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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Easter Sunday Morning Mass - St. John's Cathedral, 2021


Three words stand out from today’s readings.

Believe. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Her love of Jesus was not put off even when the apostles had disappeared. But when she found the stone rolled back, she didn’t know what to make of it. She presumed someone had taken the body. You couldn’t blame her for that. No one was expecting the Resurrection. When Peter went came to the tomb, he went in and noted what was there – the linen cloths, the cloth that had covered Jesus but that’s it. When the Beloved Disciple came, he went in, noted the same situation but in his case we are told he “believed”. He obviously got a gift, a grace to do that. Faith is a gift. We can never take it for granted.

Christian faith is grounded in the Resurrection of Jesus. We don’t just think Jesus was resuscitated. We believe he is now risen to a new form of life. He is now present to us to wherever we are in the world and in whatever situation we find ourselves in. He is Risen and wants to free us, save us and give us strength. But to believe this is a gift. As a teenager I was struck by a priest telling us how on a plane one day he had met a friend who had been a priest but had lost his faith. It struck me that a priest could lose faith and I realised I need to ask always for the gift of faith. On this Easter Sunday morning, let’s thank God for the gift of faith if we have it, pray that it be stronger if we feel it’s weak and ask for the gift if we don’t have it.

Look. The second reading says “look to the things that are in heaven”. It’s not saying that we must go around with our head in the clouds, totally oblivious to the world around us. What it is saying is that faith has eyes. The way we look at things matters. In fact, many of the accounts of the Easter apparitions use the word “seeing”, “looking”. They “saw the Lord”.

Because we believe Jesus who was crucified and died is now risen, we can have a different take on life. It’s not enough like Mary Magdalen and Peter just to notice things and give a description of them. It’s not enough to describe the facts and figures of our world. We need to see Jesus Risen is at work. Pope Francis encourages us to have a contemplative view on life. We need to look at our cities with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in our homes, in our streets and squares. 

There are two sayings of Pope Francis that I like and are worth hearing again today: “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force.” And again, “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.” We need to look at the world with Easter eyes, seeing hope even when the facts and figures speak of failure, despair, impossibility.

Witness. The third word is “witness”. Peter went to the house of Cornelius. He told his story. He witnessed to the Resurrection. We witness by speaking and we witness by doing. So many people over the centuries have given witness to the vision of faith even if it cost laying down their lives. Think for instance of the four women missionaries murdered in El Salvador in 1980.

After the killing of Oscar Romero on 24 March 1980, all who challenged the repressive government of El Salvador were at risk. The four American women missionaries decided to remain. They kept serving Jesus in their neighbours, offering their services during the civil war and they were bringing food and medicine to those who had to flee, especially to the families that were the poorest. These women lived their faith with great generosity. Eight months later they, too, were brutally murdered. One of them, the American, Jean Donovan, had Irish links and had spent a year here in a university. It was their faith that inspired them. I recall being inspired by her story when I was in college.

There are still so many situations of injustices, divisions, subtle prejudices, racism, drug cartels, human trafficking, homelessness, domestic violence, tribal violence. That is the old world. But our world needs people like you and me to witness that there is another way, that a new world is possible. We need to stand up and not just tell our story about the Risen Jesus but bring him among us into our world and let the light of the Risen Jesus enter into those places of darkness and emptiness, division and fractured relationships, wrongdoing and sharp practice and stand up for what is right and true and just and life-giving.

In the Eastern tradition of the Church, the priest greets people saying, “Christ is Risen” and people respond “He is truly risen”. The world needs missionaries of the Risen Jesus, people who believe, who look with Easter eyes and who witness to the Risen Jesus by lives dedicated to bringing him into the highways and byways of our world.