|(Click left to hear audio recording of homily)|
This was a very meaningful and profound Holy Week experience for me. Did you have a meaningful and profound Lent and Holy Week? This past week, I have been saying that this is the week that changed the entire world. Have you experienced that change? I saw that change yesterday. On Holy Saturday morning here at Our Lady of Mercy, three priests and Bishop Muench heard confession for nearly 2 1/2 hours. Just imagine, between the time of Good Friday service and the Easter Vigil is the time when Jesus was buried in the tomb, and all of the disciples who abandoned him and did not show up at the Calvary were privately mourning over their own sins of failure. And how that was mirrored in all the people lined up to go to confessions out of sorrow for their sins of failure.
How can I convey this great mystery between the Good Friday and the Easter? I hope the personal story that I'm about to share will help you connect with this mystery. I have mentioned before that although I was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic, I have denied and rejected that God exists, late in high school. I went to the University of Texas at Austin with such vacuum in the heart. For the first semester there were too many appealing sights and sounds in Austin to preoccupy me. Then as those distractions began to become routine and ceased to be interesting, the inner emptiness began to preoccupy my mind. I would ask, "What's the point of living? Why am I here?" I would take walks around the campus with those recurring thoughts. The best way to describe this emptiness is like standing on an edge of a cliff at night. You can't see the bottom so you don't know how deep it is. And you can't see what's on the other side of the horizon. I felt like there was no options, only numbness. I didn't feel like living. Nor did I feel like dying. This is what's called ambivalence. And this ambivalence feels like standing at the edge of a cliff at pitch dark night, with no hope. Jesus, on the cross expressed this emptiness by quoting Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Jesus didn't quote the rest of the psalm on the cross, but I will. It says, "Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief." How many of us had that experience? Isn't this what death feels like? In my case, since I have denied God, I did not know who to cry out to. But I did cry out one night lying down on grassy knoll of UT campus, "God if you exist and if you are there, can you help me?" It was the first time I actually addressed God as if He really existed. That cry into that dark, expansive sky that night was heard. And I was led to a college prayer meeting where I accepted Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. And this happened over 15 years ago.
I have told you what death of a soul feels like. What is then experience of resurrection like? At Good Friday service here, I was holding a cross for the people to venerate at an aisle, and I began to tear up for some reason. As people kissed the nail that bound the feet of Jesus to the cross, I wondered, 'Oh my Jesus, how many times have I struck that nail into your wounds with my rejection of you and my sins?' After sitting down, I noticed that a couple of people were still venerating the large cross at the main aisle. The Relic of the True Cross was affixed to the cross, and a young man with down syndrome approached the relic. He had a great big smile, and he planted his lips on the relic. He stayed there as if he was planting his lips on Jesus' nailed feet. Then with the same smile, he rested his right cheek on the relic and stayed there. Then with a bigger smile, he rested his left cheek on the relic as if he was resting his head on the Jesus' heart. I began to tear up even more. Here this child-like soul recognized what Jesus has done for him. And he was showing all of us who are more blind than him what great love Jesus had for us. At communion Fr. Miles gave Eucharist to me and then turned to the congregation holding the Eucharist and declared, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper." Then I lost it. Here in my hand was my Lord whom I denied, rejected and abandoned, who saved me from my spiritual death, resurrected me as a priest and now called me to invite others to his banquet. As I teared up, I went over to the choir to sing the song, "Were You There." I had to sing a very mournful line, "Were you there when he rose up from the tomb? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble." And I literally trembled with tears and was unable to sing. That was the experience that St. Mary Magdalen, St. John, and St. Peter went through this Easter morning when they found the tomb empty.