Easter 2014 is almost history but I wish to share some final thoughts with you before we move on to this coming weeks canonizations of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II which will take place next Sunday in Rome. Holy Week 2014 was special for me and will always be because we were finally in our new space at the Cathedral of St. Jude. Pictures of the Chrism Mass last Tuesday morning/afternoon show some of the magnificence of the new space for the liturgies which we held there but you almost had to be there to achieve the whole effect of how our architecture and rites can combine magnificently.
Our liturgies were wonderful beginning with Palm Sunday and journeying right through the Easter Vigil last night. The Cathedral choir is beginning to show the signs of excellence that I hope come with their renewed energy because of the space they now sing and praise in and Chris Berke, their director and our principal organist, prepared wonderful settings and music for the whole week.
Father Joseph Waters and Father James and Deacon John Shea backed by a hard-working staff largely of volunteers made space, action, and support into one mosaic of prayer and piety. I have a wonderful Master of Ceremonies for Cathedral events who has been at my side in one way or another for nineteen years almost, John Christian. He works with the young men and women who serve both as Cathedral altar servers and members of the “Bishops’ Corps”, present most of the time when I am there for major ceremonies.
At the Easter Vigil Mass, we were able to use the immersion baptismal pool for the first time and it was wonderful, for those being baptized who literally came up out of the waters and for the rest of us baptized who were more engaged than usual, I suspect, because of action and place being new and forceful. There were catechumens who were baptized, confirmed and made first Eucharist and candidates who having previously been baptized were confirmed, made first penance, and first Eucharist.
Finally, I want to share with you my homily last night at the Easter Vigil. Since the Fifth Sunday of Lent I have been repeatedly hitting the theme of the signs that accompany us on our journey to and through Holy Week to the tomb on Easter Sunday and how we need to pay as much attention to them as we pay to the universal signs like the red octagon which signals “STOP” everywhere in the world. They are the scriptural signs which God gives us along the way to help us on our journey of faith. I suspect that at least the priests of the cathedral will be happy when I move off this theme and onto something else in the days and months ahead but I like it when I can weave one major theme through many successive liturgical events.
Happy Easter to all. As Pope Francis pointed out in his Easter Vigil homily, Jesus invites all of us to journey again to our personal Galilees where we first met him and renew and strengthen our acquaintance. See you there?
HOMILY AT THE EASTER VIGIL
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg
Beloved sisters and brothers and tonight dearly beloved catechumens and candidates,
For those soon to receive the Easter sacraments and indeed for all of us, a long journey is merely minutes from completion. We have heard the word that he has risen. We can leave Jerusalem soon and return to our homes secure in the knowledge that death has been overcome, evil conquered, and eternity secured because of the love of one man for us all.
Like all long journeys, sometimes into less than certain realms, we have relied on directions and signs. Putting aside Garmin, Google, Microsoft and Apple, we have followed the path outlined in sacred scripture to get us to this moment. Scripture has taken us on this journey in recent days to Bethany and the home of Lazarus and Martha and Mary, to the main road leading into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to the Upper Room on Thursday night, to Pilate and Herod Antipas, to Golgotha and to tomb yesterday and tonight we are told by the angel that Jesus wishes us to once again take to the road and return to Galilee to meet with him once again.
Wanting us never to wander too far afield, we have been given signs along the way. Tonight’s second reading told us of the journey into the countryside of Abraham and his beloved son in whom he and Sarah were well pleased and so happy. Abraham is willing to slaughter his long sought-after child to do the will of God the Father, but God spared him only to have God the Father choose not to spare his only begotten Son the death on a cross. It was meant as a sign and its significance only became clear tonight with the angel’s news.
The third reading tonight told us of the journey of the Jews out of Egypt to freedom from slavery, to freedom of religion, to freedom to feed themselves from the land of both milk and honey, but reminded that a part of the human condition would sometimes seem like there was never enough.
And the Gospel reading told us of the journey of the women to the tomb, suggested the sound of the giant stone being rolled back so that Jesus could exit and we, by the events of these days, would also be freed, free of our sins of pride and selfishness, free of the fear of death because now for the faithful people there is a clear alternative to nothingness called heaven and life with God and with the saints.
For slightly more than forty-eight hours, all our weakness, all our fears, all our unanswered prayers, all our selfishness, all our anger, all our jealousy, all our hopelessness, all our directionless, all our lust, all our lies, all our prejudices, all our inclinations to slander and gossip, all our laziness in practicing our faith, all our weakness lay hidden, dormant, dead in that tomb – death seemed to have won, evil seemed to have triumphed, inhumanity seemed to have ruled over hope, kindness, generosity and forgiveness. But then that stone was removed revealing an empty tomb and each and every one of us was invited to come out and begin a new, in Him, and through Him and with Him. The stone rolled back from before the tomb becomes a sign of the invitation to embrace Christ more closely and live our life with Him more clearly, day by day. A journey which might have been expected to have ended has instead just begun anew, again, amen.
How should we behave once again in the light of the day as Catholic Christians? What does our faith which should be strengthened by the journey we have taken with Jesus look like after Easter. We do have a choice. We can remain in the tomb and do little or nothing, or we can help others on their journey of faith while at the same time strengthening our own journey.
In 1968 when this local Church of St. Petersburg was established as a diocese and this parish of St. Jude the Apostle was chosen as its first and only Cathedral, there was an organist, a director of music by the name of Carroll Thomas Andrews. He was forty-eight years old when he played and directed the choir for the installation of our first bishop. In the intervening years he composed beautiful liturgical music in the English and set it to equally beautiful score. He died and went home to God last Monday and was buried in a simple but elegant Liturgy of the Word and Final Commendation on Thursday morning. I share with you a story and a challenge given to all of us in attendance by his priest son, Father Greg Andrews. The words I am about to share with you were written by the fine historian Walter Lord whose two most famous works were A Night to Remember recalling the sinking of the Titanic and Day of Infamy about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when Andrews was twenty-two years old at Hickam Field on Oahu on that fateful day.
Pfc Carroll Andrews was one man with a definite objective. He and a buddy started off through the noncom housing area, running in short spurts between the strafing. Once they ducked into the kitchen of an empty house. Bullets ripped the stove, and they marveled at the splintering porcelain – it was the first time they realized how the stuff could shatter. On they ran, and then another interruption. This time it was a soldier who had seen Andrews playing the organ for Catholic services on the base. He asked Andrews to help him say the Catholic’s Act of Contrition. He explained that he had not been to Mass or confession for years and needed an emergency peace. Andrews stopped and repeated the words with him. They dashed on. Soon a Filipino woman ran up with a tiny baby. She too had seen Andrews in Church, and wanted him to baptize the baby. By now mildly exasperated, Andrews asked her why she did not do it herself. She said she was not sure how. So he went into another empty house, tried the kitchen faucets (they did not run), found a bottle of cold water, and baptized the baby. The mother burst into tears and ran off.
None of us knows where our journey in faith may eventually take us what or our love of Christ may ultimately entail of us but this is how one man, one of our own, lived out his baptismal commitment on one fateful day. Next to the cross, it was for me this year the most potent sign I received of this Lenten season.