Happy Easter, everyone!
Jesus is the Lord of life, therefore, let’s look at how He resurrects life from our failures. Everyone knows that, when we fail, God forgives us and begins again, but we usually know this only intellectually. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve really started to understand that that’s Who God truly is. If you ask, “What changed it for you?” the answer is that I simply heard it over and over, until I finally knew how compassionate and patient God is with me.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
In tonight’s Gospel, we can see three examples of failures:
1) The women are Jesus’ most faithful disciples, but still failed to understand His words about His Resurrection. The text says, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the Mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week… they went to the tomb” (Mk 16:1-2). They went to the tomb because they believed He’s dead.
Have you ever noticed that Jesus’ mother, our mother, Mary, never went to the tomb? St. John Paul II and other theologians think she didn’t go to the tomb because she knew He would rise. She maintained hope, while everyone else failed to hope.
2) The young man sitting in the tomb tells the women, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (16:7). This reminds us how the first pope and apostles had betrayed Jesus, and didn’t even have the love of the women to go to His tomb.
3) The young man instructs the women to tell the disciples but scripture scholars point out that the women fail to carry this out (Leroy Huizenga, Loosing the Lion, 309)! The text says, “So they went out and fled from the tomb… and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8).
How does Jesus deal with all these failures? He begins again. This was our theme for all of Advent and Christmas, and tonight God repeats it because we need to hear it again, and that’s what Jesus does especially in St. Mark’s Gospel. This Gospel, in particular, shows the failure of the disciples over and over, and how Jesus keeps on building them up (Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark, 331). Jesus still chooses to send the women on mission as His witnesses! He’ll still appear to the apostles and commission them to proclaim His name. Now, the reason they’re supposed to meet Him in Galilee is because that’s where they first met Him, at the beginning of the Gospel! St. Mark wrote his Gospel this way so that the early Christians, when reading it, would have seen their own failures in following Jesus; now, they’re supposed to read the Gospel again and grow further (Carlo M. Martini, The Spiritual Journey of the Apostles: Growth in the Gospel of Mark, 93).
So, Jesus begins again with all of our personal, moral, and spiritual failures. And the Resurrection is proof that God will accomplish His plans in spite of our failures. There’s just one condition: We have to care. St. Peter failed but cried when Jesus looked at him, because he cared. The women cared enough to go to anoint His body. God’s plan is never fully accomplished in the lives of people who don’t care, because free will blocks His plan for them. But, if we care, God can use that. As we talked about two weeks ago, if we just have the desire to grow, that’s the beginning, because God, Who is a compassionate Father, just asks for openness and goodwill. The risen Jesus took the goodwill of the women and the apostles, and over time made them saints. And, over time, He took the goodwill of many others and transformed the Roman empire.
A non-believing sociologist named Rodney Stark wrote a book called The Rise of Christianity, and noted that the early Christian Church grew 40% per decade during its first three hundred years. How? By loving like Jesus; they were transformed by Him. Everyday life was miserable in the ancient world, but Christianity made it more bearable. Christians took care of each other when people were sick. It was good for women, because pagan women got married around age 11 to men around 35, while Christian women married around 18. Christians didn’t abort their female babies, and didn’t practice infanticide. Stark says, “What Christianity gave its converts was nothing less than their humanity”. Jesus is still alive today. He takes our misery and gives us our humanity, He takes our failures and renews us.
In 2018, in Texas, Botham Jean was shot in his apartment by an off-duty police officer, Amber Guyger, who was then convicted of murder. During her trial Jean’s brother Brandt forgave her. In a minute, we’ll show a clip of Brandt speaking to his brother’s killer, and see Brandt’s faith in Jesus. His strength and his understanding of the nature of love are, for me, a sign of Jesus’ Resurrection. For him to say what he said is a sign that Jesus is alive and changes lives. (Please watch from 0:00-2:30).
Sometime after this moment, the judge, Tammy Kemp, went to Guyger and said, “Brandt Jean has forgiven you; please forgive yourself.” Guyger asked if her life could still have purpose and if God would forgive her, and Kemp replied, “Yes, He will.” Guyger apparently said to her, “I don’t have a Bible. I don’t own a Bible. I don’t know where to start.” So Kemp went to her chambers, got her own Bible, gave it to her, instructing her to go to John 3:16, and then they read it together: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.
Jesus is alive, knocking at our hearts, inviting us to give our lives to Him, to make Him again the centre of our lives, and invite others to do the same.
I think there’s one failure that Jesus wants to heal in our parish, and that’s failures in our families. Let me bring this up delicately. I’ve known for years that a good number of Catholic marriages aren’t doing well, and this happens in every parish. There are a lot of wounds, bitterness, and resentment in families. My family, too, isn’t that strong, truth be told. And most of us fail at passing on to our children faith in Jesus and love of Him.
So, here’s what I’d like to suggest: We spend the rest of 2021 focusing more or less on the theme of family. Here are my three big hopes:
1) Starting on Mother’s Day weekend, Saturday, May 8, 2021 we do this 44-day “Consecration to Jesus through Saint Joseph.” We read two pages a day, do the self-reflection questions, then meet weekly in small groups. I’ve used this book and love it. Who doesn’t have problems in their life and family? From this book, we see some ways God wants to heal us.
2) If we rediscover the importance of Jesus’ presence in our family, I hope our parents of teenagers and school-aged children will support having a NET Team come to our parish this fall. NET stands for the National Evangelization Team that has full-time young adult missionaries who give up a year of their lives to help teenagers encounter Jesus. We didn’t get them last year, but it would be a game changer this year for our young adults, teenagers, and future teens.
3) Right now, we’re running The Marriage Course, a seven-week course created by the same group as Alpha, designed to help couples invest in their relationship and build a strong marriage, whether they’ve been married two or thirty years. We’re building up leaders in the parish with the hope of launching this for more couples in the fall, so that we can invite our family and friends to take it with us.
This paints the picture of what we hope the Holy Spirit does this year in our parish, and I hope you’ll join us for it. Jesus wants to heal our families. Please give me or any parish leader feedback on this. Thank you!
Let’s end with a quote from Pope Benedict XVI: “Jesus is not a character from the past. He lives, and… walks before us as one who is alive, he calls us to follow him… and in this way to discover for ourselves… the path of life”.