Archive for April, 2010

Homily for the Closing Liturgy for the Living Eucharist: SENT Conference

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Webster’s Dictionary defines to preach as “to give moral or religious advice, especially in a tiresome manner.” In his marvelous new book Why Go to Church? Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP quotes Anthony Trollope as saying:

There is perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented…He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we Sindbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God’s service distasteful.

I shall resist a number of temptations to retrace our journey from “gathered to sent” and spend these few moments, hopefully not boring, concentrating on what the Word of God says to us this afternoon. To provide a framework, allow me the liberty to use the four letters of the word “sent” and attempt to apply them to our lives.

When at the end of the Eucharist we are dismissed from the assembly or “sent” we are invited to take the Christ whom we have received into our particular worlds. We are as has been said so often in these last three years “to become who we receive.” Since Jesus defined His mission among us as coming as “One to serve and not to be served”, the “S” in sent might stand for serving our brothers and sisters – in our community, in our workplace, in our school, in our neighborhoods, in our book clubs and men’s clubs. In my busy world, you have every right to ask, how can I find the time to serve others? My response would be that there are many ways available right here in our local areas: preparing and serving a meal at Pinellas Hope as 170 of you did last Christmas morning, shaping the political priorities of our elected representatives through involvement in community organizing efforts like FAST and HOPE, devoting whatever discretionary time you might have to the ministries of mercy like life issues, shelter ministries, visitation ministry – to the lonely elderly, the homebound, the imprisoned. The early Church grew despite overwhelming risk and obstacles precisely because they cared for one another, they prayed together and celebrated Eucharist together and they SHARED with one another, as we heard in the first reading from ACTS.

The “E” in “sent” means we are dismissed from the assembly to evangelize, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to win the hearts and minds of others not of our faith but also to deepen our own Catholic faith. Again from the first reading from Acts, simply living in happiness and joy, being sincere and praising God will win the favor of others and the number of believers will increase. In a world of increasing polarization, the Church must be on guard to preach the truth with love but not to alienate with public punishment. The early Church thrived after the Council of Jerusalem in 64 AD because it was inclusive – all were welcome then, all are welcome now in this place. The new evangelization means helping others as well as ourselves find Christ who was forgiving, loving, welcoming. risk-taking, and all-embracing. He saved his strongest words for those primary teachers of the faith who found it easy to stand in judgment of the failures of others, held laws and religious prescript above love and who attempted to define a religious elitism based on their own private interpretation of commandments and laws.

Sadly there is a tendency in our Church today towards drawing lines in the sand, defining those who “get it” from those who don’t. Evangelization means that we return to the practice of the early Church, draw our strength and our unity from “the breaking of the bread” and then share it with Christ-like openness to others who come to a sense of awe at the gift we share.

The “N” was the hardest of our four letters for me. Serving and evangelizing were relatively easy as was the “T” which I will get to in a moment. It was the Gospel of the Third Sunday of Easter that finally opened my eyes to something I have often overlooked. You know the story. Jesus appears after the Resurrection to the disciples along the Sea of Tiberias. He invites them to breakfast. They catch so many fish that their nets practically fall apart. It dawned on me then that as people sent, we still are invited to cast our nets into the sea of our lives and bring to the table the many. “N” then, at least for this moment, stands for “netting.” We also must learn to cast our nets more broadly.

Net fishing, as anyone who has ever watched The Deadliest Catch knows often brings up surprises – the unwanted, the scary, and the scavenger. Casting a net is an act of faith. There will be those times when nothing surfaces in the net and there will be those moments when the net seems full to the breaking point. Being sent means that we are willing to fish wherever the Lord directs us. We must be prepared for the mixed bag, or better yet, “mixed net” which sometimes brings disappointment but also can bring joy. When we feel sent to cast our nets, we know that not every cast will land a great catch. We place our lives, our ministry, and our service in the hands of the Lord Himself. We fish for others and at the end of the day, we gather to share as St. Paul says to the Corinthians the one bread, the one body, the one loaf. We cast our nets for the unity of the world in the one Lord. Our very Eucharistic Initiative, Gathered, Nourished and Sent of these last three years has been an experience of casting our nets to appreciate even more our catch.

Finally, the letter “T”. Since most of you here today are teachers and catechists of our Catholic faith, you and I are sent to teach. I suggest we conclude this reflection with a moment of study of the pedagogy of Jesus with his disciples along the road to Emmaus, our Gospel. You know the story so well that I will only concentrate on the methodology of Jesus. To bring them to a full recognition of who He is, he first unpacks the Scriptures for them. Patiently, plainly, and repeatedly he teaches them the meaning of what they have already heard if not yet learned and interiorized. Through His teaching, they grow in their trust of the stranger; they suspend their suspicions and open their hearts and minds for Him. It is only when they reach their destination and he remains for dinner that they finally connect the dots and come to full realization of who they are talking to.

The Lord sends each of us from his table, this table, into the world to teach by word and example what it means to be a Catholic Christian. It takes time and patience. It takes repetition and repartee which I define as respectful dialogue. It is my hope that after these three years of focusing on the great gift of self which Jesus gave us in the Eucharist, we are better able now to feel called to be sent, sent to serve, sent to evangelize, sent to cast our nets, sent to teach. Sunday Eucharist will cease being an obligation and become more an exciting moment when heaven and earth join as we participate in the body and blood of Christ, recognizing and becoming like Him in the breaking of the bread – this to me is precisely what it means to be SENT.

The text of the homily is available as a PDF document.

gathered, nourished, SENT

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

This Friday and Saturday are important days in the life of our local Church. For the third time in as many years, we will assemble at the Tampa Bay Convention Center for the third and final of our special concentrations on rediscovering the gift of the Eucharist. (You can visit the Living Eucharist website for more information.) At the present moment, there are about 2300 persons registered for Friday, nearly 1000 for Saturday morning and 400 youth of the diocese, also for Saturday morning. The Friday all-day session will conclude with the celebration of the Eucharist appropriately enough and a “commissioning” moment as we are sent from the Lord’s table back into our individual worlds from which we came but this time, hopefully, to evangelize, promote justice and peace, and build up the body of Christ. Originally conceived as a way of teaching the teachers, we concentrated on our Catholic school administrators and faculty, catechists and leaders of our religious education programs, and staff of parishes, it quickly became evident that there was a significant interest among the general diocesan population. Some parishes have spent a great deal of time and effort in education programs about the Eucharist between the convocations and report that the three years have been “Spirit inspired.” Some, as always, have done nothing which is a pity but a fact of life in the Church today.

Our diocesan effort has been guided by a core committee of people who have worked tirelessly on details, program, speakers, additional materials beyond those given out at the convocations, etc. These “giants of the faith” in our midst are tired but they know they have helped something wonderful happen. We began by focusing on the Liturgy of the Word or “Gathered” and last year we focused on the Liturgy of the Eucharist or “Nourished.” This year we conclude with the responsibilities all of us share by virtue of baptism, the last words of the Eucharistic celebration, “Go in the peace of Christ to love God and one another” or SENT. Each convocation has been preceded by three days of the major presenters interacting with the priests of the diocese: Father J-Glenn Murray, SJ focused our attention on proclaiming God’s word, Father Ed Foley, OFM Cap. focused our attention on the stunning beauty and rich meaning of the Eucharistic liturgy and this year, Fathers J. Bryan Hehir and Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP will share with us their vision of our obligation to do the work of justice in our world. Father Hehir is special assistant to Cardinal Sean O’Malley in Boston, arriving at that position after many distinguished years at the bishops’ conference in Washington and teaching at Georgetown and Harvard. Father Radcliffe is from England and is the former Master General of the world-wide Dominican order and author of a neat book entitled Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist. He has personally experienced the strengths and weaknesses of today’s Church around the world. Our priests enjoyed him very much last October and you will also if you are planning to come to the Tampa Convention Center this week-end.

This morning’s newspapers, radio and television reported on a massive traffic jam in downtown Tampa today caused by a heavily attended self-help seminar at the St. Pete Times Forum. What a gift to the Lord it would be if Friday they report, thousands of people are descending on Tampa to attend something concocted by the Catholic Church (We can’t expect them to understand or appreciate the significance of the Eucharist in our lives can we?). Maybe Jesus can garner as much attention as the self-help gurus in our midst today. I hope and I pray so. See you on Friday or Saturday, I hope and I pray.

+RNL

SHEPHERD

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

This week-end I will be presiding at two anniversary of ordinations Masses, one a golden thanking God for fifty years of priesthood and the second a silver thanking God for twenty-five years. In looking at the Gospel for this Sunday, I note that it is “Good Shepherd” Sunday with the famous Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. I will write some thoughts about the two jubilarians and their Masses early next week but today my thoughts turn once again to something which a year ago I thought was largely behind us but even this morning looms larger than I ever imagined. I sometimes wonder how much more our good priests serving us today can take, and I might add the same applies to bishops, as day after day we pick up the newspaper and read of the abuse of minors by priests, and today a bishop, albeit not in our country. At the same time I wonder how much more those who have been abused can take as they are the primary objects of our concern and desire for healing and their wounds are often reopened  with each new report.

Sexual abuse is far too commonplace in our society and any priest who counsels or hears confessions can tell you that we encounter it regularly in our lives as shepherds. Usually, it occurs at the family level – a step-father, even sadly sometimes a grandfather, a parent, an older sibling. It is painful enough to try and help those find the strength, stamina and support to seek either relief or help. It also occurs in our institutions in which we regularly place trust: the public schools, the scouts, etc. I heard a statistic recently that in the last ten years, nineteen teachers in the Pinellas County School system have been accused and found guilty of sexual misconduct with minors. I might add, and this is not by way of bragging but by way of comparative statistics that in the same time period, the diocese has had only one  accusation against a priest. But priest shepherds do occupy positions of great trust and when that trust is violated it is a sin which practically cries out to heaven for vengeance. I repeat that I properly think that the safest place for a child today is on the campus of a Catholic parish and/or school. Still we bear a special burden as priests in this time which constantly reminds us of  the “sins of the fathers” and tends to paint all with the same brush of guilt. If historically in this country less than 2% of the priests of the last 50 years abused minors, that means 98% of priests have tried to be the good shepherds of this week-end’s Gospel, a fact which is often lost or overlooked by those reporting on our failures.

Establishing credibility in this regard is not easy when the former Cardinal head of an important office of the Holy See writes a letter to a diocesan bishop congratulating  him for not reporting the sexual misconduct of one of this priests to the police and then today defends the letter as an appropriate behavior of a bishop. I will have none of that here. He is simply wrong and does not speak for the Church. Other leaders past and present outside of the United States do the image of the Good Shepherd no help when they voice doubts and try to minimalize the situation presently being faced. How much longer can the 98% who love and serve their people take all of this. I have no idea but I can say that it makes a lot of us sick.

The Florida Legislature is likely to pass or has today passed legislation extending the statute of limitations for criminal and civil action to basically one’s lifetime. The Catholic Church of Florida has not opposed this legislation even though I and others are suspicious that it is largely aimed at us. The “sovereign immunity” enjoyed by the public school system and other agencies of the state prohibits actions against them regardless of whether or not they take appropriate action to create and enforce a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults, but if the action of the legislature will save one child, one child from being abused or help them heal or experience justice then it is good legislation.

To end this reflection, if you read this before attending week-end Mass this Good Shepherd Sunday, and you are grateful for the ministry of the priests of your parish, this would be a good week-end to tell them. The best of them are embarrassed beyond belief at what has befallen a call which they believed to have come from the Lord to serve as shepherds of a community of believers and to make the Lord present in the sacraments of the Church. It is my job as bishop and that of my brothers to provide the Church with every precaution to see that this horrible chapter of our history is not repeated, to be accountable and transparent, to civil authority and to God’s people, and to put into place those safeguards which allow trust to once again be placed in priests and bishops.

+RNL

SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL FOR GOD

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
The darkness begins to fade as the light of the Paschal Candle is shared

The darkness begins to fade as the light of the Paschal Candle is shared

The pastor, associate pastor and people of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo were full of pride and joy Saturday night as their new Church was dedicated. Using the famous words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Father Kenneth Malley the pastor more than four years ago asked the people of the parish if they were willing to give back “something beautiful for God” in the form of a permanent Church. They replied then that they were willing to both contribute money and make the sacrifices necessary to undertake the construction and  furnishing of a new Church. Saturday night belonged to God, St. Catherine herself and the people of the parish. I always say that next to the liturgy of ordination of new priests, the consecration and dedication of a new Church is the loveliest of liturgies. It engages all the senses. The ceremony begins in darkness as the sun is setting with only slight illumination on the altar and ambo (place where the scriptures are proclaimed) – just enough to get by. The Church and altar and people are sprinkled from the new baptismal font at the beginning of Mass. The Liturgy of the Word takes place in the darkening Church followed by a brilliant homily (ahem!). Then the actual dedicatory rite begins with the Litany of the Saints, the prayer of consecration of the altar and its entire top is wiped with Sacred Chrism by the bishop’s hands. Incense is then lit to incense both the altar and the people. Finally, a single candle is brought from the Easter (aka “Paschal”) candle in the front of the Church and everyone inside lights up the space with their own individual candles. When the Church is artificially illuminated by the thousands candles, its light are turned on from the first time signaling the journey from darkness into light which will be the daily task of the new worship space, the altar is dressed, flowers adorn the sanctuary and the Mass proceeds. Sight, touch, smell are all engaged in the blessing of a new Church.

Statue of the Blessed Mother

The new statue of the Blessed Mother

The ceremony takes about two hours and thirty minutes depending on how long the bishop preaches and the pastor thanks. The bronze artwork in the new St. Catherine parish is stunning and all of it-statues and stations-are placed in a way in which God’s people may touch them. Two poignant moments for me, touching really, were when the second lector rolled her wheelchair up the new ramp, a drawer came forth from the ambo and she read from the Book of Revelation from the sanctuary/ambo which she could not have done in the old Church and worship space where even an aging bishop had trouble mounting the steps. The second moment was when a young man who was blind with his mother at his side brought flowers to the sanctuary. Now those are examples of an inclusive church which invites the participation of all in its ritual, liturgy and prayer. He was able for the first time to touch the fourteen stations of the cross and feel his way through the Lord’s agony, passion and crucifixion.

Unusual for a parish the age of Saint Catherine’s was the presence of its first and founding pastor, Monsignor John Scully who was greeted with thunderous, appreciative applause for his early missionary efforts in the parish. I think the parish is named after not only the saint but Monsignor Scully’s mother. The parishioners clearly love their present pastor, Father Malley, and their associate, Father Melchior who is completing the first year of his priestly ministry next month. I thank them as well for being good shepherds and stewards of God’s people in Largo and beyond.

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SOON TO BE FAREWELL TO OUR THIRD BISHOP, CURRENTLY ARCHBISHOP OF MIAMI

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
Then-Bishop Wenski and then-Archbishop Favalora at Wenski's 10th Anniversary of Ordination as a Bishop.

Then-Bishop Wenski and then-Archbishop Favalora at Wenski's 10th Anniversary of Ordination as a Bishop. (Florida Catholic)

The Holy See announced at noon Rome time today (600am EDT) that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the request of Archbishop John Clement Favalora to retire as the third Archbishop of Miami and has appointed as Miami’s fourth archbishop, Bishop Thomas Wenski, formerly a priest of Miami but now serving as bishop of Orlando. This announcement is of special interest to our diocese as many of you will remember that Archbishop Favalora served as third bishop of St. Petersburg and as my immediate predecessor. I was the first priest ordained to the episcopacy by the Archbishop on January 26, 1996 and therefore I am in a way his “oldest son.” In his fifteen and a half years as Archbishop of Miami, he has ordained as bishops Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine, Bishop Wenski of Orlando, Bishop Gilberto Fernandez, Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez, and Bishop John Noonan as assistant bishops in Miami and has installed Bishop John H. Ricard as Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Bishop J. Keith Symons as Bishop of Palm Beach, Bishop Norbert Dorsey as third bishop of Orlando, Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell of Palm Beach, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Palm Beach, Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach, Bishop Wenski of Orlando and Bishop Frank DeWane of Venice. So one can easily see his presence as metropolitan archbishop of Miami just in episcopal ordinations and installations and is in addition to daily managing a large archdiocese.

So what does this change imply for our local Church and for myself? The Church asks archbishops to “mentor” the other bishops of his province, to monitor if necessary important things occurring in the other dioceses, and to call the bishops of the province together from time to time to discuss candidates for the episcopal office. In our case, the Archbishop of Miami is automatically the President of the Florida Catholic Conference so he convenes us as bishops four times a year to conduct the affairs of the FCC, and he is Chancellor of our theologate in Boynton Beach where most of our future priests and bishops are trained, and there we meet twice a year. For myself personally this is a bittersweet moment. I am happy for Archbishop Favalora that after many years of active ministry, as priest and bishop, he will soon be freed of the burden of administration and can begin to relax. As our “leader” he had a wonderful ability to help us relax when we were together and to enjoy the company of one another as bishops. He did not like or lead long meetings and he was available when we needed someone to talk to about anything. I will miss those wonderful gifts very much as I suspect will also my brother bishops. The last few years in Miami have been particularly stressful for not only the archbishop but for many others there so I wish him a stress-less and peaceful retirement.

Bishop Wenski knows what he is inheriting. He is a gifted linguist speaking fluent Creole, Spanish, and Polish in addition to his native tongue. It will be the first time when at a minimum a tri-cultural and tri-lingual urban archdiocese will have someone to easily communicate with the people in their native tongues. As I told him in a phone call, now I know who is likely to bury me and I assured him of my prayers and support in his daunting new ministry.

When the Diocese of St. Petersburg was created in 1968, Bishop Charles McLaughlin was appointed our first bishop. On the same day, the Diocese of Orlando was created and  William Donald Borders was named first bishop of Orlando. Amazingly he died yesterday at the age of  96, one day prior to his successor three times removed  being named to Miami. He himself retired as Arcbishop of Baltimore many years ago. Also yesterday (Monday) the mother of Bishop Barbarito of Palm Beach went home to the Lord after a long life and lots of love from her priest/bishop son. May we remember both of these people in our prayers.

+RNL

LINEUP CHANGES

Friday, April 16th, 2010

The other day I wrote about the process of assigning priests so today I thought I’d share some of the new assignments with you.

New Assignment

Relieving

Fr. Ralph ArgentinoRev. Ralph Argentino

Executive Director, Catholic Cemeteries and continuing as the Director of the Office of the Diaconate

Rev. Msgr. Norman BalthazarRev. Msgr. Norman Balthazar

Retiring

Fr. David ToupsRev. David Toups

Pastor, Christ the King Parish

Rev. Msgr. Desmond DalyRev. Msgr. Desmond Daly

Retiring

Fr. Tim SherwoodRev. Tim Sherwood

Pastor St. Raphael Parish

Rev. Msgr. Bernard CaverlyRev. Msgr. Bernard Caverly

Retiring

Fr. John D'AntonioRev. John D’Antonio

Pastor, Holy Cross Parish

Fr. Paul KochuRev. Paul Kochu

Fr. Paul KochuRev. Paul Kochu

Pastor, St. Luke Parish

Fr. John D'AntonioRev. John D’Antonio

A RAT IN THE BELFRY

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Came home Sunday to discover that somewhere in this house there is a “varmint” who loves bread as much or more than I do. For the last couple of weeks, my housekeeper and I have been noticing holes in loaves of bread, sometimes unopened and often in the middle of the loaf, not on the ends. Until this morning I thought nothing of it but we substituted English muffins for a loaf of bread and lo and behold, there was a hole which appeared sometime last night in one of the English muffins. And, Dr. Watson, there was a small hole in the “Thomas’ promises” cellophane wrapping right above where the English muffin resided. Now I found myself really getting irritated. It is a sign of a second rodent, the first seems to have electrocuted itself behind the electric range. Now an exterminator must come. track down the pesky varmint, and hopefully find out where and how they are getting in. I know that many of my readers will have had the same experience before but it is my first with an unwanted intruder. I will keep you posted on the “hunt for grey October” and be back later today, hopefully, with something far more substantial to occupy your time than this whimsy.

+RNL

CAUGHT NOTHING – EXCEPT MAYBE A COLD

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I believe that one of the hardest things which bishops have to do is to assign priests. Thankfully, in this diocese I am assisted in this task by a fine group of priests who serve for five years (Fathers Pellegrino, Hunter, Malley, Johnson, Plazewski, Piotrowski, Morris) and who are very happy when their term ends. In a collaborative Church, the bishop must listen to many voices on clergy assignments. Our process runs something like this:

In January/February every priest is written to by myself under “Confidential” cover and asked if they would like a change of assignment in the Spring. Admittedly we do not receive a 100 percent response rate but those who are thinking of moving usually use this occasion to signal their openness.

Once we know the parishes which are going to be open, two members of the personnel board visit the parish and meet with the staff, pastoral and finance council membership and others who are either invited or interested enough to come. Those meetings are usually helpful. We warn that we are not looking for names of candidates for pastor but we get them anyway, usually the same person.

During February, Father Morris and I spoke to several priests who are past the retirement age of 75 to determine their wishes, which this year along with one retirement at age 70 created four pastor vacancies. Information on the four parishes outlining the sacramental life of the parish as well as the financial resources was sent to every priest eligible to apply. Finally, on Tuesday of Holy Week, we interviewed the two men who will be ordained to the priesthood this May to ascertain what type of assignment would best fit them.

The Chancellor of the diocese (Joan Morgan) assembles all the responses and relevant information for the use of the Personnel Board in their discussion. Our deliberations are supposed to be confidential and contained to the meeting itself. Sometimes I or the Vicar General know something about a parish or a priest which would exclude them from normal  consideration. Additionally, we get “demands” which I don’t think are particularly Church-centered, such as “don’t put me with a smoker” or “don’t put me with someone with dogs”. There are many dioceses in the United States which still follow the old procedure of “you go where I tell you, Father, like it or not.” Here we strive as best we can for happiness on all sides. A new priest who is miserable about his assignment from the get-go is not likely to get off to a good start in a new assignment.

I personally require that every newly ordained priest spend their three years or more of their first assignment in a rectory setting where the pastor lives under the same roof, eats at the same table, and is open to mentoring his new associate in his infancy as a priest. Sometimes people will ask me why their parish never gets a young priest or a newly ordained and nine time out of ten times it is because there are separate houses for pastors and associates. It is a personal “hang-up” which many other priests in this diocese understand and support.

Meeting day(s) come, lively discussions occur, phone calls are made to see if the receiving pastor will accept the person being proposed and associates we are considering moving are called and asked on the spot if they would be open to going to St. Dymphna. It is a house of cards – when you think you have it built, someone says no, the house collapses and one starts all over. There is no bench with priests waiting to be assigned to which one can turn and I and my colleagues must keep in mind obligations in justice to older men who transferred into the diocese and younger men who were ordained for the diocese to see that they become pastors of parishes in due time.

Basically, and I end where I started, we play with men’s lives and happiness and it is not something we cherish. It is hard work. I think we have concluded most of the assignments for this Spring but it was very hard this year, very hard indeed. Perhaps these words give you some insight into how this diocese goes about choosing your pastor or associate pastors.

+RNL

GONE FISHING

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

My sentiments, exactly, although not my car. Gone fishing. Back to the Blog on April 11th. Happy Easter. He has Risen. Alleluia.

HE IS RISEN!

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Homily for the Easter Vigil

If the very phrase “Good Friday”, as I suggested yesterday might be considered an oxymoron, tragic as it all was, then how much more tonight as we celebrate “the Triumph of the Cross.” Two nights and a day have passed before Peter and the women go to the tomb. Not one of them is recorded to have remembered that Jesus said several times that “the temple would be destroyed but in three days, would rise again.” Gibberish, they must have thought. “What in God’s name is he talking about now? Oh, well, there he goes again. We can’t ask him to unravel every word which comes from his mouth.”

I would take to the bank the notion that they approached the tomb as if everything was over. The women had come to anoint and Peter had come our of curiosity, and perhaps shame to apologize for his cowardice at his friend’s grave. That Jesus might not be there was the farthest thing from their minds.

Lost on them was the story of the Exodus we heard tonight. How God could take something like slavery and human bondage in Egypt, free His people, have Moses lead them to safety in the desert and then when it did not quite as well as they wished, God gave them food, water, commandments and direction in the desert. God could achieve triumph from two disasters. Lost on them was the story of the flood where everything alive seemed to perish except what Noah could store on the ark, but from that tragedy, that remnant, God would give birth AGAIN to a great people. Lost on them that early morning was the reality that the Davidic kingdom and its magnificent Temple would once again be destroyed but then rebuilt. Time after time, God in His great love turns disaster and tragedy into triumph. In all likelihood, they were unable in the darkness that morning to think of anything else than the tragedy of the cross, its depravity, its inhumanity, its humiliation – all done to a good man who wanted nothing but the best for his friends and followers.

So they, like ourselves, arrive at this moment of truth. “He is not here.” “He has Risen from the dead.” Suddenly the cross of Christ is no longer an instrument of torture, a way of dieing, but is transformed into a triumphant instrument of salvation. When we “behold the wondrous cross” do we dwell too long on its tragic reality, or do we see it as the way our loving God by allowing the sacrifice of His Son makes it possible for us to penetrate darkness, whether it is the darkness of our lives or the dark doubts sometimes of our faith life, The cross becomes a bridge between tragedy and triumph, between death and new life, between unbelief and belief. Only God can consistently make something good come from something awful, dreadful, tragic.

Tonight we hear again the story of our salvation as we prepare to baptize these catechumens, longing for the life of grace of the sacraments which Christ left us. In a few moments, they will be baptized into the Christian community, confirmed in the Spirit, and share not their last but their first supper, their first Eucharist with us. We receive sisters and brothers into our Catholic faith in the candidates who shortly will receive the gift of the Spirit in Confirmation and gift of Jesus Himself in the Eucharist.

And then, at the end of this Mass, with the challenge to go in the peace of Christ, loving God and one another. We will have gazed at the cross, uncovered again; visited the empty tomb, and rushed to those places in our lives that are for us the Jerusalems where we meet the Lord as did the disciples following the Resurrection. We take Christ and we meet Christ in our daily lives in our homes, offices, schools, organizations, sports fields and courts. We gaze on the cross and count the cost contained thereon for Jesus. We embrace the cross of Christ and the crosses of our lives, knowing that like Jesus, the Father is never far from us. We celebrate the cross as the necessary portal to the triumph of the Risen Lord in which we share. We take Christ from the cross and share Him with our spouses, our children, our friends and colleagues. From time to time like the disciples this morning, we may feel ashamed of what we do to Christ, but we approach the empty tomb knowing that in leaving that dark place of confinement, Jesus bursts forth to proclaim that evil will never win the day if those of us who embrace His life and name will keep our sights set on His life, His ministry, His work.

For nearly two thousand years, the church which Jesus established and left in the hands of weak humanity has persevered through the darkness of crisis and challenge only to emerge into the brightness of a new dawn with new life, new energy, new dedication, new resolve. This night at least the strife is over, as we sing, and the battle of two thousand years ago is won, but it remains for us to continue the work of that first Easter – to spread the good news, to become whom we receive in the Eucharist and to share the gifts of our faith with others so that more women and men and children will come to the waters of Baptism and full communion.

What we now do in this liturgy continues the work begun with the triumph of the cross and unlike the angel at the tomb, we declare by life’s example, words and deeds, that He has indeed risen and is here to be found.

This homily may also be downloaded as a PDF file.

Update: You can listen to this homily on our podcast.