Happy Easter, everyone! And again a special welcome to all of our guests! The question with which we’re going to start is difficult, but will direct us towards Easter joy: Why does some of what we’re going through hurt so much? Some of us have been struggling in relationships and it hurts intensely. Some of us are hurting in our loneliness. Some of us continue to make the same mistakes and can’t fix our lives. In prayer, we ask, “Jesus, what do You want to say through this suffering?”
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
Let’s answer our question and learn four truths from St. Mary Magdalene’s waiting at Jesus’ tomb.
Here’s the 1st truth: If you stay at Jesus’ tomb, you will find joy. St. Mary Magdalene is the example of a loving heart which searches for Jesus. The text says, “The disciples (St. Peter and the Beloved Disciple) returned to their homes. But Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb” (Jn 20:10-11). If we look for Jesus risen, that is, joy, then we will find Him. We don’t know exactly when it will come, because it’s up to Jesus when He reveals Himself, but it will come. So stay there and wait for Jesus to come!
2nd truth: Our capacity to suffer = our capacity to love = our capacity for joy. The reason we can get hurt so much is because we’re capable of great love. The best way to understand this is with an image: When we open our arms towards other people, they can either hug or ignore us. We’re open to love, great intimacy, and relationships, but also vulnerable to being hurt and rejected. Ah! But that means we’re capable of being filled with great joy! I’ve always found this very consoling. You’re hurting so much because you’re capable of great love, you have a big, generous, and sensitive heart; and so you’re capable of profound happiness.
Two times, St. Mary Magdalene is asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (Jn 20:13,15). She’s weeping because she misses Jesus so much, but she’s about to be the first one to experience the greatest joy!
This is the message of Christian faith: God always has His arms open to us, but we reject Him, and we crucify Him, and put His arms permanently in this position. However, He actually leaves them there to remind us that He will always welcome us home.
The priest at Mass, when he prays on behalf of everyone to God the Father, has his arms extended in the form of a cross. Some have their hands more open upwards and closer together than I do, but the point is they’re open in love, but also open to suffering…and to joy.
3rd truth: Moving from pain to joy is a journey. St. Mary starts in darkness (“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb” (Jn 20:1)), which is symbolic of her spiritual ignorance, sadness, and loss of hope (Raymond Brown, Introduction to the Gospel of John, 314; See also Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV, The Gospel of John, in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 332). We know that the author of the Gospel deliberately used this symbolism because Jesus tells us that He’s the light of the world (Jn 8:12); after Judas leaves the Last Supper, in a short sentence, it says, “And it was night” (Jn 13:30), etc. But light is coming. So don’t worry if you haven’t yet reached the joy of the Resurrection today! It quite often takes time.
4th truth: Joy comes from encountering the risen Jesus and having faith in Him. The text says, “When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ which means Teacher…Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’” (Jn 20:14-16,18).
Three times in this Gospel Jesus calls someone ‘Woman’ and it’s always a sign that He’s starting a new relationship with her (Martin & Wright, 336). He did this twice with His own mother when He made her the new Eve and the mother of the Church (Jn 2:4; 19:26) and once with the Samaritan woman when she was symbolic of the Samaritan people’s marrying God (Jn 4:21). And Jesus establishes a new relationship with St. Mary: At first, she doesn’t recognize Him, calling Him, ‘Sir,’ then she recognizes Him as her ‘Teacher,’ and eventually as her ‘Lord,’ meaning that He’s now her God.
Here are three stories to illustrate different kinds of experiencing the risen Jesus.
1) A taste of the Resurrection. While I’m happy tonight, I haven’t experienced lately the full joy of Jesus’ Resurrection, but a taste of it. Two months ago, when I was feeling intense anger and my heart was burdened, neither food, exercise, nor conversations would satisfy me. I just had to go to the chapel. And something new happened in my life: I could literally feel Jesus’ healing my heart. If you were to time-lapse a video of a cut on your arm, and see the wound rapidly close up, turn colours, and then the scar disappear, that’s what you’d see on my heart. And though I would feel an urge, “Lord, I’ve got to go back to work!” I knew I had to stay there for two hours, just receiving His healing. If you’re able to go to the drive-in adoration, do so!
2) A resurrection of faith. I have permission to share the following: One of our parishioners was unfaithful in his marriage repeatedly and even after he was caught last year, he continued with his lies and infidelity. He hated God from the bottom of his heart and hadn’t been coming to Mass for many years. One day, he found his wife’s diary, and discovered how much pain he had caused her and their children, and yet she hadn’t lost faith that God was still there. He was curious: How can this be? How can someone in so much pain and suffering still have hope and faith in God? So he went to church that night, and asked Jesus, “If I come back and tell You everything, will You come back into my heart and fill my soul with Your words and teach me to be closer to You?” Very quickly, he started looking into joining different ministries and retreats, looking forward to the homilies and music. He’s been praying the Rosary twice a day for a while, is still praying our Alpha 11:02 prayer twice a day, gave up meat for all of Lent, wants to talk to his family about God, and do anything to move closer to holiness. His son has inspired him because his son’s faith is beyond his years. Some people think he’s putting on a show, and how can someone change so quickly. But it’s been a true resurrection of faith. He’s really looking forward to Easter because it’s about new life. He’s found new faith and a new life in rebuilding his marriage and relationship with his children.
3) Resurrection in other people’s lives. Many of us know that one of our parishioners, Warlito Valdez, died on Sunday, April 5, 2020, from COVID-19. I’ve talked to his wife and sister-in-law a few times, and they’ve given me permission to share these graces: They kept emphasizing that there’s a purpose to Warly’s death, that he’s in God’s hands, and that God chose him to be with Him. They’re still grieving, but are strengthened by the love and prayer surrounding them. And the sister-in-law said something very powerful: She told her two teenage sons that they will now have to take care of Warly’s four-year-old daughter, their cousin. They will have to teach her right from wrong, never to tell even white lies. When I heard this, I thought, “Oh my goodness. Warly’s death is bringing about a resurrection in the lives of his two nephews. They will grow up faster and more like Christ to take care of their cousin. That’s what Christ did. He laid down His life so that we could live, not just an earthly life, but a spiritual life focused on love.” The family told me that Warly isolated himself and that’s why he died alone in his room, but he was protecting his family. And I thought of how St. Therese lost her mom when she was also four, and her elder sister, Pauline, became her mother.
If we haven’t yet experienced Jesus’ Resurrection, here’s what we can do:
1. Stay at His tomb, meaning wait for Him, and, as we said two weeks ago, don’t demand things according to our own timing.
2. Ask to encounter Him, because Jesus won’t force us to meet Him. Jesus offers us joy, but, because of free will, He waits for us to want Him to come in.
3. Don’t close your arms to God and other people. When we’re hurt, we protect ourselves. But, while we should protect ourselves from abuse and grave evils, our hearts should still be open to loving people. We may not spend as much time with them, but we still desire their good.
4. St. Mary had to let go of her previous belief that Jesus’ body was stolen. In the same way, sometimes we may have to let go of previous conceptions of God and what He’ll do for us, and let go of old hurts.
5. One of my hopes in the next month or so is that we’ll start our Alpha program online. We’re working right now on how to transition this into an amazing online experience.
In the online chat, at the end of Mass, could we do something new, please? If you’re able, could you please write very quickly one example of whatever Easter joy you’re experiencing? Our rallying cry by July 1 is to be closer to Jesus, holier, stronger, and bolder. Let’s be bold tonight and share what Jesus is doing.
Easter has already begun even if we haven’t experienced its joy. Jesus is already risen. I’m so happy for those of you who are already experiencing it. Our capacity to suffer = our capacity to love = our capacity for joy!