Homilies

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34,37-43; Col. 3:1-4; Gospel John 20:1-9
Christ is Risen – Meaning to Suffering and Death!

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 1 April 2018

Today, we celebrate the solemnity of Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord from His Death three days after He Died.  Easter is the climax of our whole year’s liturgical celebration.  This is because if Jesus did not rise from His Death, then He would just have been another spiritual and holy man who had the gift of wisdom, to proclaim the need to love God and our neighbour.  And, in the end, when He claimed to be the Son of God, He paid the great price of begin crucified for blasphemy. 

If Jesus, did not rise from His Death, all His Teachings would have been hollow and His radical challenges to love the poor, forgive our enemies and pray for all our persecutors at all times, would only have the credibility of human wisdom, but not the divine revelation of God’s Will.

However, the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection is a historical fact.  Jesus did rise from His Death.  Thousands of eyewitnesses and in particular, His Twelve Apostles who had lived and followed Him in His pastoral ministry for three years, not only testified to the Truth of Jesus’ resurrection, but ten out the twelve of them died a martyr’s death.
Amongst these apostles were simple fishermen, tax collectors and sinners, who like all of us were fearful of being arrested and killed. However, upon witnessing the Resurrection of Jesus, who came amongst them, to show them His crucifixion wounds for Thomas the apostle who did not believe, and who ate with them at the sea of Tiberius, and upon receiving the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they all proclaimed the Good News of Salvation that Jesus proclaimed, with great courage, conviction and commitment that nothing else was more important in their lives than, fulfilling their mission of making the Risen Christ known and loved, and the Good News of Salvation be embraced, so that all who believe in Jesus, our Risen Lord would gain eternal life. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we all know that what the Apostles achieved in proclaiming the Truth of the Good News of Salvation some 2,000 years ago, and has converted the hearts of some one third of the world population, which amounts to about 2.2 billion Christians, and of which 1.2 billion are Roman Catholics in the world, cannot possibly have been achieved through human ingenuity.  Clearly the divine power and inspirations of the Risen Lord that permeates the hearts of all believers to live the Gospel that Christ proclaimed, lived and died and Rose from His Death to testify that the Truth that the Good News of Salvation is authentic and divine.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we affirm that the Resurrection of Jesus offers the gift of Eternal Happiness and Glory with God, we are actually embracing divine mysteries that are beyond our limited, finite and narrow human experiences.  Yet, we know that for those of us who believe in the Good News of Salvation, it is “easy” to accept the gift of Eternal Life even though we do not comprehend what its mysteries. 

As for unbelievers, it would be very difficult if not impossible to convince them, because after all “faith in Jesus as our Risen Lord is a divine gift” and it is not simply arrived at through our limited human logical thinking.  Nevertheless, we could also say that for those people who live, good and virtuous lives, and sincerely desire to live an even more wholesome live, they would be more disposed and open to receiving the gift of faith, in Jesus as our Risen Lord, than those who live very superficial and secular and self-centred lives.  This is because to accept Jesus, Our Risen Lord is also to be willing to live a more wholesome life.

When we are blessed with the gift of faith in Jesus as our Risen Lord, we could say that essentially, this is about our love for God who has revealed the Good News of Salvation to us.  If our Love for Jesus is strong, then the Truth of the Gospel would make good sense.  However, if our love for Jesus, our Risen Lord is weak and superficial, then we could say that when trials and tribulations come our way, there would then be a tendency for us to withdraw into our self in misery and self-pity.  And when we face these trials on our own and distant ourselves from God, our challenges in life will sooner or later worsen and may even become overwhelming, and threaten to crush us. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, likewise in Gospel, we know that Jesus’ Twelve Apostles were hiding in the fear of their lives after Jesus was crucified, because as disciples, they risked being condemned to death like their Master.  However, when Mary of Magdala announced to the Apostles, that the tomb is empty, Simon Peter and John, the disciple who was very close to Jesus ran to the tomb.  Unlike Peter, as soon as John arrived and saw the ‘linen cloth rolled up in a place by itself,” he believed.  The reason why John believed so instantly was because amongst all the apostles, John was the closest to Jesus.  And, in his intimate relationship with Jesus, he had a greater and deeper sense of Jesus more than the other disciples.  Bishop B.C. Butler writes, “It is the characteristic of love that can pierce our masks and see us for what we really are.  Love is not blind.  Profound love, on the contrary, is very perceptive.  It is able to see both the weakness and the real hidden strength of the beloved.” 

Fr Nil Guillemette, a scripture scholar and spiritual writer once wrote that one of the effects of our love for God is to have an intuitive knowledge of Him and a deeper perspective of the soul.  This is confirmed by the three women saints of the Church: St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), St Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582) and St Theresa of the Child Jesus (1873-1897) who had great theological depth and divine insights in their writings, so much so that they were declared Doctors of the Church. But what is most surprising is that all these three saints, had very little formal education.  St Catherine could barely read and she learned to write only in the last years of her life.  As for the two Theresas, they received only the equivalent of elementary school education.  These three saints, therefore, could not be compared to the great theologians of their time, but because of their eminent holiness, they were inflamed with the love of God, which then gave them the intimate understanding of God and of God’s workings in people’s souls.  They did not merely knew about God, they knew God Himself.  And as such, they were able to impart the love they had for God to teach the rest of the world.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us remind ourselves that if we sincerely seek to love God more wholeheartedly in our lives, in all that we do, and in how we live daily, then we can be sure that through our love for God, we will be inspired by the Holy Spirit of our Risen Lord, to love our families and relatives more fully; see our Risen Lord in the poor and the needy and love them, and also have the wisdom and humility of heart to forgive those who have hurt and harmed us, by allowing the Spirit of Jesus, who prayed, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” to fill our hearts with the unconditional Compassionate Love of Jesus. 

Let us reaffirm our faith concretely by reminding ourselves that if our love for Jesus our Risen Lord is genuine and at least we try to live our faith as sincerely and wholeheartedly as we can, even though we are weak and sinful, we can be assured that our Risen Lord will give us a new vision of life; a vision that draws strength, courage and hope to penetrate the mysteries of human sufferings and our eventual death because Jesus has Risen, and has conquered sin and death. 

To this Fr Vilma Dasan, insights shares that every time we suffer a loss, fail in our work or in some endeavours and enterprise or are disabled by illness, we “die a little bit”.  But if we believe that the Risen Jesus is in our midst, then we will discover new dreams to pursue, new challenges to take on and new reasons to try again, because we have discovered new hopes through our Risen Lord.  Every time we are overwhelmed by problems, discouraged by disappointments, especially of our loved ones, or are beset by worries, we are diminished in some way.  But if we believe in the real Presence of the Risen Lord, He will never fail to assure us that we are never alone, and that He is there to see us through all of these challenges.  And, as such what is humanly impossible becomes possible and what is unreachable becomes reachable. 

But for those who still do not find the Risen Christ’s Presence in our daily living and worse still turn away from Him in our challenges, then where and how are we going to find the strength and the humility to forgive others?  Where and how are we to discover new hopes in the darkness of our sins?  Where and how are we to live more meaningfully and find greater fulfilment if everything we live for, and all that we love and possess are to end as soon as we die and disintegrate with our ashes? 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us reaffirm the Truth of the Gospel, that the only way to live in true hope, Joy and happiness while on earth is to have the certitude of faith that can only come from our Risen Lord, who has conquered death and sin, and has opened the gates of heaven to await us to receive the gift of eternal life.

It is only with such reality of Everlasting Life of Happiness and Glory with God and all the saints can we make sense of our human sufferings in life and the eventual death that may be knocking at our door.  Let us, like John the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, learn to love Jesus more personally and intimately and as such love our families and our neighbours more wholeheartedly, as Jesus, has shown us.  This is eventually the concrete expression of our love for Jesus our Risen Lord; that we love Him wholeheartedly while on earth and then live with Him for all eternity.

Adapted from: Hearts Burning, Homilies for the Sundays of the Year, (cycle A, B and C), by Nil Guillemette, SJ; St Pauls, Philippines, 2006; pp. 196-197.
Adapted from: His Words Lives, Homilies for Sunday, Feast Days and Special Occasions, for Cycles A, B & C, by Vima Dasan, S.J.; St Pauls, Mumbai, India; 1999; pp.62-63.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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