- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

March 27, 2016

Fr. Gerard D’Souza, OCSO
Easter Vigil

As I reflected on the Gospel for this night, I realized that the action takes place in the dark. The women with their dark moods set out in the dark to the place of death – the tomb. And it was there at the tomb, that they encounter the light. Two men in dazzling garments appeared. But what happens next is very significant. The angels ask the women to remember the words of Jesus ‘He is not here. He has been raised. Remember.’ Those words become as light. They become the presence of the Risen Christ. The women need no more. That is why they immediately announce the resurrection. They knew He had risen without seeing Him risen. But they had to be at the tomb for this to happen.

Peter too heard the proclamation of the women with the other disciples. But Peter, unlike the others, set out from the lighted room to a dark place – the tomb again. And only at the tomb did the proclamation come alive in him. He went home amazed. If Peter had stayed in the lit room with the other apostles, he would have continued to think it was nonsense too. Nothing happens in that lit room where they huddle together for safety. Peter goes to the tomb and the words he heard come alive in his memory and he knows without seeing. How it happens we cannot tell. But the facts speak for themselves. The ones who ventured into the dark, who went to the tomb, who did not shy away from the darkness met the Lord in a mysterious way.

This brings home to us that the cross and resurrection is intertwined in life. Faith springs to life in the midst of suffering and darkness, in the experience of helplessness and poverty. The anthropologist turned philosopher Ernest Becker famous for his work The Denial of Death, spoke of how the anxiety of death plagues us all. Most of us cannot look at this in the face. Becker said ‘modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time in shopping, which is the same thing.’ Beside drinking and shopping, all of us have our illusions, our neuroses which enable us to opt of out truly living with our eyes open. Becker says most of us shrink from being fully alive because in truly living we become aware of our anxiety of death. To live fully he says is to live with the awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything. But for us Christians, it is precisely here, at the place of our poverty that we encounter the Risen Christ. Like the women at the tomb and the apostle Peter, we meet Christ when and where we most need Him. That is why Christians work most stubbornly with the most marginal. The great theologian von Balthasar said that Christian involvement in its most radical forms has always been initiated with a persistent and sometimes stubborn preference for places where humanly speaking and from the point of view of the world, no hope remains.

On this Easter night when Christ has triumphed over death, my thoughts go to the Missionaries of Charity sisters martyred for the faith in Yemen. Someone gave us a beautiful account of what transpired there. Fr Tom, the Indian Salesian of the Bangalore province, who was abducted had been reminding the sisters for some time to prepare for martyrdom. The four sisters who were killed were from Rwanda, Kenya and India. I imagine the sisters from Rwanda had lived through the horrific genocide. And yet they were once again in the place of danger for Christ. The superiors were trying to get two of the sisters to go for formation courses but they would not leave. I think they sensed the danger and would not leave the others alone. Sr. Anselm the Indian sister’s vocation is a mystery. At least it makes no sense to the worldly minded. When she was young she fell into a well. She was rescued and her oldest brother, himself a catechist, took her to the Missionaries of Charity. He thought that God had given her a second chance at life and this was to be spent in His service. She concurred, stayed and thrived, that was 40 years ago.

In Yemen, sister was serving the poor breakfast when she was captured, tied, shot and her head smashed in. She was born poor and she died as she had lived serving the poor. Fr Tom heard the commotion and his first thought was not his own safety but to prevent the Blessed Sacrament from being desecrated. He set about consuming the consecrated hosts. He was taken away and his fate is as yet unknown. How can we explain all this? How can we really – except that Christ is Risen, that the life of Christ is stronger than fear, that the life of Christ is stronger than death, and that the love of Christ is bigger than our little lives and loves. My brothers and sisters, we can never know this without the acceptance of the cross in our own lives, I will close with Thomas Merton ‘“Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness