Homily of Bishop Kevin at Easter Sunday Mass 2018
It was early in the morning on the first day of the week. At the office of the Jerusalem Post, Judith had just made herself a cup of coffee when the phone began to ring. “Yes”, she answered. The boy on the other end of the line didn’t want to give his name. He told her that the body of one of the three criminals crucified on Friday had been stolen from the tomb on the hillside at Golgotha. Rumours were going around, he said, that Jesus had risen from the dead.
It was still fairly quiet in the streets outside. The city was always very slow to wake up on the morning after one of the big religious festivals. Judith tried to get people to comment on the breaking news. One fat merchant just brushed past her almost knocking her over. A woman, pushing a buggy and holding another child by the hand said she had heard the story but she had more to do than to be bothered about it. A lawyer, dressed in fine robes smugly said, “no comment”.
Just then she noticed a group of three women on a street-corner. They seemed to be very excited about something. Judith asked them if they had heard the rumours. “He’s alive. Jesus is alive” one of the women said, full of excitement. “We have seen him with our own eyes”, said another. We have to tell Peter and the others. He is going to meet them in Galilee. With that the three women rushed off.
The first time I heard the Easter story told in this way was when it was acted out by a group of children in the parish where I was working. It has to be about twenty years ago now. The child who played the part of Mary was jumping up and down with excitement.
The child-journalist in the story went on to do her piece to camera. She commented on how certain the three women seemed to be that Jesus was alive. Then she sowed the seed of doubt, as journalists tend to do. How could this story possibly be true, since most of the people she had spoken to seemed to have heard nothing about it and certainly weren’t interested in talking about it?
That was when the child playing the part of the narrator turned directly to the congregation in the parish Church and she said. “You know there is a certain validity in what the journalist is saying. Week after week we come together in this Church to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. A lot of the time we don’t even talk to one another. If you look at the faces of people on the way out, there isn’t much sign of excitement or joy. Surely, if Jesus is alive, we should be able to see the joy in the faces of the people.”
In fairness, I think there is a good spirit of community here in the Cathedral Parish. I looked around me when I was blessing the Congregation at the Easter Vigil and I said to myself, we call these people the “faithful” and you know, it is a very good description, because that is what they are. But there is a certain truth in what the narrator said. We are not always very good at reflecting the “joy of the Gospel”. There is a sense in which our Irish Catholicism seems to be associated with long-faces. Maybe it has something to do with our history. I know that Christians from Africa and from Asia find it a bit strange.
The first encyclical letter of Pope Francis (evangelii gaudium) is all about the joy of the Gospel. He talks about the vibrant joy of the first Christians and how it spilled over to touch the people around them. The Gospel, he tells us, is full of invitations to rejoice. But then he goes on to say:
There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. (EG 6)
Obviously there are lots of reasons for sadness, especially in moments of difficulty, but I think what Pope Francis is saying is that we have to allow the joy of faith the break into those dark spaces in our lives.
Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.(EG 7)
On Holy Thursday, I listened carefully as Fr. Yashin spoke to us about the importance of presence. He spoke about how we can hold people in our hearts even when the distance between us is great. He spoke about the great gift that Jesus gives us, through being present to us in the Eucharist and how one of the challenges of discipleship is for us to be present to him and to one another.
I was thinking to myself that encounter is very closely connected with presence. Encounter is the presence that comes after absence. The joy of encountering Jesus is what drove Mary Magdalen into the streets of Jerusalem. Mary had the privilege of being the first witness of the Lord’s resurrection, the first who saw the empty tomb and the first to hear the truth about his resurrection. As an eyewitness to the risen Christ, she was also the first one to bear witness to him among the Apostles. For that reason, she is described by St. Thomas Aquinas as the “Apostle of the Apostles”.
I love to see the joy on the faces of little children coming for their blessing at Holy Communion time. Recently I celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time with a little child and she was so happy. The Gospel tells us that there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance”. Nobody is excluded from the joy of the risen Christ, but perhaps we all need to celebrate the Sacrament as if it were for the first time.
Some of our sacramental moments have been turned into routine and others have been privatised, especially Baptisms and Marriages. In that way, the community of faith neither has the possibility of contributing to the joy or being enriched by it.
By contrast, listen for a moment to the chorus of the hymn for the World Meeting of Families:
The joy of love, a joy for all God’s family,
The joy of love transcending time and space.
Our Love for each other mirrors God the Father’s love.
The joy of love: a joy for all the earth.
I’m delighted that, this morning we have the possibility of sharing in the joy of Aidan and Lorraine, as they celebrate the Baptism of Harry James.
We sometimes ask ourselves about the future of the Church. How can we get more people to come to Mass on Sunday? How can we get more people to come to Confession? How can we hold onto young people after Confirmation? How can we get a few more priests? I’m not entirely sure that these are the right questions, but it seems to me that the answer we are looking for has something to do with “joy” and that “joy” has something to do with a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, in his word, in the sacraments, in prayer and in one another. That is the secret of evangelisation and I believe that, if we start with encounter, everything else will follow.
I leave you with a few lines from the Sequence which we proclaimed together a few moments ago. These words capture the joy of Mary; the joy of the whole Church.
Tell us, Mary: say what thou didst see upon the way.
The tomb the Living did enclose;
I saw Christ’s glory as he rose!
The angels there attesting;
shroud with grave-clothes resting.
Christ, my hope, has risen: he goes before you into Galilee.
That Christ is truly risen from the dead we know.
Victorious king, thy mercy show!