|Music ministers Kate and Ann Klonowski with Dave Debic, and Mary Eileen processing with Gospel Book|
Mary Eileen blessing the Easter water for the Assembly gathered.
Homily for Easter Vigil, 2017
In the 1998 movie, You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks plays an ambitious book store owner who opens one of his stores in a New York City neighborhood. Meanwhile, Meg Ryan plays the local children’s bookshop owner who goes out of business because of the big box competition that lured her sales across the street. At one point in the film, Hanks’ interest in this woman moves him to pay her a visit. He finds Ryan in her apartment nursing a bad cold. Charming his way in with a bouquet of daisies, they begin a conversation that develops into an interesting exchange with Hanks claiming, “It wasn’t personal.” Ryan retorts with, “What does that mean anyway? …whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
Our Lenten journey as members of the Community of St. Bridget started out with a personal plan. It was suggested that we read the weekly reflections in Sr. Joan Chittister’s booklet, The Prophet in You, that follow the Gospel readings from the first week of Lent through the Resurrection on Easter, seven weeks total. During that journey of reflection, Sr. Joan challenged us to meditate on how we can grow, heal others by our physical and spiritual touch, find a venue that would fruitfully direct our passion, discover a new vision, love deeply to the point of tears, improve the life of others so that Jesus’ face becomes clearer, and find a way to live faithfully in a hostile world. Yes, this was our personal beginning… It left some of us feeling like the reflections before us were more like the big box behemoth in the movie that moved in across the street, and they were sucking the life out of the little we thought we had. Yep! This assignment was a lot of work.
Leaving that aside, tonight I want to share with you a very intimate thread that weaves through the history of Christianity. Columnist Sr. Joan Roccasalvo, C.S.J. piqued my memory with her writing on this theme.
In the Old Testament are poor people of every sort: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically depressed, those of lowly status without earthly power, a group of people referred to in Hebrew as the anawim. This expression is used frequently in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, and is the basis for Jesus’ belief that the poor are those blessed among us. The anawim are a people who lovingly surrender to Holy Mystery, remaining faithful and waiting for the Holy One to fill their emptiness.
Mary of Nazareth belonged to the anawim. Her life of fidelity and free acceptance in allowing the Spirit to work in her came to voice in the Magnificat, where she acknowledged that the Almighty had done great things for her in her lowliness. Mary is the star among the anawim about whom Jesus later speaks in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor.” In a letter to the Philippians, Jesus is said to have “emptied himself,” freely choosing to give up wealth of any kind, and become poor in many earthly ways, even to the point of feeling spiritually abandoned. Jesus and his Mother embraced their station in life knowing the embrace of the Divine in their doing so.
Our Old Testament readings tonight are messages that look toward the future, much like the anawim looked ahead and believed they would be eventually and eternally satisfied.
As we reflect on the readings offered at this Easter Vigil, religious writer Rita Ferrone sheds light that provides some clarity. Our faith is in the creation story, showing the power of the Holy One to give life and to create a new world, always poised to act again in our liturgy.
In our Exodus reading, the events at the Red Sea underscore the Christian conviction that true freedom comes by passing through the water.
Isaiah offers us a compelling invitation to come to the water and partake of a feast. These passages sing to us of the loving and generous promises of the Sacred Presence that holds us together. They awaken hope and expectation not only for the sacred moments we celebrate, but for the life into which these moments welcome us.
The passage from the Book of Baruch uses the title “Divine Wisdom” as a figure of Christ, who we now believe is among us on Earth and converses with us.
These readings are from the past, but they tell us more than how the Divine acted a long time ago. They illuminate what that Divine Presence is still doing and will continue to do for us. They speak of origins and destiny together. Much like what our liturgy celebrates for us today.
In the New Testament reading tonight, St. Paul’s letter to the Romans lays out very clearly that if we follow Jesus through death, through hardships, through uncertainties and fear, we will rise with Jesus and live a new life forever.
And the best part, the Gospel story of Mary Magdalene who is charged with being the first evangelist -- the first apostle among them all -- was sent to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen. This is indeed a saving event not only for humankind as a whole, but specifically for all women.
Tonight, there is very real reason to celebrate! As we gather together, we are the anawim spirit. This Community has gathered and includes those who are frustrated over the lack of vision and inclusivity in our church, who are indignant over the lack of transparency and equality in her leadership, are disappointed in the restoration of ancient prayers that do not reflect the understandings of an enlightened people, and those who are excluded from a traditional faith community because their lifestyles and those they love are not recognized as part of the Creator’s plan for life. Women are major players in the anawim of today. In addition to all the social and religious oppression we continually face in our world, we have endured the exclusion from lawful ordination in the Roman Catholic Church based on culturally conditioned and long documented discrimination. Ann and I are now leading the prayer of our sacred liturgies, and there are other women tonight, spanning five continents across the planet, who are doing the same. The anawim spirit has been resurrected once again among us and is coming to light in the face of bias, prejudice, and injustice. The lowly have once again come into the Light!
Tonight, we are the anawim -- living examples of new hope entering our world and our church.
My friends, we began with a personal journey that was before us, and, as was stated in the words of the shop girl character in You’ve Got Mail, “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” But our journey is more than personal, isn’t it? We are a community, and, as such, we enjoy the harvest of our faith together -- our own personal resurrection and our communal resurrection in Christ. We are truly an Easter People! May you know and experience the effects of this sacred event as your joy and resurrected hope is shared with all you encounter.