An Army buddy stationed in Japan recently asked how I was holding up here in the U.S. with
all the lockdowns. I answered that I was saying my prayers, working on classes, preparing
homilies, and doing what was possible, under the circumstances, to help the life of the parish
continue. “A little quiet,” I wrote, “but such things have their place, even though I can’t
compare this time to any other.” He replied, “You are on a monastic retreat of sorts.” Indeed I
am; indeed, we all are. I don’t mean that we’ve taken a vow of silence, or that we do not
venture to the store when necessary, or that we are excused from attending to our obligations:
far from it. Still, we find ourselves compelled, willingly or not, to abandon the mindset of
“business as usual,” and train our attention on what is of greatest importance. When human life
is threatened, especially on a mass scale, our priorities become clearer; after we return to normal
life—if we so choose—we live it more authentically, more truly. Little wonder that the psalmist
(90: 12) prays: “Lord, teach me the shortness of my life, that I may gain wisdom of heart.” The
man or woman who “leaves the world” for the monastery does not do so out of hatred for the
world; on the contrary, monks leave ordinary existence so that God might keep ever before
them the difficult truth that we have only so much time on this “mortal coil”; so much
opportunity to grow in the love of God and of our neighbor; that every moment counts; and that
our actions here below have eternal consequences. True, the wonder of my existence itself
should be enough to make my life a sacrifice of grateful praise to God, but so too does the truth
that I need not exist. My own mortality is an invaluable lesson in God’s love and forbearance.
Finally, every experience of goodness and beauty I have, every act of compassion I undergo
leaves me yearning for more, for the infinite Source of all perfection, as though I could be
dropped into an ocean of divine Love. Friends, the Scripture lessons for the Easter Vigil teach
us all these lessons, and more.
The beautiful story of creation in the book of Genesis recounts the fundamental beauty and
dignity of the material world which God, in his infinite power and wisdom, brings into being
simply by speaking his word: Fiat, let it happen. Among all creatures, men and women occupy
a special dignity, because we alone can participate in the life of God through our consciousness,
the knowledge we attain, and the good we perform. This is what it means to be the “image of
God,” the imago dei; it is not a physical, but a spiritual resemblance we bear to God.
The central event of the Old Testament—the Exodus—recounts the lengths to which God will
go when the life and well-being of his people are threatened. The Israelites truly have no other
source of security than God alone. Do we today trust in God’s Providence and strength in the
midst of the present trial we are facing? Such confidence, we hear, is never in vain. When later,
the Israelites return from the land of exile, they recall their ancestors’ rescue by the hand of
God, and draw consolation knowing that our restored humanity will be even greater than what
we had known before.
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds us that we have already died with Christ in baptism
so that “we too might live in newness of life.” The life of holiness we live now is a foretaste of
the life that we will share with him eternally in heaven, where the limits of time and space no
longer hold sway.
Finally, the Gospel. Since there were no eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, only what comes
after it, the Gospels relate the events of Easter Sunday in different ways. St. Matthew describes
the appearance of an angel who strikes terror in the guards. Even the women, whom he
reassures, run from the tomb with a mixture of fear and euphoria at the news that Jesus has risen
from the dead, however inadequately words can capture this reality. So what lesson do we draw
from the Word of God this Easter?
Friends, we live in the most unusual of times, and it is a privilege to witness our parishioners’
faith in God over these days even as they experience hardship. I must say that, compared to
what is now happening throughout the world, a military deployment seems curiously
“ordinary.” I so wish I had the wisdom or the words to explain the God’s-eye view of a worldwide pandemic, but I cannot. You will, however, recall the words of St. Thomas More to his
daughter Margaret when he, on trial for his life before King Henry VIII, has run out of options.
She asks: “Haven’t you done all that can reasonably be expected?” He answers: “Meg, in the
end, it is not a question of reason; it is a question of love.”
I don’t speak of love for sentimental reasons. It is not an easy explanation when we run out of
others. Instead, we should remember the monks I mentioned before; one of them (The Cloud of
Unknowing) says that in the scheme of things, love is superior to knowledge in one very
important respect. He writes:
“Love surpasses Knowledge in grasping the mystery of God because it anticipates the infinity
of Heaven, while knowledge is provisional. The higher part of contemplation as it may be had
here, hangs wholly in this darkness and in this cloud of unknowing with a loving stirring and a
blind beholding unto the naked being of God Himself only.”
Friends: knowledge can help us understand this life below, but by love we pierce the realm of
heaven itself, where God is all in all. In love, we enter the divine Cloud that envelopes Peter,
James, and John, and Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, where they hear the voice of God. The divine
love Christians experience in baptism, and which you pass on through service to your neighbor,
is the one thing that accompanies you beyond this life. As Jesus tells us: let us live in that love.
A Blessed Easter to you all. Amen.