Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
April 5, 2015
Acts 10:34.37-43, Ps 118, Col 3:1-4, Jn 20:1-9
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
The Joy of Easter
“This is the day the Lord has made,” Christians sing all over the world today. “Let us rejoice and be glad” is our reaction. While God gives us every day of our life and for which we should never cease to thank him, today is the most special day on which the Lord who created the world in the beginning remakes it. “O God, who wonderfully created human nature and still more wonderfully redeemed it,” we prayed last night after hearing the Creation account in the Easter Vigil. The recreated world is even more beautiful than the created one. The Lord has made us for this day, to experience the recreation, the new life Easter brings. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus said, “Behold I make all things new!” Today Jesus not only renews all of creation through his overcoming of sin andthe death and disorder introduced into the world by sin, but wants to make us new, too.
St. Paul describes in today’s second reading how we enter into that dramatic transformation: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The new and improved human life Jesus wishes to give us involves new goals, new aspirations. It involves a death to the old Adam in us and a resurrection to the New. It involves lifting up our hearts and our lives to the Lord. If we live this day as God wants to help us to live it, if we permit the Lord to remake us this day in his image and likeness, then we will experience the joy and gladness of this most sacred day.
Joy is meant to be our fundamental response to this day. Catholic Churches throughout the world exploded with joy last night in the Easter Proclamation describing the joy of Jesus’ resurrection. “Rejoice, let Mother Church rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of [Jesus’ risen] glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.” In the hymns we sing, we burst with that building-shaking gladness. In The Strife is Over, we sing, “O Let us swell the joyful strain.” In Christ the Lord is Risen Today, we tell each other, “Raise your joys and triumphs high.” In the great Marian antiphon sung each of the 50 days of the Easter season, the Regina Caeli, we chant, “Be Joyful, Mary, Heavenly Queen!” The entire season is an Ode to Joy given to God at the gift he gives us today. The Eucharistic Preface of the Easter Mass most effectively summarizes this Easter attitude: “Overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise” as with all the angels and heavenly powers we praise and thank God “yet more gloriously” on this day “above all.” Jesus came into the world, as he said to us on Holy Thursday, so that “my joy may be in you and your joy be complete!” Today is the day in which he wants to give us that fullness.
Becoming Icons of Joy
Last night we pondered St. John Paul II’s words that consecrated men and women are called to be “living signs of the Resurrection and of its treasures of virginity, poverty and obedience,” “visible signs of the passage from death to life,” “the prolongation in history of a special presence of the Risen Lord.” In this Year of Consecrated Life, meant to renew all those who profess the evangelical counsels in the full meaning of their vocations and help all other Christians learn from their “more intimate consecration” how to live out the Christian’s baptismal entrance into Christ’s consecration, there is a special summons for consecrated men and women to be renewed in joy. “Where there are consecrated people,” Pope Francis said in a get together with seminarians and novices in July 2013, “there is joy. There is always joy! It is the joy of freshness, the joy of following Jesus, the joy that the Holy Spirit gives us. … There is joy.” True joy, he went on to say, doesn’t come from the world, it doesn’t come from things or from possessing. Rather, Pope Francis says, joy “is born from the encounter, from the relationship with others, it is born from feeling accepted, understood and loved, and from accepting, from understanding and from loving. … Joy is born from the gratuitousness of an encounter! It is hearing someone say, but not necessarily with words: “You are important to me.” This is beautiful…. And it is these very words that God makes us understand. In calling you God says to you: “You are important to me, I love you, I am counting on you.” Jesus says this to each one of us! Joy is born from that! The joy of the moment in which Jesus looked at me. Understanding and hearing this is the secret of our joy. Feeling loved by God, feeling that for him we are not numbers but people; and hearing him calling us.” Today, on the day Jesus rises from the dead showing us his transfigured and no longer bleeding wounds, Jesus tells us how important we are to him, that he loves us enough to go to Calvary 1,000 times for us and be tortured 1,000 times worse to take away our sins and restore us to communion with him and each other; how important we are to him that he would consecrate us — cut us off from the world to be with him, so that we, united by him, might be sent back into the world to complete his mission — to infect the world with this joy, the joy that prompts us to serve with love, the joy that seeks to help everyone else have a similar encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus.
If we’re going to celebrate Easter Sunday well, if we’re truly going to live the Christian life, we must be joyful and glad. This has been one of the principal messages of Pope Francis since his election two years ago. At he wrote in his apostolic exhortation to every Catholic of the world entitled The Joy of the Gospel, the fundamental reform of the Church he believes Christ is calling him to lead is one in which Catholics experience the true joy of the Gospel, the joy of believing and living our faith, and contagiously bring that joy to others. He said, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter,” who live as if they always have “just come back from a funeral.” That is not the Christian way! Consecrated men and women are called to wake the world up to the joy of the Gospel by helping the world experience the life-changing happiness of the true encounter with the Lord Jesus.
Pope Francis’ thoughts in that exhortation are a powerful way for us all to learn how to live Easter right. He begins his exhortation saying, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” The Holy Father admits that the Christian life isn’t devoid of crosses, but states that Christians find joy even in the Crosses because of our knowledge of how Good Friday leads to Easter when we unite those Crosses to the Lord. “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice,” he declares. “Our Christian joy drinks of [Jesus’] brimming heart. He promises his disciples [before his Passion]: ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy’ (Jn 16:20). He then goes on to say: ‘But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you’” (Jn 16:22). After his resurrection he fulfilled that promise, the Pope says, as St. John describes happened on Easter Sunday evening, “The disciples ‘rejoiced’ (Jn 20:20) at the sight of the risen Christ. “
Pope Francis says that Christians need to be overcome with Paschal joy because the “heart of the Christian message will always be the same,” in humanly good times and in bad, in poverty and prosperity, in sickness and in health. That message is about “the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ.” The fundamental Christian proclamation, the Gospel, is: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” “When everything is said and done,” Pope Francis observes, “we are infinitely loved.” The Holy Father recognizes “the grief of people who have to endure great suffering,” but he says “slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.” The Resurrection gives us hope. “If we think that things are not going to change, we need to recall that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death and is now almighty. Jesus Christ truly lives. … Christ, risen and glorified, is the wellspring of our hope, and he will not deprive us of the help we need.”
But the Holy Father says that if we’re going to experience this fountain of hope and joy, we need to live with Jesus in the present, we need to enter into communion with his joy and hope, we need to receive his strength even in our weakness. “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past,” Pope Francis emphasizes. “It contains a vital power that has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection. … Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain.”
This vital power of Jesus’ resurrection is at work not just out there in the world but also inside of each of us, and this is at the root of our Christian joy, the joy of the Gospel. But it’s not enough for us to experience this joy individually. In his exhortation, Pope Francis summons us to share that joy. The joy flowing from Jesus’ brimming heart into ours is supposed to flow from ours into others. Just like last night during the Easter Vigil, we all lit tapers from the Paschal Candle showing how Jesus, symbolized by the Paschal Candle, lights each of us, symbolized by the tapers, on fire; and just like we all spread that flame to our neighbors by lighting their tapers in turn; so Jesus wants to illumine us with his joy, the joy of the Resurrection, the joy of the Gospel and have us spread that joy to others. The way to increase our joy is precisely to do this. We all know that if we were to take a lit taper outside on a windy day, it would almost certainly be extinguished. We can’t surround it with our hands and body sufficiently to protect it from the wind. The only way to keep the flame alive is to make it grow, to join it to many lit tapers so that it becomes a huge bonfire that not even strong winds can really extinguish. It’s the same way with Christian joy. It grows by sharing, because then our own joy is increased by seeing the joy of Jesus change the life of another..
Our joy from Jesus compels us to share that joy with those we care about, those we love and even strangers for whom Jesus out of love died. Pope Francis says, “We are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize!” We share the faith so that others may be happy.
The Joy of the Resurrection and the Consecrated Life
For those in consecrated life, there is a special summons to show the root of joy in the evangelical counsels. So often our lack of joy comes from seeking our joy in things that can’t deliver it. We seek it in possessions, forgetting that life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, but in the joy of the merchant who finds and obtains the pearl of great price who is God. We seek it in relationships that often can’t be ordered to the true, lasting, committed, fruitful, faithful love that we ultimately seek from God. We seek it in getting our own way, in calling the shots, in being in control. But materialism, hedonism and individualism cannot bring us joy even if we had all the money, all the pleasure and all the authority in the world. It can only come from the encounter with God. And consecrated men and women show us that this joy comes through uniting ourselves with the poor, chaste and obedient Risen Lord Jesus! True joy comes as we follow the Lord on an exodus from self-absorption. True joy comes from imitating the Lord in giving our lives for God and others out of love. True joy comes from the experience of a genuinely loving community, fed and united by this mutual encounter with Christ not just on the outside but on the inside through union with his body and blood.
Blessed Paul VI talked about this joy in his tremendous 1975 apostolic exhortation Gaudete in Domino, “Rejoice in the Lord.” He said Christian joy is a demanding joy patterned on Jesus’ own joy. It’s a joy that begins with the beatitudes, with poverty, with hunger, with weeping, with persecution, with purity. It’s a joy that has its roots in the form of a Cross. “In a mysterious way,” Paul VI wrote, “Christ Himself accepts death at the hands of the wicked and death on the cross, in order to eradicate from man’s heart the sins of self-sufficiency and to manifest to the Father a complete filial obedience. But the Father has not allowed death to keep Him in its power. The resurrection of Jesus is the seal placed by the Father on the value of His Son’s sacrifice: it is the proof of the Father’s fidelity, according to the desire expressed by Jesus before He enters into His passion: “Father…glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you.” Henceforth, Jesus is living forever in the glory of the Father, and this is why the disciples were confirmed in an ineradicable joy when they saw the Lord on Easter evening. It remains that, here below, the joy of the kingdom brought to realization can only spring from the simultaneous celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord. This is the paradox of the Christian condition that sheds particular light on that of the human condition: neither trials nor sufferings have been eliminated from this world, but they take on a new meaning in the certainty of sharing in the redemption wrought by the Lord and of sharing in His glory. This is why the Christian, though subject to the difficulties of human life, is not reduced to groping for the way; nor does he see in death the end of his hopes. … The Easter Exultet sings of a mystery accomplished beyond the hopes of the prophets: in the joyful announcement of the resurrection, even man’s suffering finds itself transformed, while the fullness of joy springs from the victory of the Crucified, from His pierced heart and His glorified body. This victory enlightens the darkest souls. Paschal joy is not just that of a possible transfiguration: it is the joy of the new presence of the Risen Christ dispensing to His own the Holy Spirit, so that He may dwell with them. The Holy Spirit is given to the Church as the inexhaustible principle of her joy as the bride of the glorified Christ. … The Holy Spirit raises up a filial prayer that springs forth from the depths of the soul and is expressed in praise, thanksgiving, reparation and supplication. Then we can experience joy which is properly spiritual, the joy which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It consists in the human spirit’s finding repose and a deep satisfaction in the possession of the Triune God, known by faith and loved with the charity that comes from Him. Such a joy henceforth characterizes all the Christian virtues. The humble human joys in our lives, which are like seeds of a higher reality, are transfigured. Here below this joy will always include to a certain extent the painful trial of a woman in travail and a certain apparent abandonment, like that of the orphan: tears and lamentation, while the world parades its gloating satisfaction. But the disciples’ sadness, which is according to God and not according to the world, will be promptly changed into a spiritual joy that no one will be able to take away from them.”
Joy and the Eucharist
Today on this Easter Sunday, on this day the Lord has made, we rejoice and are glad, and we seek together with Jesus to share that happiness with others. And the greatest way we do that is in the way Jesus taught us to do it, here at Mass, not just on Easter Sunday but on what the early saints called the “little Easter” of each Lord’s day, and for those of us in the priesthood and consecrated life, every day. It’s here that we come to celebrate the special day every day is meant to be, the day the Lord gives us to rejoice in and be glad, the day on which he remakes us in his image. Today, “overcome with Paschal joy” that flows into the enthusiasm of all our hymns, our sung and recited responses, in the peace we give to each other, let us get ready to receive Jesus’ risen body and blood so that he may make us new, so that he may help us to seek the things that are above, so that he may help us “see and believe,” and inspire us to go to bring to others this Joy of the Gospel that Jesus lives, that he loves us, and that he is at our side every day — so that they with us may experience the joy Jesus came to give us all to the full! “Where there are consecrated, … there is joy!,” because they are living signs of Jesus’ risen joy! Amen! Alleluia!
These were the readings for Easter Sunday Mass:
Reading 1 ACTS 10:34A, 37-43
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
“The right hand of the LORD has struck with power;
the right hand of the LORD is exalted.
I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the LORD.”
R. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
R. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
Reading 2 COL 3:1-4
If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.
Or 1 COR 5:6B-8
Brothers and sisters:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Sequence – Victimæ Paschali Laudes
Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Alleluia CF. 1 COR 5:7
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed;
let us then feast with joy in the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 20:1-9
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.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and 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.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.