EASTER HOMILY OF CARDINAL CORMAC MURPHY-O’CONNOR, ARCHBISHOP OF WESTMINSTER
WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL – 2008
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For the Early Church, Eastertide constituted the middle of its year. For fifty days, not just today, Christians would celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. Day by day they would sing the Easter Alleluia, again and again. In singing, they would express their joy at Love’s conquest of Death, rejoicing in the fact that through the resurrection we take part in the glory of Jesus Christ. St. Augustine, in one of his sermons, said about the Easter Alleluia, “Let us sing the Alleluia here on earth where we are still in sorrow so that one day we can sing it in heaven in safety ………… Today, let us sing, not in order to rejoice in the quiet but in order to find consolation in distress. Sing as warriors, sing. Sing, but stride out, singing, console yourself in distress. Do not love misery. Sing and stride out”. St. Augustine has caught the very essence of what we celebrate today. Amidst the trials and distress of this world of our time, Christians rejoice in the springtime of new life. The Early Church did not break a distinction between nature and Easter. Easter was a spring festival. Christian faith finds that within the mystery of Easter is the true spring. Life is stronger than death.
I always find it very moving during this Mass when I ask all of you together if you believe in God and in Jesus Christ and in His resurrection from the dead. And all of you proclaim, with loud voices, “I do”, so that the end of our proclamation of faith is, “We do” – the Church crying out with joy and with gladness that their Lord not only has risen but the Lord is risen, He is with us now. I know that profession of faith is particularly significant for those to be baptised and those to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church this evening. Through these Easter Sacraments you become one with us in the family of the Church. There is much joy in our hearts to welcome you, and much joy in the heart of God that you have found your “home” with us in His Holy Catholic Church.
That Church is modelled most especially in the Person of Mary the Mother of God, the first to say “Yes” to God. Mary is not only the model of the perfect disciple saying “yes” to God but also of the human person living a life full of meaning and hope. She not only brings Christ into the world through the Incarnation; Mary exists still in the Church through all of us who try to respond to God’s initiative and to be a sign of hope in our troubled world.
It is interesting that in all the Easter Gospels it is the women who go to the tomb and meet the Risen Lord. So women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. From the beginning of Christ's mission, women show to him and to his mystery a special sensitivity which is characteristic of their femininity. This is especially confirmed in the Paschal Mystery, not only at the Cross but also at the dawn of the Resurrection. The women are the first at the tomb. They are the first to find it empty. They are the first to hear: 'He is not here. He has risen, as he said' (Mt 28:6). They are the first to embrace his feet (cf. Mt 28:9). They are also the first to be called to announce this truth to the Apostles (cf. Mt 28:1-10; Lk 24:8-11).
I suppose each of us, whether men or women, have something within us of the feminine and it is in the silent impulses of our heart that we experience resurrection. It is here, deep within us, that the Risen One moves us and gives us the courage to get up, to say the word that is on the tip of our tongue, to proclaim by word and deed that the new life of Jesus is with us so that we are able to say that Christ is Lord and Jesus is risen. Alleluia.
I have been reflecting in these past few weeks about the particular experience of two remarkable women that I have met.
Two months ago I was in Zimbabwe, to see for myself the desperate situation of so many people and to offer my support and solidarity. For me it was a deeply moving experience. Many of those living with HIV/AIDs are now too malnourished to take the drugs they need, though they have them. Whilst I was there I met Sister Margaret McAllen, director of an AIDs programme in Harare, and I asked her what she could do. She replied: 'How can we give hope to people in such a desperate situation? Through love. Change comes through love.' Sister Margaret and the many women and men who work in such situations witness to the Risen Christ. Their faith is no obstacle to facing the most horrendous realities. It is a resource with which to change them, and to give dignity, hope and meaning in what are often some of the most terrible conditions.
The Second woman I have being reflecting on is Chiara Lubich who died last week. She and her companions in the Focolare Movement, which she founded, have committed themselves to building dialogue, love and understanding between Christians, between all faiths and with those who have no faith. Yet it is clear that Chiara’s own faith was clearly focused on Jesus Forsaken, her spouse, whom she sought to discover living in every person. In one of her reflections she says,
“We need to allow God to be reborn within us and to keep him alive. We need to make him overflow onto others like torrents of Life and resurrect the dead…keep Him alive by loving one another…” (From “The Attraction of Modern Times” in Chiara Lubich: Essential Writings, p.174)
This love is so badly needed amidst the troubles, insecurity and pain existing in our society. This is not so much about economic uncertainty for it would not be wholly untrue to say that for many people to have less would make them a lot better off. It does, however, touch very many people who are deeply concerned about so much fragmentation in the social structures of our society, particularly the family. They long for a renewal of the values that hold a society together in justice and peace and where each person has a sense of being at home, at one with the people who share their life. It is this rebirth and resurrection for which people yearn.
Christians believe that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ touches the whole of Creation and brings hope to everyone. In the resurrection of Jesus things get moving. Just as the stone was rolled away, so our fears can be rolled away: our fears for the Church, our fears for ourselves and our families, our fears of our weaknesses, our fears for our lack of faith. Today all our fears are allayed by a Love which conquers death and darkness. This love is modelled in Mary, mother of the Church, and lived by countless women and men in the world. Today is a day when we proclaim, not alone but together, our belief in Jesus Christ and His resurrection. He is with us, and he has given us his Spirit – the Holy Spirit dwelling in us – and His Bride, the Church. At the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, you know the words that Jesus said to His first disciples “Know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time”. Yes, Jesus is with us, and he has given us His Mother in the Church where we can all find a home and the meaning and truth we need to live. Therefore we can rejoice and be glad. Christ is risen. Jesus is Lord. Alleluia.