be fed. Likewise we ask Our Father for things we need in order to survive bodily and spiritually. When we ask for such things, the Father will give something appropriate; He may not give bread when we ask for it, but He will give something nourishing and not give something wholly contrary or destructive. To chew on a stone would break our teeth, and snakes and scorpions can bite and kill us. But maybe we don’t need bread, but a salad, because we eat too many carbs; or we have high cholesterol, so instead of an egg, He offers us tofu. He gives us something good, but it not might be what we wanted.
We can now apply these teachings on prayer to three very common petitions we make in the Lord’s name, petitions that often seem to go unanswered. First, our material needs. Many of you have very legitimate material needs: we have mouths to fill, bills to pay. Some of you have continual suffering in this realm. So why does the Lord allow us to remain in this state? The answer here is hopefully obvious: asking for financial security is akin to asking for a scorpion. Being comfortable in our finances is almost always a corrosive agent for our faith. The first world, where many people are wealthy enough to live comfortably, is where the faith has been lost; where people continue to struggle to obtain what they need, the faith flourishes. Those who are rich can control their lives, and so think they have no need of God. The typical American couple with two kids, four cars and lavish vacations all made possible by the habitual use of birth control illustrates this fact. They have no time for God. As St. James says in his letter: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Having kids makes us poor, but that is what life is about—living our vows in a way in which we become more reliant upon God, not less reliant. Vows help us to find out who we really are and thereby we also learn who God really is.
Thus we should not pray for financial security, but for sufficient means that we do not live in constant distress over money, for that can also trouble us enough that we struggle to pray. As it says in Proverbs, “Give me neither beggary, nor riches: give me only the necessaries of life: Lest perhaps being filled, I should be tempted to deny, and say: Who is the Lord? or being compelled by poverty, I should steal, and forswear the name of my God.” Should God will, however, that we remain in this kind of poverty, we should rejoice, for He has made us worthy of the Beatitudes. He said, Blessed are you poor, and Woe to you rich, and so for any way in which we share in the cross of financial worry we should be thankful, because it shows God does not want us to lose our souls over love of money and comfort.
A second type of petition is that for the conversion of sinners, especially sinners in our own families and among our friends. This is of course a very worthy prayer and one that has no downside to it from our own motivation in uttering it. God infallibly hears this kind of prayer and sends grace to the sinner to convert his will to good, but the sinner does not always allow his will to be converted. Each of us knows what it is like to reject God’s grace, and the sinners for whom we pray, those who have fallen away from the faith or who have not yet believed, all such sinners can also reject God’s grace. Thus with our prayers for them, we must persevere. We can think of our prayers as being the cause of God sending grace, and each time we pray, we hope that the defense of the sinner against God grows weaker and weaker until finally he or she is overcome. It is like the sunlight gradually melting ice and snow; if we did not pray for their conversion, such persons would remain in the shadow, untouched by the rays of the sun. In this type of prayer, then, it is not a case of God not answering our prayers, but of the divine respect for human freedom, and the sinner’s ability to fight against God despite His grace given at our request.
A final type of petition is for our own conversion. This too is a worthy prayer, that we should no longer sin, change our bad habits, and grow in holiness. Two things should be said here: first, sometimes God allows weakness and even sin to remain in a person’s life for the sake of that person’s humility. God knows that if he were sinless, he would be bloated with conceit, and thus it is better to allow him to fall into habitual sin rather than be overcome with the worst sin, that of pride, for nothing separates us from God as thoroughly as pride does. When we fall into sin, we learn how to have mercy on others, and how to rely upon God, two lessons without which we cannot be saved. Second, our desire for something grows the more we must ask for it, and it is not uncommon that when we begin asking for some grace or growth in virtue, we ask rather weakly, without much effort, hoping that because we are asking for something good, God will grant it quickly. So in order that we will not despise His gifts or underestimate His goodness, He makes us work for it. As St. Jude says, we are like “waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn”; so being forced to pray for perseverance is itself a gift from God.
Tied to this is asking for the means to live a holy life; for instance, asking for a spouse. If prayer to grow in holiness is good, this prayer seems even better, for we ask for the means by which certain occasions of sin will be taken away, occasions like loneliness, despair, apathy. Why does God not answer such prayers? There is no easy answer here, but we should consider that many times God postpones a natural gift to give a supernatural one; He thwarts a natural desire to provoke a supernatural one. Marriage stems from a natural desire for love, for intimacy, for support, for companionship; the blessing of children also stems from a natural desire. Sometimes God does not allow these things to take place because He is doing something more wonderful; He is not giving us a salad in place of bread or tofu in place of an egg, but a fine wine or a perfectly cooked steak or real Italian gelato. God is our Father, and He knows how to give good gifts to His children. If He is keeping natural happiness from us, He is storing up supernatural happiness; if He has denied us a natural relationship we rightly desire, there is a supernatural one He is causing to grow that would not otherwise be. If we do not yet understand, we should not busy ourselves like Martha in seeking an answer, but spend time at His feet like Mary. She received all the answers she ever desired by drawing near to Christ, and when she wanted nothing more than Him, finally her life made sense and she was filled with His peace.
So, in our struggle to understand God’s will for our lives and to trust in His providence, let us call upon these two blessed sisters who knew the Lord in this life and who now both sit at His feet in paradise, that they will teach us how to pray well and with perseverance. Though He rebuked Martha, He loved her dearly and caused her to be one of pillars upon whom the Church in France grew to such great heights. And His love for Mary is well known, she who washed His feet with her tears and stayed beside Him throughout His Passion. May their prayers strengthen and teach us that the Father will indeed grant anything we ask in Jesus’ name in accordance with His wisdom and with our supernatural good in mind. And then in heaven Martha and Mary will show us all the ways in which our prayers were answered and we didn’t see or understand, and our gratitude and love for God shall know no end.
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Easter
Beloved in Christ,
Today marks the fourth Sunday in the Easter cycle. Today’s first Mass reading is taken from the Letter of St. James, an Apostle of the Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem. He wrote this epistle to Christian converts from Judaism living outside of Palestine for two reasons. First, he wanted to inform them – and us by extension – that faith alone is not sufficient for salvation: the Christian must manifest his belief by an exterior conduct: he must be a “doer of the Word.” Secondly, he wanted to curb a certain tendency among some towards an excessive desire to instruct others, to argue for the sake of argument: the tongue must be kept in check!
In the opening line of today’s lesson James tells his readers to expect trials and temptations in this, their new, Christian life: “Blessed is the man who endures temptations; for when he has been tried, he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.” Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. Therefore, we must know that the sufferings and temptations of this life are not sent by God directly, but rather permitted by Him so we may learn to overcome our passions, that we may win the crown of heaven by having shown ourselves worthy in the Christian struggle. Temptations arise from our own weaknesses, often provoked by those with whom we find ourselves in conflict. But everything which is truly good in the natural and supernatural order comes from God, the giver of “every good gift.” It is Saint James who calls God the “Father of lights” since it is from Him that all light – spiritual and corporeal – proceeds. Most especially, though, it is our Christian re-birth through the great lights of Baptism and the Gospel “word of truth” that constitutes the freest gift from God since He chooses us through them, and that without any merit on our part.
Christians, then, who have received their most precious gift – their holy faith – must offer themselves to God’s service by leading truly Christian lives since it is to God that they belong, and it is to God that they are returning. And Christians know what God expects of them – but knowing and doing can often be worlds apart! So James exhorts us as to how we must be: “swift to hear but slow to speak,” thus, ready to learn spiritual things in order to practice the same for superna-tural ends and not merely to judge others or con-found our opponents.
In this latter case, arguments are often driven by anger and end in the deeper implication of injuring our progress towards God. This is particularly often the case in religious discussions. Since the angry man is not acting according to God’s law, a harsh defense of the Christian faith (or any other truth) – no matter what the motive – can not please God and thus will hardly lead to changing the hearts of those with whom we are so engaged.
Rather, it is by the example of our good works, that we can principally influence our neighbor. Thus the Christian must remove from his conduct sin and its root causes. He must overcome sensuality and its resultant sins which have their origin in the body; and malice and its train of evil, which arise from the mind. By doing so we are then able to meekly receive the Gospel, the ingrafted Word. Faith must be ingrafted because it is nei-ther a natural development arising from human nature nor a natural attainment acquired by hu-man endeavor: it is a free, supernatural gift which God plants in our souls, by which He saves us. What is more, St. James does not say that faith of itself will bring us to heaven – it cannot. Rather, we must willingly cooperate with it by the good-ness of our actions. Therefore we must be “doers of the Word,” and not hearers only.
Beloved in Christ, as we near the end of the Paschal season with the approaching mystery of Christ’s physical departure from this world and the coming of the Spirit of Truth, we do well to consider the advice given by St. James: the “good gifts” we possess have been given by God to help us tend towards Him, and for which we should never cease giving thanks. We should especially thank God for His spiritual blessings: the leading of Catholic truth and the divine life of grace in our souls, both of these to the end that we be made ever truer children of God and heirs of that heaven to which – if we would but cooperate – we will go in virtue of Christ’s Paschal mysteries.
It is in that place of uncreated light, and finally with glorified bodies, that we will experience the beatific vision to which Jesus refers in today’s Gospel reading. We must not fear – we must not let our hearts be sorrowful in the midst of our worldly trials: Christ has communicated His own Paschal life to us through the divine Sacraments, which must ever lead us to deeper confidence in Him. He tells us that in His departure from this world He will send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. This same Spirit guides us towards the doing of that good which we must do for our salvation; it leads us, as children of light, to the threshold of life eternal. Let us rejoice, therefore, in God’s mercy, while continuing faithful to Him, knowing that through the goodness of our actions and fidelity to the Lord’s commands, that heavenly destiny can indeed become our own priceless possession – and not merely in time, but for all eternity.
Sermon for the Second Sunday After Easter 2018
Today we mark the second Sunday after Easter, commonly called Good Shepherd Sunday on account of the Gospel. The symbolism of the shepherd is not as apt for us as it was for Jesus’ first disciples, for folks in this part of the country are not involved in the raising of sheep as much as are other regions of the world, but it remains a good image, a shepherd is one who leads and protects and feeds his flock. Christ leads us to the pastures of heaven, he protects us from the hatred of the devil, and he feeds us by His body and blood in the sacrament of the altar.
In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus emphasizes his giving his life for the sheep as the principal mark of his being shepherd. As St. Peter reminds us in the first reading, Christ did this through His Passion and Cross—He gave His life for us as a ransom, to buy us back from the devil and free us to live a life of love and gratitude towards the one who freed us. Any shepherd in the Church who wishes to be like the Good Shepherd will then imitate Him in giving His life for His flock. As Aquinas says, “Because the spiritual safety of the human flock outweighs the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the safety of the flock the spiritual shepherd ought to suffer the loss of his bodily life for the safety of the flock.”
The Catholic priesthood can easily be seen to share in the work of the Good Shepherd for priests sacrifice their bodily life for the spiritual good of their people in numerous ways. First, they respond to the spiritual needs of their people and place them before their own bodily comfort, whether in hearing confessions or in giving spiritual direction or in fasting and praying. Second, they sacrifice their bodily life insofar as they do not marry. Here bodily life does not mean merely the physical aspect of marriage, but above all the emotional and psychological comfort that comes from having a virtuous and supportive wife, a companion for life’s joys and trials. For many men, this sacrifice is quite piercing, but it allows a priest to be more available to his people, to better contemplate the things of heaven and to be an image of the longing Christ has for his bride, the Church. Third, the Catholic priest most imitates the Good Shepherd is dying for his flock in times of persecution. Thus we should praise those who speak out in this time of doctrinal confusion, for they keep the wolf from scattering the flock. Even more so should we extol the priests and bishops in persecuted countries such as Iraq, Syria, and India for remaining with their people, suffering and dying with them.
These ways in which shepherds today give their lives for their sheep shows us that Christ’s work as Good Shepherd is still very much alive. Because every Catholic priest is only priest because he acts in the person of Christ, the Good Shepherd continues to give His life in acting through His priests to forgive sins, to offer Mass, to guide souls, to suffer and die for them. He also continually gives His life for his sheep in the Eucharist, and this so that the wolf will not scatter the sheep. The wolf is certainly the devil, and he seeks above all to lock us into repentant sin, beginning with ambiguous teaching, and then slowly getting us to convince ourselves that our sin is not really sin, whether it be pride, lack of charity, judging others, impurity or negligence in prayer and the spiritual life. Our Lord does not want us to reach this state, a state we are continually threatened by, and so He gives Himself in the Eucharist that we may remain strong in the spirit, that we may have His Blood pulsing through our veins to give us courage to forgive others, to turn from our sins, and to change our lives.
This truth about the Shepherd flows into the truth we learn about the sheep. In the Gospel, Christ says that His sheep know the Shepherd just as He knows the Father. “I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me, as the Father knows me, and I know the Father.” This is a very profound statement, one worth pondering at some length. The Son knows the Father as having the same substance as Him, and having His very origin from Him—this kind of knowledge goes far beyond the knowledge that even the most intimate human relationships bring forth. And we, His sheep, as said to be recognized by having this kind of knowledge of the Son, our shepherd. This is not mere knowledge; it is knowledge perfected by love. As St. Gregory says, “He who does not love the truth is still far from knowing the truth.”
Here is it helpful to consider the distinction between faith and wisdom. Faith is the first of the theological virtues, by which we believe all that God has revealed about Himself. This virtue does involve some degree of love, for we believe God because we think Him trustworthy, and truthful persons are worthy of love. But we also know that mere faith is not enough; one can believe all the truths of the faith and at the same time be in mortal sin. Even a professor with advanced theological degrees can expound the truth about the Trinity with skill and clarity and yet not be in a state of grace. This is not the kind of knowledge of which Jesus speaks.
Wisdom, in contrast, is a gift of the Holy Spirit closely associated with the virtue of charity. Like faith, it concerns the intellect, and so it is principally about knowledge rather than love. But unlike faith, wisdom cannot exist without charity. In describing the gift of wisdom, Aquinas makes a distinction between two ways of judging things: one is due to the perfect use of reason, the other due to connaturality with the matter, meaning a likeness to it. An example is the difference between knowing the definition of a virtue and possessing the virtue. With purely intellectual knowledge, we can describe it well and distinguish it from other virtues, but it remains outside of us, something out there we talk about rather than something within us we experience. When a virtue is natural to us, we judge the right use of the virtue even in difficult situations, not from thinking it out, but from intuition, because the virtue is within us rather than outside. We all experience this dichotomy: knowing what a virtue is versus actually living it out.
In regards to the way in which we know the Good Shepherd, we must strive for the second type of knowledge, the one that comes from living out a truth rather than just knowing the truth. This is wisdom: to know the truth about God and the world He has created in the way God does because we are bound to Him in love, and lovers see the world in same way, especially those bound not by emotion but by charity and mutual sacrifice. Such wisdom is characteristic of both the Good Shepherd and his sheep. It is a mark of the Good Shepherd because in his divine nature He is one with the Father and thus knows all things as God the Father knows them; in his human nature, he has the beatific vision, and thus when he teaches us about the Kingdom of God, he teaches us about what he sees with the eyes of his mind, as clearly as we see the natural world around us.
In our own lives as Christ’s sheep, we must strive to know the mysteries of God not as facts to rehearse but as realities we have experienced. And this kind of experience of God comes through prayer, it comes through frequent reception of the Eucharist, and spending time with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We do not come to know a person principally by reading about them—that is knowing facts about the person—we come to know him by spending time with him. It is only through prayer and the sacraments that the intellectual knowledge we have of God can become experiential knowledge. And if we also know how to suffer well, that is, with patience and thoughtfulness, we will come to experience the mysteries of Christ even more profoundly and more thoroughly. Thus the wisdom we seek, true knowledge of the Good Shepherd, comes through these three: prayer, the sacraments, and suffering, and in some mystical way these three are one. And we can add that a human shepherd worthy of his calling will also be devoted to these things.
Thus on this Good Shepherd Sunday, let us ask the Lord, in his mercy, to allow us to know Him better, and to grow in the gift of wisdom, that we may be counted among the members of his flock, that we both know Him and be known by Him. There is no sacrifice too great to possess this kind of knowledge, for we will never regret knowing Christ too well—we will only regret not having made the effort to truly know Him. “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Sermon for the Third Sunday After Easter
Jubilate Deo, omnis terra – shout with joy unto God all the earth, alleluia; sing ye a psalm to His name, alleluia.
today our Easter joy is given a new color: in each of His earlier resurrection appearances to His disciples, Our Savior had brought them new and abiding gifts: “Pax vobis: my peace I give unto you”; “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are they who have not seen and have believed;” and again, “I am the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep.”
But today He directs our hearts towards the closing mystery in the great Paschal cycle: “Vado ad Patrem: I am going to the Father.” And, in the exchange recorded in today’s Gospel reading, we sense an urgent curiosity among the apostles regarding these remarks of the Lord. In St. John’s inimitable style we hear Jesus and His disciples discussing this question: “a little while and now you shall not see me, and again in a little while you shall see me.” The questioning entourage “what is this ‘little while’ business?” and the Lord’s enigmatic response: “Amen I say to you that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice – but I will see you again and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you!”
In reference to all this, there is little wonder that the texts of today’s Mass are so filled with Alleluias! The curiosity of the Apostles concerning this “little while” has riveted the attention of all believers ever since; though the Gospel text is located in proximity to the crucifixion and resurrection, it has a deeper, mystical sense in its reference to the earthly consummation of the Lord’s Incarnation and His return to glory.
At the Ascension, we will commemorate the Lord’s being lifted from this world and carried physically into the presence of God the Father; at that time those men of Galilee will hear the angels asking them why they are standing there gazing into the heavens, for “this same Lord Jesus will come again in glory as you have seen Him go.” Beloved for the past twenty centuries the “little while” between this departure at Christ’s Ascension and our eternal and inseparable union with Him has been the cause of the Church’s vigilant expectation of His final triumphant glory: a glory He now possesses, a glory towards which we, in this world, are still longing but have foretaste in our participation in the eucharistic banquet, itself a type and foretaste of the heavenly banquet at which the Lord is already seated.
Say unto God “how terrible are Thy works, O Lord! In the multitude of Thy strength Thy enemies shall lie to Thee.” This is not some curious text; we know how fear can inspire lies and flattery from those unwilling to submit to rightful authority. For the children of grace, the Easter triumph finds its reflection in the final exaltation of Christ’s Ascension to the glory of His Father. And the eternal hope of heaven opened by the Redeemer to the children of His kingdom fills us with unspeakable joy. For the enemies of God it – the truth of Christ in glory – fills them with dread: if not now, assuredly so at the moment of their judgment.
Today’s collect takes up the theme: may those in error return to the way of righteousness; that is, to the true path of the Catholic Church and her teachings, by professing the name Christian by doing only what is consonant with Christian faith and morals.
In today’s epistle reading, St. Peter spells out, in all simplicity, the manner of our fidelity to this name we bear: it is not in using our freedom as a cloak for doing malice, but that through our free choices we may show ourselves as servants of God. The “little while” of which our Lord speaks is this present life, that length of time during which we sojourn here below before entering into the beatitude of God in heaven: that joy which no man will take away. This “little while” is the sojourn of our mortal lives as “strangers and pilgrims” in the present world so mixed with sorrow and joy. In it we have the ability to choose or reject that good to which God calls us. The Prince of the Apostles urges us to purity: an uncompromised integrity of body and soul wherein, by obedience to revelation, we will be found justified and vindicated by God at our life’s end. For the “joy no man can take away” is won by a sincere submission now to Him in whose image we have been created and by Whose Divine Son our redemption is made possible.
Christ’s coming again – that cataclysmic event for which genuine Christian faith ardently longs – is understood under two headings. The first is His gentle return to us in grace; the second will be Christ’s return at the end of the created order when He will come again, robed in the terrible splendor of the God that He is, and then judge this world with an exactitude of Divine Justice that will brook no compromise. This definitive coming will cut through the errors and delusions of an obstinate humanity and cast into the abyss any and all who have spurned His love. There will be no appealing to the ‘rights of man’ on that dread day, the Day of the Lord, for then the rights of God will be asserted without appeal.
That is why the liturgy prays in today’s prayer over the gifts that we may have the grace to “subdue earthly desires and learn to love the things of heaven.” We do not always perceive that this earthly pilgrimage is just a “little while”: we must learn to know what Our Lord means when He says, “you will grieve, but your grief will be changed into joy.” For even as we wait, even as we live the daily existence of children of God, we see that sorrow itself has a glint of heavenly joy: for when we see that fleshly desires reveal the bitterness of no lasting satisfaction it is then that our souls come to understand that the shortness of this life is made so because Jesus has gone to His Father. According to St. Augustine even the second coming is not far off: “It seems long now because time is still passing by; but when the wait is over, we shall see how short it was.”
Beloved in Christ, do not let your hearts be troubled by the apparent triumph of evil with which we seem to be surrounded. God has triumphed and will triumph forever even while His enemies now mock and scorn. We are taken for fools while the world rejoices, pursuing its road to perdition: “A woman, when she is in labor hath sorrow because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembers no more the anguish for the joy that a man is born into the world.” We labor as wayfarers in a world that is far removed from God. Yet time is short: have faith in the promises of Our Redeemer. We who share in the delight of His mystic banquet in this life are promised that by humility and grace we will come to an eternal felicity with God in a glory beyond all imagining. Be therefore faithful to God certain that He who died to redeem us from our sins, is standing ready, in the fullness of His own time, to receive our souls into that eternal glory which He has reopened to us by the fruit of His passion and glorious resurrection.
Sermon for Easter Sunday 2018
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
Today we celebrate the Feast of feasts, the origin of our faith, the reason for our hope, the rising from the dead of the One Whom we love and Who loves us and has given Himself for us. Today the whole world rejoices, both rational and irrational, the angels proclaim the news, the sun and moon shine more brightly, the birds sing, the trees and flowers begin to blossom, and the blessed of mankind who believe in His Resurrection glorify Christ as we do this morning.
The Gospel is taken from St. Mark and ends with the women leaving the tomb with an angelic message for the Apostles. It is brief, but it has plenty for our contemplation this day. Above all, it presents to us two figures for our encouragement and consolation, Mary Magdalene and Peter.
Magdalene was one of the faithful women who had accompanied Our Lord throughout His public ministry; having been converted from a sinful life, she loved him immensely. When the events of His Passion began to unfold, she, together with Our Lady and a few other women, followed Jesus through each stage of it as much as they were allowed by the Jewish and Roman authorities. Magdalene walked with Him to Calvary and then adored Him on the Cross as He suffered His last agony and died. She went with Joseph of Arimathea as he buried her Lord, and then came back the next day as soon as possible to anoint His sacred body.
Mary Magdalene is to be praised for her fidelity and for her love. Despite the threats and cruelty of the men who brought about Jesus’ death, she was always near Him, praying for Him and offering what signs of love she could so that He would know He had not labored in vain in freeing souls from the devil. She is the image of those of us who have offered a faithful Lent, one spent with Our Lord in penance and generosity.
Peter was also a faithful disciple of the Lord, having been chosen by Him when He first began His public ministry. He defended Jesus and His teaching and even professed Him to be the Son of God. But after Judas had betrayed Jesus and He was on trial, Peter was asked by a woman at the fire if he was with Christ, he denied it vehemently, and fulfilled the prophecy of Our Lord, despite his boasting at the Last Supper that “Although all shall be scandalized in thee, I will never be scandalized… though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee.” And he ran away and wept, too ashamed and afraid to show himself again, leaving Christ to die on the Cross without him.
Peter, then, is an image of those of us who were unfaithful during Lent; who planned great things but did not act upon them with fidelity; who spoke many words but did very few deeds. In this way, Magdalene and Peter are also signs not only of the soul in Lent but during our entire lives. Some are quietly faithful, who say few words but love ardently and consistently; others say much but do little. But this, as we know, was not the end of Peter, for Jesus told him He had prayed for him that His faith would not fail.
And that is why the angel’s message today brought them both such joy. Because of her undying love, Magdalene was privileged to see the empty tomb and hear the angelic proclamation of the Resurrection. Not only that, we know also from John’s Gospel that she returned to the tomb after telling the Apostles, and Jesus appeared to her, consoling her whose heart burned such that she could not rest until she had seen Him. As Gregory the Great says, “Holy desires increase by delay in their fulfillment; if delay causes them to fail, they were not desires. Anyone who has been able to reach out for the Truth has been on fire with this love. For this reason David has counseled us, saying: ‘Seek his face always.’ And again the Church says to Jesus in the Song of Songs, ‘I have been wounded with love.’”
Why did Magdalene’s message from the angel give Peter joy? Because the angel mentioned him by name, and this, of course, by the direct will of Jesus himself. For if Peter had not heard his name, he would not have had the courage to approach the Lord again. See how wonderful is the gift of divine forgiveness! We are ashamed to approach Him after our infidelity, and so He reaches out to us by subtle gestures, beckoning us to come back to Him. Peter had wept and repented of his sin, and the Lord, who sees our hearts, gave him knowledge of his forgiveness through the angel. Not only did Peter run with John to see the empty tomb, we know from Luke that Jesus appeared to him alone on the same day He had appeared to Magdalene while she was alone. The power of His resurrection rewarded the fidelity of the one and erased the infidelity of the other.
So today, whether we be like Magdalene or Peter, let us rejoice this day, and let no worldly sadness weigh us down. Christ is risen from the grave, and we with Him. The lover of mankind has died for love of us, and now lives again that we might have hope. He has chosen us out of this confused, unbelieving, dying world so that we may be its light and save ourselves and any who will listen to the angelic message. We are blessed, dear friends, for those who know the truth and the power of Christ’s Resurrection are truly blessed and chosen by God. May we rejoice this day to receive His Body and Blood into our souls and thank Him with all our hearts for His love for us.
Today we have the privilege also of celebrating two First Holy Communions, eminently fitting, for Christ feeds us not with His flesh dead on the Cross, but with His glorified body, reigning triumphant in heaven. Let us be glad for Magdalene and Micah and rejoice for them and with them to receive His Body and Blood into our souls, thanking Him with all our hearts for His love for us.
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept.
To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages! Amen!