Jerry was at a marriage seminar, and the leader of the seminar, a lady, was asking everybody how long they were married. When it was Jerry’s turn, he said that he was married for almost 50 years. “Wow” the leader gushed, “that’s amazing, perhaps you can take a few minutes to share some insights with everybody about how you stay married to the same woman for so long.” “Well,” Jerry said, after thinking for a few moments, “I try to treat her nice, buy her presents, take her on trips…………. and best of all, for our 25th anniversary I took her to the Bahamas.” “Well that’s really beautiful, and a true inspiration for all of us” the lady said. “Maybe you can tell us what you are going to do for your 50th anniversary” she said with a smile. “Well” Jerry said, “I’m thinking of going back to the Bahamas to pick her up.”
The story of Easter is not only what happened to Jesus, but what happened to his disciples and how they became His witnesses to His resurrection. On, Sunday, April 19, three couples: William and Miriam Curtin, 50 years married, Frederick and Rosemary Schalek, 50 years married and Aldo and Sylvia Palombo, 60 years married, will join with Bishop Sullivan or be acknowledged by Bishop Sullivan at Saint Gianna Beretta Molla Parish in Northfield to celebrate their 2015 wedding anniversaries. I thank each of these couples and all of you who have witnessed to the presence of Christ in your marriage.
In the Book of Blessings there is a prayer for those who celebrate a couple’s wedding anniversary:
We have come together to celebrate the anniversary of the marriage of our brother and sister. As we join them in their joy, we join them also in their gratitude. God has set them among us as a sign of his love and through the years they have remained faithful (and have fulfilled their responsibilities as parents). Let us give thanks for all the favors they have received during their married life. May God keep them in their love for each other, so that they may be more and more of one mind and one heart.
This past year, I was privileged to witness the marriage of sixteen couples who have been, by their marriage covenant, set among us as a sign of God’s love. At their weddings, I prayed:
Holy Father, you created mankind in your own image
and made man and woman to be joined as husband and wife
in union of body and heart
and so fulfill their mission in this world.
How often, when we speak the language ‘vocation’ we think of those priests and nuns who live the life of a religious. This weekend I am profoundly grateful to all of you who have so faithfully responded to your vocation to witness to the Lord in your marriage. My prayer for you from the Wedding Rite:
Lord, may they both praise you when they are happy
and turn to you in their sorrows.
May they be glad that you help them in their work
and know that you are with them in their need.
May they pray to you in the community of the Church,
and be your witnesses in the world.
May they reach old age in the company of their friends,
and come at last to the kingdom of heaven.
After the Easter Masses this past Sunday, I went to my parents for a meal and to visit with my sisters, my brother and their families. I congratulated my mother for how well she kept her Lenten fast from sweets throughout the entirety of Lent. And then she confessed (even on Easter Sunday afternoon I couldn’t get away from work). She told me she hadn’t avoided sweets the entire forty days because she said she was allowed to eat them on Sunday’s during Lent. When I asked her show she rationalized this, she explained that because Sunday is the day we are to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection there should be no fasting. She also added that when you include the Sundays there are more than forty days in Lent and you only have to fast for forty. My mother is either a great theologian or she will find any way to rationalize her addiction to sweets.
As we now enter into the Easter Season, I have to admit that she may be the true theologian in our family.
For Easter isn’t one day. The Easter season is the “Great Fifty Days” from Easter to Pentecost. It is a week of weeks — seven sevens, 49 days, plus a 50th. The first 40 days commemorate the time between Jesus’ resurrection and the ascension (see Acts 1:3), and the last 10 days commemorate the time from the ascension to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
And every Sunday we do celebrate Easter. While many may have put away their fancy new Easter dress and their bunny decorations and others have concluded their Easter egg hunts and fulfilled their obligation to attend an Easter Sunday service we continue to recognize at every Mass the presence of the Risen Lord.
And so I encourage you to enjoy the sweets and keep the center of your rejoicing on the fact that Christ is indeed risen from the dead and that the joys of eternity can begin now, in advance, for we place our hopes and trust in Jesus, the King of Mercy who promises to bring us to our home where the season of Easter never ceases.
To begin our Holy Week, I offer Pope Francis’ homily given during the Easter Vigil last year:
“The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ begins with the journey of the women to the tomb at dawn on the day after the Sabbath. They go to the tomb to honour the body of the Lord, but they find it open and empty. A mighty angel says to them: “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5) and orders them to go and tell the disciples: “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (v. 7). The women quickly depart and on the way Jesus himself meets them and says: “Do not fear; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (v. 10). “Do not be afraid”, “do not fear”: these are words that encourage us to open our hearts to receive the message.
After the death of the Master, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died. But now that message of the women, incredible as it was, came to them like a ray of light in the darkness. The news spread: Jesus is risen as he said. And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: “Let them go to Galilee; there they will see me”. “Do not fear” and “go to Galilee”.
Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began! To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called. Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets. He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22).
To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory, fearlessly: “do not be afraid”. To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.
For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus. “To go to Galilee” means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience. To return to Galilee means above all to return to that flame that ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.
In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also another “Galilee”, a more existential “Galilee”: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. To return there means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.
Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee? I need to remind myself, to go back and remember. Where is my Galilee? Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Seek and you will find it! There the Lord is waiting for you. Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it? Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy. Do not be afraid, do not fear, return to Galilee!
The Gospel is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection. This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth. Go back to Galilee, without fear!”
May the Risen Lord lead you to ‘your’ Galilee. Happy Easter,
I am often approached by people who comment on the sparse decorations of our churches during Lent. Some commenting favorably and some not. Some people are passionate in their opinions and some are more casual in their expression. Whatever our preference of design may be, I think some of the most evocative symbols of Holy Week are the most simple.
Consider that we begin our Holy Week observance on this Palm Sunday with branches of palm – rich and green, soft and pliant, yet hearty and strong. For me and perhaps for you, they are long – awaited reminders that the long winter is over and spring is upon us. But, as you know, these palms won’t be green and soft for very long. In a short time, these very same palms will be faded, dry and brittle.
I sometimes wonder if the branches we hold are much like our faith – not what our faith should be, but what our faith often is. Some days and in some celebrations our faith is as rich and as green as the palms are today, but when our relationship with Jesus begins to pull at our consciences or make demands where we would prefer to cut corners, do we find our faith brittle and easily tucked away, like these palms?
The bread and wine we will use this week will remind us of Jesus’ offering of Himself so that we might have life and have it to the fullest.
We will take Him into our hands, we will say “Amen” to this offering. But, will we quickly allow ourselves to become entrapped in a life of servitude to lesser desires?
The basin and towel that Jesus used to wash the feet of His disciples recalls the humility that Jesus models for those who would be His followers. How often have we been humbled by the inestimable generosity of God when we review our lives and the lives of those we love. But then, when asked to reach out to another in need do we withhold our own time, talent or treasure?
Two pieces of wood fashioned into a cross testify to the loving sacrifice of Jesus emptying Himself for our sake. Yes, we too understand the cross. We have certainly carried our crosses.
At other times, when we have been asked like Simon of Cyrene to help our sisters and brothers carry their crosses have we instead unconsciously fingered the bejeweled crosses around our necks and found excuses to look another way?
A fire will announce His resurrection on Easter Eve; His word and example illuminating our lives with meaning, purpose, dignity. But, do we later withdraw our faith expression into the shadows of complacency, irrelevance and conformity?
Water will invite us to recall when we too were cleansed of sin, made God’s adopted daughters and sons, molded into His Church; the very waters of baptisms assigning us a place in the story of salvation history.
However, do we only claim this identity as long as it affirms our self -determination and forfeit it as soon as it makes demands?
I ask you to please look beyond the ‘decorations’ of our church and your preferences of design. Instead, through the simplicity of palm, bread, wine, towel, wood, flame and water, I invite you to encounter anew in this week we call “holy”, the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection and it’s meaning in your life.