A. On this particular Easter Sunday, taking place during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I can’t help but think of Msgr. Art Valenzano. As many of you know, Msgr. Art served as Rector of this historic Basilica until his death last September. When I met him for the first time, in March 2012, he already had been suffering from leukemia for nearly ten years. And while he was receiving the best medical treatment available, a complete recovery seemed very unlikely.
B. Msgr. Art would survive three more years. Yet the word “survive” hardly does him justice. Although his bodily life was ebbing away, Msgr. Art lived his life, his faith, and his priesthood to the fullest. It wasn’t merely his sunny disposition or his sense of humor that enlivened and uplifted those of us who were fortunate enough to know him well. Rather, it was the fact that, as his illness progressed, a new and indestructible life clearly had taken root in the depth of his being. He lived the life of the Risen Lord who shows us “the face of the Father’s mercy”. Msgr. Art was a man and a priest of gentleness and mercy and he believed with all his heart, mind, soul, and body in the power of God’s mercy to triumph over sin and death. He went into eternity “fully alive”, utterly confident in the power of the Resurrection, convinced that even his body would someday share in the resurrection of the dead.
II. Entering the Mystery
A. Today we celebrate the source of Msgr. Art’s unshakeable hope: the Resurrection of Christ crucified – for our sake and for the world’s salvation. Msgr. Art did not base his hope in the resuscitation of corpse, even that of Jesus, nor was his hope anchored in mere apparitions or mystical experiences. No, Msgr. Art’s faith – like the faith of the entire Church from the very beginning – is anchored in the stunning newness of Jesus’ humanity after the Resurrection. To be sure, the Risen Lord Jesus is the same Lord Jesus who was crucified. After the Resurrection, the Apostles spoke with Jesus. They could touch him with their hands. They ate and drank with him. Yet the Risen Lord, still fully clothed in our humanity, was not the same as before. His humanity, including his body, bearing the wounds of the Cross, was clothed with divine immortality and glory, the same immortality and glory the Apostles had seen in the Transfiguration. No wonder St. Paul the Apostle exults in his letter to the Romans, “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him” (Romans 6:9).
B. How great is this mystery, the central mystery of the Church’s faith! In the Gospel we read how the Apostles Peter and John peered into the tomb, or to use the words of Pope Francis, they ‘entered the mystery.’ When they entered, they saw that the tomb was empty and that the burial cloths were neatly folded and put in a separate place – an indication, Scripture scholars tell us, that the tomb had not been robbed but rather that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Indeed, what Peter & John witnessed in the tomb was the work of the Blessed Trinity. The Father sent his Son to into the world to reveal his mercy. The Son took upon himself the sins of all humanity by dying on the Cross. Divine mercy conquered sin and death when Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:11). This is the greatest manifestation of God’s power and might: his mercy – Grace triumphed over sin. Hope over despair. Life over death.
III. The Resurrection and Us
A. The Gospel of John tells us that Peter and James looked into the tomb, and believed. Yet it also tells us that “they did not yet understand the Scripture that [Jesus] had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). Peter and the Apostles would fully grasp the mystery of the Resurrection only with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” (Rom. 8:11).
B. In a few moments, dear friends, we will renew our baptismal promises. Not only will we express our resistance to the power of sin and evil in our lives, but we will also profess our faith in Christ, crucified and risen, and our belief in the resurrection of the dead. As we do so, let us ask ourselves: Are we like those Apostles who believed yet did not really understand what the mystery of the Lord’s rising means for us— for our daily lives, for our relationships, and for our troubled world?
C. In rising from the dead, Jesus’ changed my humanity and yours. He opened up in our human nature a new space, new room for God. The Risen Lord has unlocked for us the real possibility of sharing even now, in this life, the never-ending friendship of a God who is love and whose mercy is indestructible. Our faith is not about following rules that limit our freedom and cause unhappiness – it’s about the living the new life of love manifest in the Risen Lord and in his wounds. Nor is the faith merely about improving our lives, making them better. No, the Risen Lord wants to transform our lives thoroughly, in a spiritual rebirth in the waters of Baptism. So, while living in this world, you & I are given a new source of life, a new kind of life: a life of joy in which God’s mercy overcomes all that deadens our humanity.
D. Pope Francis teaches us that even after Baptism; as he put it: “[w]e all have within us some areas, some parts of our heart that are not alive, that are a little dead; and some of us have many dead places in our hearts, a true spiritual necrosis!” (Homily 6 IV 2014) . . . . . . things like broken relationships, estrangement from God and from others, various forms of egotism and self-centeredness, addictions, anger, and resentment, indifference to the needs of others, especially the poor and the vulnerable. Or to use the language of the writer C.S. Lewis, when the Risen Lord enters your life “he begins to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin!”
E. Living the Resurrection means submitting the dead places, the tin, to the Lord of Life, by going to confession frequently and worthily, by coming to Mass each Sunday to be nourished by the Risen Lord in the Eucharist. This is how we continually pass from the death of sin to the new life of grace. This is how one day we will pass over from life on earth to life with God in eternity.
IV. Conclusion: The Challenge of Mercy Sunday
A. After the disciples encountered the Risen Lord, try as they might, it was no longer business as usual. Peter, James, and John could no longer be ordinary fishermen, nor could Matthew return to being a tax collector. During the forty days following the Resurrection of Jesus they struggled to understand a wholly new reality for which they were not prepared. They were joyous yet fearful; believing yet full of doubts. Only the Holy Spirit enabled them to understand “what they had seen with their eyes and touched with their hands” (I Jn. 1:1).
B. The same is true for you and me. Tomorrow we will return to our daily occupations but not to “business as usual.” If you are an occasional Catholic, this is the time to reexamine your faith. If you are a disaffected Catholic, this is the time to be reconciled. If you find yourself stuck in some really difficult situation or find that your faith has lost its zest and vitality – pray to the Holy Spirit that may you experience an interior resurrection, a resurrection of the spirit, so that we might say with St. Irenaeus, ‘the glory of God is man fully alive!’
C. Let me end with a challenge. Next Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday in which we focus on God’s forgiveness. It was given that name by St. John Paul II and Pope Francis has highlighted its importance in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. If you did not make a good, unburdening confession of your sins during Lent, I invite you next Sunday to take part in Divine Mercy devotions and to take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation so as to share in the triumph of mercy – in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. And for now I join Bishop Madden in wishing you and your loved ones a very blessed and happy Easter! The Lord is risen! Indeed He is truly risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!