VIGIL MASS – EASTER 2001
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
Every Easter Day reminds us of the message of the most quoted line in Scripture:
“God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that all who believe in him, may not perish but may have eternal life”.
There we have issues that are of huge importance for everyone – life, death, love, the world. Nobody wants to perish. Nobody wants to be annihilated. Everybody wants to live forever. If there is a promise of everlasting happiness, well surely everyone wants to hear about it. And so the Easter Message is one of life.
Jesus has won the victory over death. The Spirit of God raised him up. And so, Easter tells us that suffering and death are not final. They are not going to be victorious. On Calvary Jesus appeared to have been beaten. He was abandoned by his friends, executed by his enemies and denied by his closest disciple. His plan was to establish a kingdom where the dignity of every human person would be upheld, where the poor would be respected, where injustice would be opposed and eliminated. Well, on Good Friday evening those plans seemed to be in tatters. The set-back was enormous but it was only temporary.
The fact that God raised Jesus, His Son, from the dead, showed that Jesus was in fact truthful and honest. He keeps his promises. He speaks the truth. His followers were, in turn, to receive the power of that same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. They were sent out to announce the coming of God’s kingdom. They were charged and tasked to change the world by speaking up for the dignity of people, made in the image and likeness of God and to defend the dignity of that person. They were sent out to try and work to create the conditions in which every human person would be respected. Where the value of every human life, no matter how weak, or how challenged physically or mentally, would be respected and honoured. They were sent out to announce that when life on earth is over, that is not the end. They were sent out to tell people who had a heavy cross to carry, whether it be a cross of illness, or a cross of betrayal, or a cross of abandonment, they were not to give up hope but to have courage and strength. They were to tell them of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Easter celebrates the most important time in the history of the world, when Jesus passed from death to life. He set the world free from the slavery of sin and from the fear of death. He led us all into a freedom that will last forever. He is the Saviour of the world.
Easter is a time of new life and a time of fresh hope. The light of the Easter candle reminds us of the sure hope that the Spirit of the Risen Lord continues to act in our lives and in our world. Easter is a time when we realise that what we long for in the depths of our hearts actually could become a reality. We long for a world that is safe and peaceful; a world where people can live in faithfulness to God and to each other; where people can live with dignity; where people can live free from fear and intimidation. We yearn for a world where everyone, especially the sick and the weak and the old, are welcomed and loved and cared for; a world free from corruption and greed; Where the Church promotes and proclaims God’s endless mercy and justice fearlessly and ceaselessly. Yes, the victory of Christ gives real grounds for hoping that every human hunger can be satisfied, the hunger for truth and beauty and honesty, the hunger for love, respect and fidelity.
“Empty dreams”, “Pie in the sky”, “sweet talk” may well be the comments of those who cynically know so well the weakness of our condition. At Easter we name the forces of darkness that are present in our world and in our lives, and we celebrate the victory of Christ over those forces. We celebrate that victory of Christ with joy because it points to God’s final triumph over every power of evil.
We pray that the light of Christ, rising in glory, may dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds. For only the light of Christ gives hope that does not deceive. Only the light of Christ is powerful enough to banish the hatred and the bitterness from our hearts: hatred and anger nourished on the memory of ancient wrongs but powerful enough to sour and embitter us for life. Only the love of Christ can move hearts, hardened by bigotry and prejudice. Only the light of Christ can enable us to see ourselves as we really are, weak sinners, but called to become saints, and to see those who differ from us whether in race, colour or religion, as equal and precious in the sight of God.
The Spirit of the Risen Christ is with his Church. The Spirit guides the Church to share its wisdom with the world. That wisdom inspires the followers of Christ to do their best to build a just society. The Spirit urges people to live lives of holiness amidst the challenges and distractions of modern life.
The Sprit of the Risen Christ directs the Church to see that there is more to life than a healthy economy or an efficient political system. For human life is sacred and respect for the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision of society. The resurrection of Christ reminds us that every person is precious and people are more important than material possessions – all are destined to rise from the dead and are called to share the life of God, the life of everlasting happiness.
That is the true basis for our Easter joy. Easter joy is a peaceful joy, built on the belief that the death of Jesus is our ransom from death. His resurrection is our rising to life. Sometimes on Good Friday it is difficult to savour the mood of loneliness and grief if all around are busy shopping and celebrating. In the same way, on Easter Day it can be very difficult to experience the joy of Easter in the face of worries and cares and sorrow. Someone may have died who is dear to us, there is the pain of a sick mother or father, the worry about our livelihood in the face of the current foot and mouth crisis.
Easter joy is a deep and lasting joy. It is no passing pleasure or temporary thrill, where problems are ignored or swept under the carpet in an attempt to look always on the bright side of things. Neither is it built by forgetting the passion and death of Christ which still continues, by ignoring the nails and the crowns and the lance, for in fact, those sufferings are still to be found in the lives of people who suffer.
The new life, brought by Christ is the discovery of the secret of how Jesus lived his life. It was a life lived in dedication to doing his Father’s will and of serving his brothers and sisters. It is the discovery that no matter what happens, all will be well and all manner of things will be well, precisely because Christ is risen.
This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave. And, by rising from the grave, Jesus has put eternal life within our reach. The hope of that resurrection is ultimately the motive for all our good works. The Risen Christ gives us all great hope, the hope that we too will be raised, on the last day, to everlasting joy. May it be so and may you all, along with your families, have a joyous gracefilled Easter. AMEN