Easter Sunday 12 April 2020
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Lockdown continues. It is painful for us clergy and servers to celebrate the sacred mysteries with no one in the pews, since only those residing at St Mary’s Shrine can take part in our liturgical celebrations.
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Easter Sunday Homily, by Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP
How do you explain Easter to modern man? How do you bear witness of the resurrection when asked by men whose souls have been allowed to thirst and so far never tasted the true water of life? They simply don’t know what Easter is about.
I will venture a comparison for their sakes. Do you have special hobbies, skills? When you learn to drive, learn to play the piano, learn watercolour painting; learn to swim; learn mountain climbing… It takes a coach; it takes someone who knows; someone who’s done it before and who knows the technique perfectly. At first, when our coach tells us that he can make us proficient within six months, or six years, we think we will never make it. We fear that we won’t have what it takes; or that our coach could get fed up with us and might let us down.
So, what are we Christians doing this morning? What are we training for? Oil painting? Scuba diving? Wine tasting? None of that. Better than that. This morning we train for eternity. We listen to the One – Jesus Christ – Who is much more than a coach. He is our guide into eternity. He is truly a man, like we are human beings. We will die; and Jesus died. Jesus rose from the dead and we… Well, this is what it is all about it. We can rise from the dead – if… We can enter blissful eternity – if …. If what? We can enter blissful eternity if we follow the only One who walked through death successfully. Really, is Jesus the only One who can take us through death and beyond, to blissful eternity? Did not other people die and rise again? Like, Lazarus, the friend of Jesus. Or the young man, the only son of the widow, outside the town of Nain. Or the young daughter of Jairus? Yes, those were dead, and yes, they came back to life. But no, they did not rise by themselves. They were raised by another one, mightier than them. The Lord Jesus raised these dead people and brought them back to life. Furthermore, after these miracles, they died again some years later. Not so with the Lord Jesus. He rose from the dead of his own power, because He is not only man, but God incarnate. Also, He will never die again. The Lord Jesus is alive forever. No one else every achieved this. Jesus is the only one.
But we need a witness, don’t we? We need clues.
A significant clue is the sacred relic of the Holy Shroud of Turin. What does the Holy Shroud look like? It is a depiction of Our Lord’s tortured Body (both back and front), spread across a 14.5-feet-long by 1.4-foot-wide linen cloth, with such accuracy that this sacred relic has been termed ‘The Fifth Gospel’. The Holy Shroud – presently kept in Turin, Italy – is the most tested object in the world. The scientific findings, due to their number and complexity, now constitute a distinct branch of science called sindonology, after the word ‘sindon’, the Greek word for ‘shroud’.
Let us recall a few sindonological discoveries. It took nineteen centuries to realise that the Shroud is a photographic negative: inversing paler and darker areas reveals the actual picture. Further analysis established that the depiction results from irradiation, not from the application of pigments upon the linen material. Later on, the image was found to be three-dimensional, allowing the shaping of a resin model of Our Lord’s Body as when it was lying wrapped in the Shroud. Anomalies such as the absence of thumbs on either hand were explained, while microscopic examination found diverse pollens from the Middle-East stuck in the fibres of the cloth. The Holy Shroud is a very powerful incentive for our faith in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And yet, the Shroud is not necessary for us to believe. We have billions of witnesses: these countless men, women and children who professed their faith in Christ, who followed his teaching, imitated his virtues, and often died for his love. They bear witness to the historical reality of the resurrection of Christ.
If you need witnesses, read the lives of the saints. If you need witnesses, start with St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. St Paul never met Christ until after his resurrection. But he met the Lord once risen, as he affirms: “if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain: for you are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep” (1 Co 15: 17-20).
If you need witnesses, look around you for those Catholics in whose lives the virtues of Christ shine with utmost fidelity, truth, gentleness, firmness, compassion, purity, piety. Look carefully, because the souls closest to Christ might not know it themselves, and surely they would not boast of it, so that the world would normally take no notice of them.
But dear friends, if you need witnesses, perhaps other people need them even more urgently than you do. So, why not becoming a witness yourself? Why not bearing witness of the resurrection of the Lord? I know, we think ourselves too lazy, too selfish, too incredulous, too heavy, too tired… But witnessing Christ is not about our own capacity. It is all about His divine power performing wonders through our emptiness. Becoming a witness of the resurrection takes a while. It does not happen in one instant. It is like unfolding the Holy Shroud. We know the full picture of Christ is impressed upon the cloth, but it takes our entire lives to unfold it in our mind and in our souls.
Let us fly back to Jerusalem. This Easter morning, St Peter, St John and St Mary Magdalene found the empty linens wrapped together in the empty tomb. Some time on that day, they took with them the precious relic. Back home in the Upper Room, with what emotion they slowly unfolded the linens, gradually displaying the Master’s silhouette: first his shoulder, then his elbow, now his foot and then his Head… Everywhere, their eyes would meet so many wounds, all endured for their redemption. For my redemption. For your redemption. For the redemption of all men.
I imagine St Peter alone at last in the Upper Room. Simon had unfolded the long strip of cloth, nowhere more fittingly than across the trestles of the Last Supper table. Three nights earlier, upon another cloth, the Lord had made Himself truly present under the Eucharistic species at the first holy Mass. The apostles had walked with the Lord to Gethsemane. Before cockcrow, Simon had thrice denied his Lord. Since then Jesus had died and was risen.
Back in the Upper Room on Easter day, today, Simon was on his knees at the far end of the long narrow linen rectangle. His eyes slightly higher than the level of the cloth swollen in successive waves upon the trestles, the fisherman would look at the maculated Shroud as a seaman looks at a vast archipelago spread across a limitless map. Wide or tiny, each bloodstain was an island, mystically bearing the name of each and every sinner, redeemed through the wounds of the Lamb.
Which stain bore Simon’s name? It could not be less than three, one for each denial – and so many more… Dear friends, which stain bears my name, your name? In St Peter’s soul, contrition connected the reddish shapes of various sizes like the stars under which he was reborn, as in a new constellation named Absolution. It was probably no surprise to Simon then, when he became aware of Christ’s bodily presence, standing at the other end of his unfolded Shroud. The contrite Vicar had opened his soul to the Saviour already. Christ confirmed his pardon and left, until they met again by the Sea of Galilee.
His Vicar remained on his knees looking across the bloodied sheet, while on either side of the table of redemption, hundreds of men, of women, of children materialised, imitating his posture. Billions of them. Billions of us. All the way down to us, my friends, and beyond, and further. All those who would believe in this extraordinary event are gathered in faith around this sacred cloth and bear witness to the One who lay in it no more, because He is risen, forever alive! Such is our glorious training for eternity.
May the Immaculate Mother of the Risen One, the Blessed Virgin Mary whose Sorrowful heart begot us to grace in union with Our Lord on Calvary two days ago, may she lead us to Jesus, our Resurrection and our Life, into bliss eternal.