Monsignor Ryan’s Homily for April 12th


In the homily that he preached on Good Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa quoted our patron, Pope St. Gregory the Great, to this effect. “Scripture,” he said ‘grows with its readers.’ It reveals meanings always new according to the questions people have in their hearts as they read it.” In effect, Gregory was asserting what I said in my homily for Palm Sunday: that current events are a powerful lens through which we read passages of Scripture to gain fresh insights. That is true for the Gospel narratives that we read during the Easter season.
We associate Easter with joy and celebration. We look forward to hearing the Easter Proclamation in front of the Paschal Candle and to rejoicing with catechumens as they are welcomed into the Church. We expect to see churches filled to overflowing on Sunday morning. And we gather with family and friends for festive meals as the Lenten fast comes to an end.
But the first Easter was not at all like that. In fact, it was much more akin to the “abnormal” Easter we are observing this year. That first Easter Sunday was marked by fear and despair. There were quarantines in effect and social distancing. There was even an attempted escape to a second home in the country, far removed from the metropolis.
Like the valiant nurses, physician, aides, first responders, the women were the ones who disregarded the fear, and went out to the tomb to do a final act of service. In the course of that deed of compassion and generosity, they heard the Good News of the Resurrection and actually saw the Risen One. But the apostles were so consumed with fear that they locked themselves into a sort of quarantine in the Upper Room. When the women brought the Good News, they were reluctant to believe what they said. “It seemed to them like so much nonsense.” Thomas, who had resorted to an extreme form of social isolation for a week, refused to accept the testimony of the Eleven that they had seen the Lord. And he demanded a “test” before he would become a believer.
Meanwhile two disciples, fearing contamination by association with Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem, were hightailing it out to the suburbs when Jesus caught up with them on the road. “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow to believe.” The breaking of the bread turned out to be the one effective remedy for their profound disappointment over the events at Calvary.
If we are candid, we must acknowledge that, although Easter has come, Good Friday is lingering this year. But it lingered on that first Easter also. “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” But the faithful women knew the truth. In the Upper Room Jesus asked for cooked fish, and ate it before the Eleven. The disciples’ hearts burned within them. Thomas was invited to put his finger into Jesus’ wounds. The Good News of the Resurrection was so astoundingly good, the change introduced into a death-doomed world was so incredible, that it took time to sink in.
This pandemic is going to come to an end. That is difficult for us to accept at the moment. We are simply too overwhelmed by the pain and disruption and tragedy to imagine a world returned to normal. So how do we celebrate Easter this year? Two suggestions.
The Gospels are unanimous in asserting the Jesus’ appearance was so altered after the Resurrection, that even Mary Magdalen could not recognize him until he spoke her name. Jesus is with us. It can be difficult for us to discern his presence; but, if we listen carefully in prayer, we may hear him calling each of us by name.
Secondly, our prayer this Easter of Covid-19 must be the simple invitation issued near the inn at Emmaus, “Stay with us…” He will not fail to respond to that plea. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door to me, I will go in and sup with him and he with me.” Amen, Lord Jesus, we hear you knocking even in the midst of all the chatter about the virus. Stay with us, Lord.

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