Easter Sunday Homily from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
What brings us to the Basilica, this Easter morning is our own personal act of faith. We are here because we need to be here. We need to hear, once again, the proclamation that is at the very heart of our faith. Christ is Risen!
No matter how many Easter Sundays we have celebrated there is always the renewal that comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit when we gather in Church with our brothers and sisters, simply to acclaim, Christ is Risen, Christ is truly Risen. All over the world that incredible message is being echoed today. On the radio earlier the voice of our Holy Father from Rome wishing everyone a blessed Easter. We also heard the bells and songs of the pilgrims in Jerusalem, even though the Christian community there continues to suffer greatly. All of us need to hear and affirm, once again, the simple but clear message, Christ is Risen!
Last night at the Easter Vigil where across this archdiocese 1,300 new members of the Church received the Sacraments of initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, we heard the proclamation in the Exsultet, “We are to rejoice, we all exalt in glory.” Why? Because Christ has conquered death. The proclamation goes on, “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains the death and rose triumphant from the grave.”
There is no other such event in all of human history. For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have come together to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate by recalling the event and listening to the voice of witnesses. We were not there at the Easter garden, at the empty tomb, so we need to hear again the witness of those who were.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear Saint Peter addressing the people and telling that that God has raised Jesus up on the third day and that he has been seen not by all the people but by us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He goes on to say that Jesus commissioned us to preach to the people and to testify to the Resurrection.
But we come to Easter not just to hear all over again the proclamation that Jesus is risen from the dead, we come because we know that we, too, can share in his Resurrection. This is the most exciting part about Easter. Resurrection is also for us, for you and for me. At the renewal of baptismal promises at this Mass, we are reminded that through the Paschal Mystery – through the sacred action called Sacraments – we spiritually share in the hope of our own resurrection. We have been buried with Christ in baptism so that we might rise with him to new life.
As I go through this basilica for the sprinkling of water, I ask each of you to recall what our own baptism means for us. The words of the Prophet Ezekiel are being fulfilled in us today, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you of all your impurities, I will give you a new heart and place a spirit within you, I will put my spirit within you.”
The events of the empty tomb and Jesus’ victory over death is Easter’s gift to us. Jesus’ Resurrection is the beginning of the same life of God for you and for me. Our baptism is for each of us the beginning of our own journey to resurrection.
This year we celebrate Easter with an even greater blessing – the Jubilee of Mercy. Pope Francis has offered a special gift to all of us – a Holy Year of Mercy – which began December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and runs through November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
This Jubilee of Mercy is a reminder that you and I, who have faith in Jesus, who have been baptized into his life and who struggle to live that life continually receive the gift of God’s loving compassion, God’s mercy and forgiveness. We are also reminded that God’s grace can transform our hearts in a way that we are prepared to share the gift of mercy, compassion, love, kindness and understanding with others and that we can actually bring Christ’s peace and hope to our families, to our communities, to our world.
The Resurrection does not say that you and I must be perfect. The Jubilee of Mercy recognizes that we are not. But Christ the Risen Lord invites us to walk with him and on the journey to become closer and closer to him and to grow deeper and deeper in the new life he offers us. Easter is a time of new life and it can be for each one of us then a time to start all over in the freshness of our baptismal promises, to appreciate all over again what it means to have been united to the Risen Lord.
As he announced this special time of grace, Pope Francis explained that Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy and we need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a fountain of joy, serenity and peace.
The Pope goes on to tell us that our salvation and that of others depends on this mercy and so we must be a people of mercy. That mercy begins to reach us every time we renew in our hearts our faith in the Risen Lord and our commitment to try to walk with him.
The women who came to the empty tomb and who encountered the Risen Lord immediately felt the need to tell others. Peter and John and the other Apostles, once they encountered the Risen Lord, felt the need to share that Good News. Our Holy Father keeps telling us that we should go out, encounter others and bring the joy of our faith and our love to them.
Easter invites you and me to consider how we can live out our baptismal vocation with renewed energy and vigor. Imagine what this world would be like, imagine what our community would be like, imagine what our families would be like if all of us with renewed energy try to the best of our ability to live the joy that we find in this basilica today the joy of Resurrection, the joy of Easter.
May this Jubilee of Mercy and our celebration of Easter be a time of renewed faith and hope for each of us.
Today, the words, Christ is Risen, Christ is truly Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia, take on special significance for us because today we have the opportunity all over again to renew in our hearts the words of those Apostles whom Jesus first appeared – to say all over again in our hearts, again and again, “Jesus, I believe. Jesus, make me new and alive in your risen life.”