This morning, I am so happy to be celebrating with you this Easter Sunday, the Sunday of my first Easter Triduum as a priest. Last night’s celebration of the Easter Vigil in which 19 catechumens and candidates were Baptized and brought into Full Communion with the Catholic Church, was a wonderful experience. I must say though, it really didn’t hit me until Kevin, our Music Director, and the choir sang so beautifully the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s “Messiah” right after Communion. I was so fixated on what I had to do and what was coming next that my heart had not been opened yet to the joy of this day. That Hallelujah burst it wide open!
Imagine the joy our catechumens and candidates felt! Some of them had not yet been baptized and so they descended into the Baptismal font with Fr. Chuck, were immersed three times in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, rising out of the waters filled with Divine Life. They were one with Christ in a special way. In going down into the water they died with Him as he did on Good Friday. In rising out of the font, they were raised with Him as he did today. They then were immediately confirmed, as were the candidates for Full Communion who had been baptized in other faiths. They were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit who enhanced and completed the graces they received in Baptism. Finally, they received their first Holy Communion, in which Christ fed them with his glorified Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. What a miraculous night! In one continuous celebration, they died and rose with Christ; were washed of their sins; their souls were infused with Faith, Hope, and Love; they were made sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, and co-heirs with him of the riches of heaven; they were made members of the Church, soldiers for Christ, and now share fully in Holy Communion! Little Sabrina Bergman, one of the girls who was baptized, was already a bundle of joy, wait until you see her now, filled with so many powerful graces!
The power of this day reaches all of our hearts wherever and whoever we are… just as it reached the hearts of St. Mary Magdaline and the women; and the hearts of St. Peter and St. John, causing them to run to the tomb in search of Jesus. Even Catholics who rarely attend Mass, find their way back to this Easter day. Each one of us, from the daily Mass-goer, to the Christmas-and-Easter Catholic, have carried some darkness that Christ today wants to illuminate with his glorious Light. Today, darkness is no more; it yields to and is conquered by, the Risen Son. No matter what type of darkness we carry, Christ today conquers it with his healing light: whether it be darkness of mind in not knowing our faith very well, darkness of heart in not caring much about it, darkness in memory of an offense that has kept us away, or the darkness of a tragedy in the family or of frustration with ourselves – no matter the darkness, the healing Light of Christ shines on it today.
Have you all ever been to Mammoth Cave in south central Kentucky? I remember going on a field trip there in high school. One of the schticks they do is to lead a group of people into the heart of the cave and then turn out all the lights. Then the tour guide asks the group to put their hands in front of their faces and try to see them. It’s no use, he says. In a dark room or a dark house, our eyes will eventually pick up on some small source of light like the moonlight or a lamp in the distance. But in the heart of that cave, there is no light to get used too. Our eyes will never adjust, he says, not matter how long we sit there. At that moment it begins to get very uncomfortable. Perfect Dark. The moment you can start to feel the tension in the cave, the tour guide slowly turns the lights back on much to everyone’s great relief. We got a sense of this last night, when all of the lights of the Church were off, representing the individual and collective darkness that mankind suffers without the Light of Christ. Soon though the Easter Candle, lit from the Easter fire, showed us the way.
The temptation for each of us is to just get used to the darkness rather than let the Light of Christ illuminate it. We become acclimated to bumping around in the night – it becomes our new normal. And I’m speaking for all of us here today, myself included. We get used to the same bad habit, guilty pleasure, personality quirk, or weakness and we forget that the Light of Christ is much stronger than that thing we try to give up every year for Lent. We forget that the Light of Christ has actually already won. We tend to think of ourselves as downtrodden and hoping for victory, rather than victories and hoping to maintain the victory. It’s like being in Mammoth Cave, holding my hand in front of my face trying to see it in the dark, and then using it to cover my eyes once the tour guide turns the lights on. Or it’s like sitting outside at the Easter Vigil, when the Easter fire has burned out, rather than coming inside with the Easter Candle and all the lights.
Don’t let the devil rob you of your joy. Again, everyone from the daily Mass-goer to the Christmas-and-Easter Catholic has something holding them back. Today, no matter what it is, let Christ’s Light heal and conquer it. Today is a day of joy and gladness – a joy and gladness that lasts for 50 days, and God-willing well beyond – as Christ works in our hearts with His grace, getting us more used to him than to the darkness, making new, or deepened, faithfulness to Him and to His Church our new normal. Today he leads us and he not only turns on the light, but walks us out of the cave, and he not only keeps the Easter fire burning, but leads us into the Church and into the center of the divine life of the Trinity. In the great movie, The Mission, Mendoza, a slave hunter on the cusp of conversion, says to the Spanish Jesuit, Fr. Gabriel: “For me there is no redemption, no penance great enough.” Fr. Gabriel replies, “There is. But do you dare to try it?” That is our Lord’s challenge to you and me: Do we dare try to let His Light, His Joy, His Redemption transform our lives?