A word breaks through our grief
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 26, 2020:
Most of you know that my dear, sweet Mom passed away almost two years ago. My Mom and I used to talk on the phone just about every day, and one of the real gifts that I received after her passing was the realization that the many voicemails that she had left me were still saved on my iPhone. I immediately saved them to my computer and so I still have about 40 recordings of my own mother’s voice. I have everything from a casual, “Called to chat. Call me back,” to my Mom singing Happy Birthday to me. These are a real treasure. But, the most important ones, when I’m especially missing Mom the most, are ones where she simply says my name. Mom, and the rest of my family, always call me Tommy. And to hear my mother say “Tommy” cuts right through any sadness and makes me feel close to her.
There is something special about the way that a simple word can break through all of the things that cloud our hearts. Just think of how we see this in the stories of the Resurrection of Jesus that we have been spending time with during our Easter season. We have heard from John’s Gospel, when Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb on that first Easter morning; she is distraught. She sits outside of the tomb weeping. “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him,” she says. Jesus appears to her, but in her anguish and sorrow, she doesn’t recognize him. But Jesus simply says her name, “Mary!” and she immediately recognizes Him. A simple word from Jesus pulls Mary Magdalene out of her sorrow, out of her grief, out of her desolation and into incomparable joy. So much joy that she runs from that place to share the good news, “I have seen the Lord!”
Last Sunday it was St. Thomas’ turn. He was not present when Jesus appeared in the upper room. In his own sorrow and distress, He refused to believe the fantastical story the rest were telling Him. So obstinate that he said he would only believe if he could put his fingers in the nail marks in Jesus hands. When Jesus appears again, He merely speaks a few words to Thomas, “Peace be with you” and in an instant all of his doubts dissolve and he makes one of the greatest proclamations of faith in all of Scripture, “My Lord and my God!”
We should not be surprised, then, as we come to today’s Gospel. Once again we have two disciples, this time not Apostles or Jesus most important disciples, instead we have someone named Cleopas and another whose name we are not given. They are travelling along the road to Emmaus. They had followed Jesus with hope and joy. They had truly believed he was sent by God to establish the promised Kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and quite literally walked away.
It was on this journey away from it all that they met a stranger on the road. They listened to him. They watched him break bread. And something moved them deeply. The stranger was not a stranger at all. It was Jesus. He was alive and risen. But note a few things in this passage. The idea of the resurrection was not unknown to them. They tell Jesus, “Some women from our group have astounded us,” and they recount how Mary came and told them of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed to them – they simply didn’t believe it. Their doubts, their dashed hopes, their disillusionment kept them from believing; kept them from seeing the Lord. They let their anger and their confusion get in the way.
And, once again, Jesus breaks through with a word. For Mary it was her name. For Thomas it was the gift of peace. For the disciples this week it was the breaking open of Scripture and sharing the bread. The Risen Lord let Mary weep and waited for her to recognize Him. The Risen Lord let Thomas doubt and waited for him to see. The Risen Lord allowed the disciples on the road to express their dashed hopes and dreams, and waited for their eyes to open. Resurrection waits for grief; it waits for doubt, it waits for dashed hopes and disappointments. Even in the midst of those things, the Risen Christ was there; He was present. Risen, yes. But waiting and weeping; offering peace, and breaking open Word and Sacrament. Because that’s what living, loving people do. They wait, and then with a word of knowing, with a word of peace, with a word of comfort; they break through and new life begins.
We spend so much time reflecting on these stories because we, too, often find ourselves in these same situations. We are often like Mary, inconsolable in our grief. We are often like Thomas, focused on our doubts or our inability to see beyond what we believe to be possible. We are like Cleopas and the other disciple, feeling lost and dejected and uncertain about tomorrow. I think there’s an important reason why we aren’t given the name of the second disciple – it is so we might place our own name there, because we are just like them.
And so these Easter gospels contain an important message for all of us – if we have felt like them in their grief, doubt, and disappointment; maybe we can also feel like them today with their hopes and dreams renewed; their faith restored. My friends, Jesus wants to speak the same words to us today. He speaks our names, He offers us peace, He breaks open Word and Sacrament. He does this so that our hearts might be opened once again to His amazing, miraculous, resurrected presence in our lives. We hear from the prophet Isaiah, “Thus says the LORD, who created you, and formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.”
Notice that each of the disciples felt sad, confused, and dejected the first time they lost Jesus on the Cross – they denied Him, they abandoned Him, and they rejected Him. Notice how different their reaction was when He left them again. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” they said. “They set out at once” and proclaimed “The Lord has truly been raised!"
My friends, listen carefully as Jesus speak your name today, welcome His offer of peace deeply into your heart, open your eyes as he breaks Word and Sacrament, so that you might see Him and let Him set your heart on fire. Resurrection makes us new so that we can again proclaim Christ risen to the world.
May the Lord give you peace.
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Wrapped in Jesus arms
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, April 5, 2020:
Jesus Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In the liturgy, before the Second Vatican Council, on Palm Sunday after the reading of the Passion, there was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “The Gospel of the Lord” was omitted. It was a proclamation so profound that was greeted by an equally profound silence. Our liturgy today still calls for a respect for that silence. In fact, the directives after the Passion Gospel are this, “A brief homily should take place, if appropriate.” In the face of the Cross of Jesus, in recognition of his Passion and Death for us, the most eloquent response to this saving Word of God we have proclaimed, is silence. The best, most profound homily that could ever be preached is not in words, but it is in image, it is in action – it is the Cross.
We find Jesus on the Cross today – not for any sin of His own, but for the sins of all of us throughout all of time. He is on that Cross for one reason – because that’s how great His love is for us. Those two crossed pieces of wood are the most profound symbol of love that there is. Jesus died for us because He loves us. It is as simple as that; it is as profound as that.
Listen to those words: “He died for us.” He died for you, for me. Many of us have heard these words so many times that they no longer carry the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done. If you’ve seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, you have at least a sense of the immensity of that love. The challenge for each of us is to hear this message again today as though it were the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the sins of His sisters and brothers. He died for us!
This is a story of the profound love that God has for each one of us; the profound hope that God places in each of us; and the profound confidence that God has that we truly can be His people, we can truly achieve the Kingdom, we can truly overcome our own sinfulness, our own weakness – with His grace and with His help. He died for us. How will you respond to what God has done for you?
And there is no more profound moment in my lifetime, and perhaps yours, to be reminded of this profound reality of God’s love. We can feel overwhelmed right now by all that is going on around us. We can feel anxious, alone, and afraid. But, the very Son of God Himself hanging on that Cross reminds us of the most powerful reality – God has conquered even death. There is nothing that we are facing even in the midst of this crisis that is bigger or more powerful than our God. He died for us; and so we are saved. He died for us; and so we will be okay because we are wrapped in God’s loving and compassionate arms. Those arms that once spanned that beam from left to right are now wrapped around you and around me; and nothing in our world is more powerful than that reality. Feel the embrace of Jesus around you right now because He opened those arms on the Cross and then wrapped them around you and around me.
Of all of the words that Jesus ever spoke, ever preached, ever taught – the most profound message He ever gave us was on that Cross. Jesus could not have explained how much He loves us with all the words in the world. They would never fully contain a love so powerful. And we could never express our gratitude with all the words in the world. “Thanks Jesus” just somehow wouldn’t quite cut it. Instead, as we proclaim this Passion and let it sink into our hearts, we are meant to be awestruck, humbled, silenced. If His love was shown through this profound action, our gratitude will likewise require the very action of the way we live our lives in response. We are called to live lives that strive to be worthy of this kind of love. We are called to give witness to a people who are not afraid, but instead who are comforted by God’s loving embrace. Let us make our prayer, the prayer of St. Faustina, and say with confidence especially in the midst of this moment, “Jesus, I trust in You!”
My friends, today’s celebration marks our entry way into Holy Week. We will spend this next week entering deeply into the story; deeply into the imagery and symbolism and ritual of our salvation – from the Last Supper, through that death and crucifixion, right through to newness of life in the Resurrection of our Lord. We will walk with Him as He conquers His own death; and ours. Today reminds us that our story is one that is full of triumph, the triumph of our King, but it is also one that is full of suffering. Our story is one of grace in the Eucharist, in our own Baptism, it is one that calls us into the service of our brothers and sisters.
My friends, today’s celebration hopes to drive you inward into a profound silence, reflecting on that powerful reality – He died for me. Embrace it and allow Christ’s Passion to form you, change you. Take some time this week and read this story again; perhaps watch The Passion of the Christ, think about what it means to say that Jesus died for you! Jesus, I trust in You.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.