FALL RIVER, MA (Catholic Online). During this Easter Octave, we have come to the high point, the most joyous and glorious moment of the entire Year of Faith, the moment that more than any other should help us to grow in faith and give us the motivation to live by faith.
Faith, as has been considered many times in this Year of Faith homily series, means two things. First, it's a confidence in God by which we entrust ourselves totally to him. Second, because of that trust, it's a belief in what God has said and done. And we can look at Easter under both lenses. Let's begin with the second.
On Easter Sunday morning, as we see in today's Gospel, Mary Magdalene was found weeping at the tomb of Jesus. She had gone to the sepulcher early in the morning to try to anoint Jesus' crucified cadaver. When she didn't' find his corpse, but an empty tomb, she was deeply troubled, believing that his beaten body that had already suffered untold indignities must have received yet another by being stolen and possibly desecrated even further on the Sabbath. She couldn't confront the reality alone and ran to tell Peter and John, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don't know where they put him."
Even though Jesus had declared several times in the Gospel that on the third day he would rise, when she saw signs of the resurrection, she didn't believe.
Peter and John ran to the tomb faster than she did. It appears that they had already left by the time she returned, at the beginning of today's account. She was weeping and looked into the tomb, perhaps anticipating to see the two apostles. Instead she saw two angels in white sitting where Jesus' body had been.
It must have been an amazing sight, but Mary's eyes were too full of tears to behold what their presence meant. They asked, "Woman, why are you weeping?," doubtless with a tone that stated "You have no reason to be weeping!," but she understood it in her grief as seeking an explanation. She repeated what she had already said to Peter and John, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him."
She still used the words of faith - calling Jesus her Lord - but she hadn't yet grasped with faith what he had foretold. What she had witnessed on Good Friday had traumatized her so much that she couldn't embrace the reality that had already dawned upon St. John that early morning. She just went on sobbing outside the tomb.
She turned around and saw Jesus, but - either because in his risen body his physical appearance had changed, or because her grief blinded her, or both - she didn't recognize him and thought him to be a gardener. Even when he spoke, she didn't recognize his voice. He asked the same question as the angels - "Woman, why are you weeping?" - almost certainly with the same tone that was trying to clue her in to what would be not only the greatest surprise of her life but one of the biggest of all time.
When that didn't roll away the stone from the emotional tomb in which she had been dwelling in deep darkness for the previous couple of days, Jesus tried to give her another clue, "For whom are you looking?" That was the question Jesus had asked in another Garden, Gethsemane. It was also an echo of the question Jesus would ask to potential disciples, "What are you looking for?" But Mary was too disconsolate to perceive the clues.
Jesus easily could have said at this point, "I am Jesus, risen from the dead, just as I said I would." He could have exposed his wounds, he could have shared inside information, he who knew what was in every heart could have pierced with a ray of risen light her dark abyss. He could have ended her agony on the spot.
But he didn't.
And the reason wasn't because he was teasing her, as if he was callously pulling her leg before she would try to grasp his feet. It was because he wanted to lead her to a discovery in faith of what had occurred, for her to connect the dots rather than have him connect all of them for her. He, thought by her to be a gardener, was trying to plant a seed of faith and allow it to grow and bloom.
And so he patiently continued his dialogue with her.
Mary begged him, "Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him," a response that showed the depth of a love that not even a brutal crucifixion could extinguish. Without any consideration of the practical consequences of how she would have "taken" Jesus' unclothed corpse - would she have tried to carry his frame in her arms or on her shoulders or tried to drag him back? - love made her think possible the impossible.
Jesus tried one more step.
The Good Shepherd had once said that his sheep recognize his voice, but it's clear that at that moment Mary's mourning was scrambling the signal. So he tried to awaken her from her unending nightmare to the other reality the Good Shepherd had indicated, that he calls his own sheep by name. So he called our "Mary!"
Probably tens of thousands of times by that point she had been addressed by the vocative her parents had given her after birth. It would have been conceivable at that point that in her anguish she could have turned, startled, to the "gardener" and asked, "How do you know me?" But the combination of the man's voice enunciating her name was the smelling salt that snapped her out of spiritual sheol. She cried out in Hebrew, "Teacher," and ran to grasp onto his feet. After having lost him once, she was never going to let him go.
Jesus told her that the way to hold on to him in his new reality was not by grasping his feet, but bringing him to others. She gave her the mission of being the apostle to the apostles, bring the news of his resurrection to those who would be entrusted with bringing that message to the ends of the earth.
What applications does this moving drama have for us during this Year of Faith?
First, we and others often can have all the facts and evidence before our eyes without seeing what God is telling us through them.
That's what happened, of course, with the chief priests and many of the members of the Sanhedrin who, when confronted with the same evidence as the soldiers, apostles and disciples, continued to remain in a tomb of lies.
That's what still happens with many today who, entrapped in a hyper-ationalistic sepulcher continue to explain away Jesus' resurrection by pretending that disciples stole his body despite the vigilance of Roman soldiers; or that Jesus' disciples were all simultaneously hallucinating, even though hallucinations normally work when people "see" someone who's not there, rather than seeing him present and thinking him absent; or that Jesus really didn't die on the Cross but woke up in the tomb and just started to appear as normal afterward, despite his scouring, crucifixion and the lance that pierced his heart.
Second, Jesus often leads us patiently on the same journey of faith as he led Mary Magdalene. Sometimes, we, like her, can be too weighed down by our sorrows or by our selves as to see the truth that is shining around us, to hear the Lord's voice. We might just want the Lord to give us didactically all of the information we need. But, in a sense, we have, and we still occasionally allow suffering or disappointment to overwhelm us. Many times in our life, Jesus will ask us, "Why are you weeping? For whom are you seeking?" We need to recognize him in disguise.
Third, the way we hold on to Jesus is by sharing him with others. It's not enough for us to grasp on to him, for example, in Eucharistic adoration or in his holy Word. If that's all we're doing, over the course of time, we'll start to grasp onto our own images of Jesus rather than the real Jesus. To hold on to him we need to give witness to him of how we've seen him, heard him, been touched by him, by saved by him. The more we give Him to others the firmer our grasp will be.
Today and throughout this Year of Faith, the risen Jesus calls us by name and wants to work in us as dramatic a transformation as he worked in the life of Mary Magdalene, turning whatever tears we have into joy, and sending us out anew as his apostles, announcing that he's going to his Father and our Father, his God and our God, and urging us to follow him all the way and invite others to join us on this narrow road that leads to the fullness of risen life.
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on catholicpreaching.com.
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