Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Resurrection: Making All Things New

The old Our Lady of Providence Seminary property 
on Warwick Neck Ave., Warwick, R.I.

(This homily was given on 1 May, 2013 at Ss. John and James Parish in West Warwick, R.I. on an Evening to Honor Mary; See Revelation 21:1-8 and Matthew 28:1-10)

We all want to go back.  When the difficulties and challenges of daily life increase we often tend to nurture that desire to go back to a time or place that was more peaceful, more tranquil.  Webster’s defines “nostalgia” as a longing or yearning for the things of the past.  If we are honest we can admit that we are all a bit nostalgic from time to time.

When I was growing up in the 80s the movie Back to the Future was big at the box office.  You might remember that film in which the main character goes back to the 1950s, and encounters his own parents as they live their experience of high school.  It is easy to imagine ourselves living in the 1950s, to wax nostalgic for a less complicated and simpler life than the one we are living.  If you could go back and return to your high school “glory days” would you do it?

I had the chance to return to my old high school last week.  One of our fine priests here in the Diocese of Providence, Fr. Henry Bodah, agreed to offer our seminarians a tour of the old Our Lady of Providence Seminary on Warwick Neck Avenue, overlooking the breathtaking Narragansett Bay.  Currently our college seminary is located in Providence, close to Providence College and Rhode Island College campuses.  Beginning in 1942, however, both the high school and college seminaries for the Diocese of Providence were located on that beautiful oceanfront property, which is where Fr. Bodah began his journey to the priesthood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

In the early 1980s, as the seminary was relocated to Mount Pleasant Avenue in Providence, Bishop Hendricken High School had already begun to make use of the old seminary high school property at Warwick Neck for its senior campus, which is where I studied for my final year of high school.

In a sense there were two tours taking place that day: Fr. Bodah was offering a tour of the place where he had begun seminary studies, while I was able to reminisce about my senior year of high school (a decade before I would begin answering my own call to the priesthood). 

It is funny how we tend to only remember the best of the times from the past, or perhaps we simply tend to gloss over the more challenging ones.  Fr. Bodah spoke of the tumultuous time of seminary formation immediately following the Second Vatican Council; they were not always the “glory days” that one tends to associate with high school.  I recalled that high school for me, while filled with many memorable and cherished moments, was nonetheless an unsettling time of uncertainty and not always pleasant or peaceful. 

Sometimes “going back” can be painful.  You may have seen the play Our Town, or perhaps you even read it in high school.  Written by Thornton Wilder, it is the delightful story of the quaint and fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire.

The point that Wilder is making is that it doesn’t matter where we are born, or what period of time we live in.  All of life matters; all of life is beautiful, and we should be able to recognize the powerful, and even painful, beauty of life right where we are.  It could be anywhere, any-town.  It could be Our Town, West Warwick or maybe wherever you went to high school.

There is a haunting scene at the end of that play which takes place in a graveyard.  Many of the characters of Our Town have passed on, and are now at rest there.  Suddenly Emily, one of the main characters, who has just died, comes to join them.  She tries to get acclimated to the place, and at one point asks if they are able to go back and relive some of the more special moments of life.  The characters there try to dissuade her; they tell her that it is far too painful.  She insists anyway, and returns to the time of her twelfth birthday.

As soon as she enters that moment, she is struck by how delightful every little detail is.  She can’t take in everything fast enough.  She comes down the stairs of her house and is overwhelmed by how beautiful and young everyone looks.  She tries to get their attention but everyone is so busy, so occupied.  It becomes more and more frustrating for her, and at one point she calls out to her mother:

“Just look at me one minute as though you really saw me.”

But, of course, her mother is doing all she can to get the family ready for the day.  She tries her father, but again, to no avail.  Finally she turns to the Stage Manager, in desperation, and says, “I can’t go on.  It goes so fast.  We don’t have time to look at one another.”

She asks to go back, once again, to her grave, saddened by the futility of her visit.  As she is leaving she looks back and says, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”  And then she turns, again, to the Stage Manager, and says, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

The Stage Manager tells her no, that most of them do not…but, some of the saints do, and a few poets.  Tonight we gather together in this beautiful Church and listen to the saints, to St. John the Evangelist, to St. Matthew and especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who teach us what it means to live every moment of our lives, here and now.

In the Gospel for this Mass in honor of Our Lady, St. Matthew recalls the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how the angel of God meets the women at the tomb who are looking for the dead Christ.  They were at Calvary when he died, so naturally they could only be thinking of those dark and distressing days of his arrest, trial and crucifixion.  The angel of the Lord challenges them to look in another direction:

Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has risen as he said…go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead and behold, he is going before you to Galilee.
—Matthew 28:5-7

Jesus Christ is not hiding in some remote past waiting to be conjured up or simply remembered in a nostalgic and passing moment.   No, He is already preparing a future for us filled with hope (see Jeremiah 29:11), and through the power of His resurrection he is already beginning to change and transform our lives even now.  Look ahead!, the angel is encouraging them; Go to Galilee!  He is already waiting for you and preparing a new beginning for your life!

In our first reading from the Book of Revelation, St. John the Evangelist is relating his vision of a new heaven and a new earth.  It is better than any memory of the past, a brilliant time of joy in which God will dwell forever with His people, and he “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

God is not interested in going back to the things of the past!  He is eminently focused on recreating our lives in the power of the resurrection and renewing us in His mercy and grace.  Do we dare to hope that the very best and most joyful moments of our lives are not ones that we have already lived in the past, but are here in the present and also waiting for us in the days to come?  St. John tells us:

He who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new!”
—Revelation 21:5

The Good News of the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ is that God, through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is already beginning that renewal!  In Jesus Christ, heaven already begins to break into our world, even now.  The power of the resurrection and the glory of God can change and transform our present world and our immediate experience of life, if we let it.  No one teaches us this any better than the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin Mary is met by the Angel Gabriel who tells her of the redemption of Israel, their salvation through the Messiah who is to be born from her.  He will have the power to save all mankind, to redeem all people, if only she will accept this tremendous grace and invitation.  Mary, overwhelmed but filled with faith, suddenly offers her “Fiat,” to God.  She says, “Yes” to the Most High and allows heaven to break forth into her life and the Son of God take up a place in her own body. 

Once again at the foot of the cross, when Christ was offering His life for the forgiveness of our sins, Mary would have to ratify her “Fiat,” to accept anew the mysterious plan of God and to allow heaven to have its way in her life.   She stood steadfast and allowed the work of God to continue, not apart from her or somehow separate from her desires, but as an outpouring of her own acceptance of God’s design for the hope of eternal life.  

Finally, on the day of Pentecost, we find Mary gathered together with the Apostles and the first believers, praying fervently and ready to accept whatever God has ordained.  She allows the power of the Holy Spirit to fill her soul in a whole new way, letting heaven break forth into her life as the infant Church was being strengthened and prepared to set the world on fire. 

Friends in Christ, are we as willing to allow the power of God to come into our lives this Easter?  In this month of May, as we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, are we able to experience the power of the resurrection and the glory of God, the power that alone can change the world in which we live?  Let us borrow that one, beautiful word from Mary, that faith-filled and fruitful “Fiat,” so that we can, in the words of Emily from Our Town, truly realize life while we live it, every—every minute.