Collection of Homilies

Homilies collected by Rev. Fr. Jessie G. Somosierra, Jr

Archive for April, 2010

We “Have the “Privilege of Standing Today Before This Same Empty Tomb”

JERUSALEM, APRIL 4, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Easter Sunday homily given by the Latrin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal.

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Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord is risen! He is truly risen!

That Sunday morning the two apostles, Peter and John and before them the pious women with the Magdalene, reached this very tomb. Great was their amazement at seeing the stone rolled away form the mouth of the tomb. Even greater was their distress at not finding the Lord’s body there.

Who had dared to remove that huge stone?

Perhaps the Roman soldiers? Surely not! A stunt like that would have certainly cost them their lives. The chief priests? Impossible! It was just these men who had demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. The apostles? No, since they were cowering and hidden! The pious women, then? But how could a few women lacking in physical strength move a rock that only several robust men could have handled?

For a few instants, the two apostles stood facing and wondering at the empty tomb, with its funeral cloth and wrappings. Up to then they had not yet understood the Scriptures. But there they began to remember the words that Our Lord himself had spoken to them when he was still and alive and which the very angels had communicated to the pious women: “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said” (Mt 28:06). These words were confirmed shortly after by the numerous apparitions of Christ, who desired to show himself alive to his disciples, strengthening them in their faith in Him, who died and rose again: “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself” (Lk 24:39).

We, bishops, priests and faithful, men and women, young and old from all Churches and from all peoples, have the privilege of standing today before this same empty tomb with a different emotion, with great amazement, surrounded by a cloud of so many witnesses who at that time and throughout history have witnessed to the truth of the Resurrection, giving their very lives for Christ.

Weighing in on the side of the Resurrection there is the witness of the empty tomb, the numerous apparitions of the Rison One to his disciples, and of history itself. Since it is certainly held that credible testimony comes from the dignity of the witness, we cannot but trust the testimony of the apostles and of the women who saw the Lord, who saw him alive after having gone to the tomb and who were then ready to die in order to affirm their testimony.

Science and archeology, of course, have never found the Lord’s body since he is risen! His enemies, not managing to come up with his body, spread the false rumor of it having been stolen. In reality, they were unable to find his remains because He, after having suffered, was alive, had risen.  The apostles shouted out exultantly the announcement of his resurrection and we, with them, do likewise. Were we to choose to be silent, were we to decide to keep quiet, the stones before us would cry out in our place since these very stones are mum and ongoing witnesses to the Resurrection of the Lord, as he himself said.

This year, then, our joy is double. All of us, the pastors and faithful of the diverse Churches, are celebrating the same Easter on the same day in the same place. It is the same voice. The Christians of all the world shout out today in a loud voice: “Christ is Risen!” Together with the Oriental Liturgy we praise Christ who “by his death has trodden death under foot and given life again to those who were in the tombs.” With the words of the Latin Liturgy we sing to the Lord of Life: “Victimae paschali laudes immolent christiani. Agnus redemit oves, Christus innocens Patri reconciliavit peccatores.”

Perhaps someone might be disturbed by the overlapping of prayers and songs that are heard at the same time and in diverse rites. Yet this seeming cacophony, lived in faith becomes instead a symphony that expresses the unity of the faith and of the joyful celebration of the Lord’s victory over evil and death, of the One who arose again on the third day precisely from this tomb. Yes, we are the Church of Cavalry, the Church of the empty Tomb, and of the glorious Resurrection!

Today more than ever we need hope and a special kind of strength in order to conquer the evil that is within us and around us. This year, 2010, has seen two terrible earthquakes, in Haiti and in Chile, with hundreds of thousands of victims. Thanks precisely to the hope that lives in the heart of every man and woman of good will, all of humanity was able to show a great deal of solidarity towards the survivors. Even our own Diocese participated: on the Fourth Sunday of Lent we collected the fruit of our abstinence and our fasting in order to offer succor to our brothers and sisters who were struck by such huge cataclysms, with the very same charity with which the world came to our aid in the suffering and privation that we witnessed not long ago.

This solidarity in our difficulties does much to strengthen the hope that is in us. We have said it and we repeat it: Today more than ever we need a lively hope in the midst of so much violence, in midst of bloody clashes and ethnic and religious divisions. The many wars, numerous conflicts and religious intolerance, besides the direct persecutions of which Christians are often victims, seem to confirm that the Prince of Darkness has conquered forever. But that is not the case! The small flock should not be afraid, as Jesus himself assures us: “Now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn 12:31b-32).

From this sacred site that saw the most unexpected and surprising event in human history and that gives witness to the victory of Christ over death and evil, our Mother Church, united with the Church of Rome, turns to all the faithful of the Holy Land, to all the pilgrims, and even to the entire word, in order to greet them and wish them a joyful Easter. We pray for them and ask for their prayers for us so that the grace be given to all our parochial communities of our Diocese, extending over Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus, to be joyful witnesses of this event, so unique in human history.

We wish not to testify with our lips alone, but with our very lives.  The Lord, himself, in fact, invites us with all the power of the Resurrection, to cast off the old man, who is a slave to sin, cast off death and impotence and to put on the new man created in His image and likeness.  We will be witnesses not only by word, but by our lives, with sanctity and universal love, with our patience and our enduring in the Holy Land beside the Holy Places.

With Your strength, Risen Lord,
We hold out against the evil that is in us and around us.
Our trust does not come from ourselves,
But from You who have overcome the world.

We ask You for victory over our divisions, religious, political and familial;
Strength for our weakness, healing for our illnesses,
freedom for prisoners, return for our refugees,
peace and reconciliation for all people in conflict.

“This is the day that the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps 117,24)

“The Cure for Death Does Exist”

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 4, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI’s homily at the Easter Vigil.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

An ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book “The life of Adam and Eve” recounts that, in his final illness, Adam sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be anointed with it and healed. The two of them went in search of the tree of life, and after much praying and weeping on their part, the Archangel Michael appeared to them, and told them they would not obtain the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die. Subsequently, Christian readers added a word of consolation to the Archangel’s message, to the effect that after 5,500 years the loving King, Christ, would come, the Son of God who would anoint all those who believe in him with the oil of his mercy.

“The oil of mercy from eternity to eternity will be given to those who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. Then the Son of God, Christ, abounding in love, will descend into the depths of the earth and will lead your father into Paradise, to the tree of mercy.” This legend lays bare the whole of humanity’s anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us. Man’s resistance to death becomes evident: somewhere – people have constantly thought – there must be some cure for death. Sooner or later it should be possible to find the remedy not only for this or that illness, but for our ultimate destiny – for death itself. Surely the medicine of immortality must exist. Today too, the search for a source of healing continues. Modern medical science strives, if not exactly to exclude death, at least to eliminate as many as possible of its causes, to postpone it further and further, to prolong life more and more. But let us reflect for a moment: what would it really be like if we were to succeed, perhaps not in excluding death totally, but in postponing it indefinitely, in reaching an age of several hundred years? Would that be a good thing? Humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die, and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation. The true cure for death must be different. It cannot lead simply to an indefinite prolongation of this current life. It would have to transform our lives from within. It would need to create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity: it would need to transform us in such a way as not to come to an end with death, but only then to begin in fullness. What is new and exciting in the Christian message, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was and is that we are told: yes indeed, this cure for death, this true medicine of immortality, does exist. It has been found. It is within our reach. In baptism, this medicine is given to us. A new life begins in us, a life that matures in faith and is not extinguished by the death of the old life, but is only then fully revealed.

To this some, perhaps many, will respond: I certainly hear the message, but I lack faith. And even those who want to believe will ask: but is it really so? How are we to picture it to ourselves? How does this transformation of the old life come about, so as to give birth to the new life that knows no death? Once again, an ancient Jewish text can help us form an idea of the mysterious process that begins in us at baptism. There it is recounted how the patriarch Enoch was taken up to the throne of God. But he was filled with fear in the presence of the glorious angelic powers, and in his human weakness he could not contemplate the face of God. “Then God said to Michael,” to quote from the book of Enoch, “‘Take Enoch and remove his earthly clothing. Anoint him with sweet oil and vest him in the robes of glory!’ And Michael took off my garments, anointed me with sweet oil, and this oil was more than a radiant light … its splendour was like the rays of the sun. When I looked at myself, I saw that I was like one of the glorious beings” (Ph. Rech, Inbild des Kosmos, II 524).

Precisely this – being reclothed in the new garment of God – is what happens in baptism, so the Christian faith tells us. To be sure, this changing of garments is something that continues for the whole of life. What happens in baptism is the beginning of a process that embraces the whole of our life – it makes us fit for eternity, in such a way that, robed in the garment of light of Jesus Christ, we can appear before the face of God and live with him for ever.

In the rite of baptism there are two elements in which this event is expressed and made visible in a way that demands commitment for the rest of our lives. There is first of all the rite of renunciation and the promises. In the early Church, the one to be baptized turned towards the west, the symbol of darkness, sunset, death and hence the dominion of sin. The one to be baptized turned in that direction and pronounced a threefold “no”: to the devil, to his pomp and to sin. The strange word “pomp”, that is to say the devil’s glamour, referred to the splendour of the ancient cult of the gods and of the ancient theatre, in which it was considered entertaining to watch people being torn limb from limb by wild beasts. What was being renounced was a type of culture that ensnared man in the adoration of power, in the world of greed, in lies, in cruelty. It was an act of liberation from the imposition of a form of life that was presented as pleasure and yet hastened the destruction of all that was best in man. This renunciation – albeit in less dramatic form – remains an essential part of baptism today. We remove the “old garments”, which we cannot wear in God’s presence. Or better put: we begin to remove them. This renunciation is actually a promise in which we hold out our hand to Christ, so that he may guide us and reclothe us. What these “garments” are that we take off, what the promise is that we make, becomes clear when we see in the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Galatians what Paul calls “works of the flesh” – a term that refers precisely to the old garments that we remove. Paul designates them thus: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like” (Gal 5:19ff.). These are the garments that we remove: the garments of death.

Then, in the practice of the early Church, the one to be baptized turned towards the east – the symbol of light, the symbol of the newly rising sun of history, the symbol of Christ. The candidate for baptism determines the new direction of his life: faith in the Trinitarian God to whom he entrusts himself. Thus it is God who clothes us in the garment of light, the garment of life. Paul calls these new “garments” “fruits of the spirit”, and he describes them as follows: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22).

In the early Church, the candidate for baptism was then truly stripped of his garments. He descended into the baptismal font and was immersed three times – a symbol of death that expresses all the radicality of this removal and change of garments. His former death-bound life the candidate consigns to death with Christ, and he lets himself be drawn up by and with Christ into the new life that transforms him for eternity. Then, emerging from the waters of baptism the neophytes were clothed in the white garment, the garment of God’s light, and they received the lighted candle as a sign of the new life in the light that God himself had lit within them. They knew that they had received the medicine of immortality, which was fully realized at the moment of receiving holy communion. In this sacrament we receive the body of the risen Lord and we ourselves are drawn into this body, firmly held by the One who has conquered death and who carries us through death.

In the course of the centuries, the symbols were simplified, but the essential content of baptism has remained the same. It is no mere cleansing, still less is it a somewhat complicated initiation into a new association. It is death and resurrection, rebirth to new life.
Indeed, the cure for death does exist. Christ is the tree of life, once more within our reach. If we remain close to him, then we have life. Hence, during this night of resurrection, with all our hearts we shall sing the alleluia, the song of joy that has no need of words. Hence, Paul can say to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Joy cannot be commanded. It can only be given. The risen Lord gives us joy: true life. We are already held for ever in the love of the One to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given (cf. Mt 28:18). In this way, confident of being heard, we make our own the Church’s Prayer over the Gifts from the liturgy of this night: Accept the prayers and offerings of your people. With your help may this Easter mystery of our redemption bring to perfection the saving work you have begun in us. Amen.