This morning’s Gospel, from St. John, is a continuation of the Gospel that we listened to on Easter Sunday morning. You remember how St. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to anoint the deceased body of Jesus but instead found the tomb empty. She ran franticly back to the place where the Apostles were and shared the distressing news with them. St. Peter and St. John had gone back to the tomb with her and also discovered that the tomb was empty.
Then they did the most rational, logical thing: they left. Jesus was not there so why bother standing around anyway?
Here we stand, on Tuesday of the Octave of Easter, and St. Mary Magdalene is still there at the empty tomb! In the Gospel it is much later than the early morning hour when she had first arrived; Peter and John are both gone and yet she alone remains. It is a remarkable display of strength of will, even strength of body, as we shall see.
Remaining there at the last place where Jesus had been, she first encounters the angels. There are two of them, we are told. Usually, in both the Old and New Testaments, when a man or woman encounters an angel one of two things happens:
They are either struck with dread fear bordering on terror (see Daniel 10:5-8; Acts 10:3-4), or they are so overcome with awe that they are tempted to worship the creature (see Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9). St. Mary Magdalene does neither! In response to the question of the angel of why she is weeping, she says, perhaps even heatedly, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him” (John 20:13). She has come here to anoint the Lord, not for questions.
Suddenly Christ Himself appears before her and, mistaking Him for the gardener, she continues her single-minded inquiry: “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him” (John 20:15). Incredible! She could not have been that big! Christ’s body would have outweighed her by 20, perhaps 30 pounds…yet she is going to carry Him away! The Magdalene offers us a remarkable display of strength this morning: strength of will, even strength of body.
St. Gregory the Great, in his reflection on this passage, says what she really teaches us, though, is strength of desire.
At first pass, he suggests, her desire is not yet strong enough. She has come to the tomb, like the others, and not found the body of Jesus. Had she left, as did Peter and John, she might never have seen the Lord that day. Instead she remained, all the while not reaching her desired goal, and yet strengthened all the more in that very desire. Finally, says St. Gregory the Great, she became strong enough to obtain the object of her desire. She now has the strength to hold on to Christ, who had already taken hold of her.
As we begin this Easter Season, do we have that same desire? Are we being strengthened in our desire for the body of Christ? Do we long for and yearn for the body of Christ in the Eucharist, and are we willing to be made even stronger in that desire this Easter?
If you had come here for Mass this morning only to find that something had gone terribly wrong, and there was no one to celebrate the Eucharist, what would you do? Would you shrug it off, eat breakfast and get on with the rest of your day? Or would you have gone straight to the internet and checked to see where the next available Mass would be? Would you have knocked on the doors of the resident priests in this seminary and said, “Father, something terrible has happened! I went to spend time with our Lord and I was not able to receive Him. Tell me, will you be celebrating Mass sometime today, and could I attend that celebration?”
Daily reception of the Eucharist has to be priority number one for every seminarian, for every man preparing for the priesthood. Longing for that intimacy with Christ has to be the driving force and passion of your life.
Daily celebration of the Eucharist has to be priority number one for the priest of Jesus Christ. If the parish priest accomplishes 50 good things in a day, but desire for intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist is not one of them, then he may have actually accomplished little, if anything at all. If the devout and faith-filled celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass is the only thing he does that day, there is a unique opportunity, by grace, to participate powerfully in the redemption of the world and the renewal of the Body of Christ, the Church. Does the world not need that redemption desperately? Does the Church not cry out for that renewal daily?
The Eucharist is essential to the life and ministry of the priest because it is here that the priest can discover, over and over again, that the entire life he is called to is about the Lord Jesus Christ and not himself. The source and summit of our lives is Jesus Christ, broken and poured out for us daily in the Sacrament of the Eucharist (see Lumen Gentium, # 11 and Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #1).
Do you want that? Do you long for and desire that encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ?
This Easter let us seek, with St. Mary Magdalene, to grow in our desire for the body of Christ. May we discover, with her, that when we finally have the strength to take hold of the One whom we desire, that He has already—long ago and more deeply than we could possibly imagine—taken hold of us.