Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Easter – April 1, 2018
This is the day the Lord has made! … Welcome one and all on this day of Resurrection – this day that defines who we are as Christians. … Welcome to our Cathedral Church. … Welcome to our Catholic family – and welcome to our brothers and sisters from different religious and faith traditions – especially our Jewish brothers and sisters who are celebrating Passover during these same sacred days that we treasure in our Church. … It is good that we are here together.
With the entire Church of Scranton, we give thanks today for the great gift of all those who have opened their hearts to the risen Lord and who seek to walk more closely with him. In parishes throughout our Diocese, 68 Catechumens were baptized and 89 Candidates were received into full communion in the Catholic Church. Here in our Cathedral Parish, Agnes Musari, Serena Zatara and Isabelle Penton were baptized, confirmed and received the Holy Eucharist for the first time. How blest we are by their presence with us, his Church.
On February 13th, the day before Ash Wednesday, a cousin of mine by the name of Jen ended her Way of the Cross and passed into the life and peace of God’s eternity. Jen’s death came somewhat quickly, less than two months after having been diagnosed with cancer. That being said, the last ten years or so of her life were characterized by one health problem after another.
Despite the fact that Jen was eight years older than me, having grown up and lived in the same area, we were quite close. Nonetheless, I was privileged to have many opportunities to speak with her as it became evident that she was winding down. Just 4 days before she passed, she shared with me her thoughts about death and life as she prepared for the inevitable.
In our conversation, Jen never talked about the obvious crosses that she had carried throughout her 71 years. … She spoke with great love about her only son, Jason, who has been a resident at St. Joseph’s Center for most of his 40+ years, never for an instant bemoaning his situation. … She recalled her brother who had passed away a few years earlier from ALS, stating simply that she looked forward to seeing him again, along with her mother and father. … And not once did she ever suggest that her many health concerns had been a burden for her.
These were the profound words that my cousin Jen shared that day that I will never forget. “I’ve been blessed by God and have had a wonderful life. I’m not afraid. I look forward to where God will take me on the next part of the journey!”
Jen’s story isn’t unique. I know many of you have similar stories to tell of your loved ones as they prepare to face their journey to God’s eternity. Nor do I mention my cousin Jen on “this day that the Lord has made” because she lived an extraordinary life. To the contrary, hers was quite ordinary, like most of our lives. She walked through life with both feet firmly planted on the ground – and would be the first to admit that sometimes they were even planted a little bit below the surface! She was, however, blessed with the conviction that in her own powerlessness to navigate her way through what, at times, proved to be a challenging world, she desperately needed the power of God in her life. Through her prayers – in caring for her family – by trying the best that she could to live with gratitude for the blessings she’d been given – she came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. And this belief was all the more significant for her because she was humble enough to see the hand of God carrying her in the midst of all that life unfolded.
Pope Francis reflected upon this simple reality that characterized my cousin’s life and so many of our own. To experience the hope of Easter, we have to be “willing to enter into the mystery” of God. “To enter into the mystery” means that we’re willing to wonder and to contemplate, to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper by which God speaks to us. … The mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions. … To enter into the mystery of God, we need … the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing instead who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness.” … In short, we need to appreciate our “powerlessness” in the face of this world and our absolute need for God.
That powerlessness of which the Holy Father speaks characterized the followers of Jesus in the early hours of Easter morning. Their world had come to an end. … St. John concludes his descriptions of that first day of the week by stating that the followers of Jesus “did not yet understand.” … Yet, it was their acknowledged powerlessness that opened the doors of their hearts to encounter the risen Jesus.
I always find it interesting that in the gospels of Easter, we don’t see Jesus. While Jesus was very present to us throughout the gospels of Holy Week – Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday – today, of all days, we don’t meet him. He doesn’t speak to us or show himself to us in the manner with which we’re accustomed to experiencing him in the scriptures. But we do encounter him – most vividly through the gift of faith emerging in the early Christian community – a faith born not from some sort of proof – a faith that was characterized at times by uncertainty and doubt – yet a faith dependent upon the mercy and love of God. … My brothers and sisters, this is our story too – and this is to know and experience the resurrection of Jesus.
This gift of faith 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 emerge within the life of the Church all the time. … They’re found in our families in the day to day blessings that we don’t even recognize but are there. … Encounters with the risen Jesus are particularly evident when we serve the most vulnerable in our midst – the sick, the poor, the elderly. … They’re deepened through our experience of the sacramental life of the Church.
My friends, when we’re wise and humble enough to open our hearts to the risen Jesus and acknowledge our need for God to make sense of our lives, not only is the path to eternal life discovered, but we are given reason to hope, despite and because of the brokenness of our lives.
Brothers and sisters, join me in making these words of Pope Francis our own: “Let the risen Jesus enter your life. Welcome him as a friend, with trust: He is life! If until now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid. Trust him. Be confident that he is close to you, that he is with you and that he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you live.”