Easter – April 17, 2022

This is the day the Lord has made!   …  Welcome back to our Cathedral Church after two long years of uncertainty and pain.  …  Welcome to our Catholic family – welcome to our brothers and sisters from other Christian communities and faith traditions – and welcome to our Jewish brothers and sisters who join us and who celebrate Passover during these very days.  …  It is good that we are together.

Join with me in giving thanks for 107 catechumens and candidates, who, despite the challenges of these past years, listened to the voice of the risen Lord speaking to their hearts and said yes to God’s invitation to be baptized and received into full communion in the Catholic Church.  How blest we are by their presence and commitment to journey with us in faith.

Finally, let us together give thanks this day for the life and ministry of our beloved Bishop John Dougherty, who served as Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton from 1995 to 2009 and who passed away yesterday just two weeks shy of his 90th birthday.  May our Risen Lord give him the rest he so richly deserves.

Two years ago as we celebrated Easter, we did so in the midst of a world that had been turned upside down.  Life came to a standstill as we confronted a strange virus that had invaded our lives in a way that none of us had ever before experienced nor could have imagined.  Today, as we find ourselves at last emerging from the darkness of a global pandemic, our world is sadly still turned upside down as our brothers and sisters in Ukraine suffer the ravages of war.  This moment, more than any other in our recent history, reminds us of our desperate need for a savior who will lift us from the brokenness of our world and save us from ourselves!  This moment, brothers and sisters, is why we celebrate Easter.

Simone Weil, the great French philosopher and mystic who dies almost 80 years ago, remarked that the extraordinary greatness of Christianity is not that it provides us medicine against suffering, but that it gives perspective and meaning to suffering.  “The gospel,” she noted, “does not promise that we will not suffer.  Indeed, the gospel makes it very clear that we do have to lose our lives, take up our crosses and follow Christ.”

You and I know all too well that the faith that has sustained us during these past few difficult years has hardly preserved us from the cross.  It has, however, enabled us to look at our lives through the lens of hope – a hope rooted in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Just a moment ago, we heard the story of how Mary of Magdala visited the tomb of Jesus early in the morning on the first day of the week, only to discover that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away.  She ran to find Peter and the other disciples.  And when they arrived at the tomb they saw the burial cloths and the cloth that covered Jesus head rolled up in a separate place.  The scriptures tell us that they struggled to make sense of what they saw for “they did not yet understand that Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

While the events of that first Easter morning make sense to us today, there’s no reason for us to believe that the women, Peter, or any of the first followers of Jesus were anything but confused, heartbroken and powerless as they attempted to sort out all that had happened to their teacher and friend.  Nor were their struggles and pain miraculously lifted from their lives following their encounters with the risen Lord.  What made the difference for the first followers of Jesus was their faith in the miracle of Easter that enabled them – and us – to see through the pain of our crosses to the promise of life and peace.

While our hearts break as we confront the suffering of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, we would do well to allow this moment to speak to our hearts and, as Pope Francis has reminded us, to carry us “into the mystery of God.”

I will never forget a news report that I saw in the early days of the war that continues to rage in Eastern Europe this day.  Visiting a Polish border town, the reporter expected to be confronted with a humanitarian catastrophe as millions of Ukrainians fled their homeland for the safety of neighboring countries.  Instead, what she saw was, in her words, “the best of humanity.”  An Italian pianist living in Germany brought his piano to the border and played consoling music to welcome the refugees who poured into Poland.  Food and clean clothing was shared.  Polish families waited in lines to bring their new neighbors into their homes to rest.  And in languages understood by all, these simple words captured the essence of what was taking place in that border town:  “Here you are safe.”

What powerful reminders to us of the hope that emerges from faith – hope that encourages and consoles, even in the very midst of the cross of suffering!

This gift of Easter faith and the hope it brings, brothers and sisters, is nurtured not by an empty tomb that we’ve never seen but by countless numbers of encounters with the life and love of Jesus that we have all experienced.  …  Such encounters are found in our families in the day to day blessings that we don’t even recognize but are there.  …  They are found in our service of the most vulnerable in our midst – the sick, the poor, the elderly.  …  They are found in the rubble of war.  …  And they are deepened through our experience of the sacramental life of the Church.

A year ago, Pope Francis proclaimed these words that are even more relevant to our lives today.  “If on this night you are experiencing an hour of darkness, a day that has not yet dawned, a light dimmed or a dream shattered, go, open your heart with amazement to the message of Easter: ‘Do not be afraid, he has risen!’  …  Your expectations will not remain unfulfilled, your tears will be dried, your fears will be replaced by hope.  For the Lord always goes ahead of you, he always walks before you.  With him, life always begins anew.”

Today, brothers and sisters, through the power of the Risen Christ, we are all safe!