Happy Easter, brothers and sisters! And a special Happy Easter to all of our guests!
God calls us to joy, but I’m aware that I’m not always that joyful. My level of joy can be erratic during the week: I’m up and down. In my prayer, I’ve asked, “Lord, what’s going on? Why am I so up and down? I wish I had Your joy.” How about you?
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
Our Lord, the night before He died, said, in reference to His upcoming death and Resurrection, “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:20-22).
St. Bede says something very interesting about this text, and very consoling. He says that, when we’re on earth, it’s going to be hard: We’re on a journey, and not yet in heaven, and so there are all sorts of difficulties and sorrows (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, John, 11-21, 212). Therefore, it’s normal if we have difficulties and aren’t always joyful.
However, St. Bede also points out that, when we see Jesus again, Resurrected, our sorrow is turned to joy. Today’s Responsorial Psalm says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Ps 118:24). So, here are three reasons why Jesus’ Resurrection gives us a joy that no one can take from us.
1) In the Gospel for the Easter Vigil, the faithful women go at dawn to anoint Jesus’ body, but encounter two men in dazzling clothes, who say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Lk 24:5-7). Then it says, “The women remembered Jesus’ words” (Lk 24:8).
The first reason for joy is that all of Jesus’ promises are true! The Catechism says that the Resurrection proves all of His promises (Cf. CCC 651). Jesus made many claims, for example, He could forgive sins (Mk 2:10), give eternal life (Jn 10:28), heal the sick (Lk 18:42), and, even said that He would rise again (Mt 17:22; Mk 831; Lk 9:22). The easiest way to discredit Him would be to kill Him. If He’s wrong on the Resurrection, then He’s lost all credibility; it would have been for Him the nail in the coffin. However, He was right about the Resurrection. He’s the only person who has ever been resurrected. And, if someone rose from the dead like Lazarus, they died again. (By the way, if you ever want me to explain the evidence for the Resurrection, just let me know, because there are answers to the objections.)
All of Jesus’ promises are true! Consequently, it’s important to know what Jesus promised, because He never promised an easy life or that there’d be no suffering. Here are, what I call, the Top Ten List of God’s Promises:
1. Forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
2. Hope: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).
3. Fullness of Life: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
4. Joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11).
5. Peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14:27).
6. Acceptance: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me” (Jn 6:37, NAB).
7. Plan: “I know the plans I have for you… plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11).
8. Met Needs: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11).
9. Love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love” (Jn 15:9).
10. Eternal Life: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
This is why we had three adults, along with their five children, become Catholic last night; they experienced what Jesus promises to those who believe in Him and love Him.
If anyone is exploring or searching for faith or has questions, please feel free to join us this Thursday downstairs in the church hall for Alpha from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Alpha starts with dinner, then an amazing video, and then a discussion in small groups. This week’s topic is: “How Can I Have Faith?” If you have any questions, please just talk to anyone at our Welcome Booth or anyone with a red Alpha pin.
2) Let’s take the perspective of the early Christians. The Scriptures say, when Jesus appeared, “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (Jn 20:20; cf. Lk 24:41). Let’s put ourselves in their shoes: “Our leader, teacher, best friend, and the person we believed was God has been killed—we’ve lost everything. But now He’s alive, raised from the dead. He’s beaten death! He’s defeated His enemy! Our Lord has won!” The second reason for joy comes from knowing that our friend and Lord has won and defeated the enemy!
In the summers of 2000 and 2001, I helped underprivileged students at a school in Harlem, New York. A few years later, I saw these students again in a championship basketball game. I was in the midst of exams and full of stress, but managed to see the last half of their game. It was an extremely close game, and, whenever they scored, I shouted so loudly I surprised myself. But I was so happy for them! Their joy and victory gave me life for that day!
The truth is: Whenever someone we love does well, we have joy. The more we love them, and the greater their victory, the greater our joy.
In a much deeper, long-lasting way, Jesus’ victory gave the early Christians so much joy that they changed the world, and had to share their faith.
The theologian, Fr. Gerald O’Collins, makes this historical observation: “After a short public career, Jesus was abandoned by nearly all his close followers, crucified as a messianic pretender, and apparently rejected by… God… Yet within a few years the reform movement which he had proclaimed… spread explosively to become a world religion. How can one account most plausibly for this phenomenon?” (Easter Faith, 39-40). He then compares Jesus to three other founders of world religions: Buddha, Confucius, and Muhammad. Buddha spent his long life teaching; so did Confucius, and he was celebrated when he died; Muhammad had a wealthy wife and military victories to help gather followers and spread his teaching. O’Collins says, “In these three instances we can point to publicly verifiable causes which furthered the spread of their religions… the long careers of the founders, financial resources, and success in battle. In the case of Christianity, the founder enjoyed none of these advantages… The subsequent propagation of the message of universal salvation in His name remains an enigmatic puzzle unless we admit a cause (the Resurrection) adequate to account for the effect” (Ibid., 40).
Before we get to the third reason, I’d like to invite everyone to encounter the Resurrected Jesus as the early Christians did. And we do so with a simple prayer based on St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:10). The prayer is this: “I want to know Christ and the power of His Resurrection.” Keep on saying that tonight and during Easter, and we’ll encounter the power.
Their victory is ours! Tonight is a time of triumph and celebration. Mass is our greatest celebration, with this beautiful liturgy, and then please come downstairs in the church hall for complimentary food! Today’s not a day to have a hard heart. When we’re in prayer, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the early Christians and experience their joy!
3) Finally, the second reading today says, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Col 3:4). This means that, when there is, God willing, the resurrection of our bodies after we die, our bodies will be like Jesus’, that is, in a state of perfection (Cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44, Phil 3:21; CCC 645, 990, 999, 1017).
This is best explained with a story. I saw a beautiful interview of Michael Voris, who’s known to some of us, and how his mother had severe bipolar disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) her whole life. These conditions dominated the family’s entire home life. She was lovely, kind, and caring, but then there would be a Mr. Hyde side to her. She’d walk around the mall and all of a sudden burst out crying. Each time before the family left the house, she’d check the door over and over again to make sure it’s locked, while her kids were standing there. At the end of her life, during her last conversation with Michael, she apologized once again for being, in her mind, a bad mother.
Then Michael starts crying: “To think that, in our faith, when we see the people that we love again, we’ll see them perfect, where all of that is gone. I’ve actually joked with mom a few times in praying, ‘Gosh, Mom, will I recognize you? You’re not going to be standing there at the gate doing the 1-2-3 thing.’ It is this glorious, glorious hope that all of the horrible effects of sins—that God wipes them away. And there we are, who we are supposed to be. It would be lovely to see Mom and Dad again, God willing.”
The third reason for joy is that, in heaven, all of our sufferings will be wiped away. No more pain, mental illness, developmental disabilities, and most importantly, no more sin: people won’t offend God and won’t hurt each other!
The Resurrection is the centre of our faith! “If Christ has not been raised,” St. Paul says, “then… your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). But, He has been raised, and that’s why we have three reasons for joy: 1) Jesus’ promises are true; 2) Our Lord has conquered evil; 3) In heaven, all of our sufferings will be wiped away.