Dear friends, My Homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter (B) 2015.
THE RESURRECTION GIVES US A FRESH START
St Peter is courage in today’s sermon, he preached the gospel to the Jewish leaders and residents of Jerusalem: “The author of life you put to death.” But then he moves on from their sin, weakness, and ignorance. He lifts their gaze to something much more important. He tells them that God can handle it, that God took the evil of Christ’s suffering and death and turned it into the definitive victory over evil, suffering and death: “God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” And as he said, “we are witnesses,” certainly he was thinking of those times, when Jesus appeared to them, letting them see and touch his wounds, proving that he was no ghost or illusion stemming from wishful thinking (Acts 3:13-15). It is Christ’s resurrection that has made all the difference. It has dissolved the bonds of original sin and opened the door to a new life, a life in which each of us can truly leave behind the chains of sin and selfishness in all their forms (Ezk. 37:11-14; Acts 9:1-6). The Resurrection is the key that opens the treasure of hope for each of us, no matter how mediocre, hypocritical, or self-absorbed we have been and tend to be. The Resurrection puts all good things within reach: wisdom, patience, joy, fortitude, self-control – in short, it makes holiness and lasting happiness possible for us (Mk. 16:12; Luke 24:13-35). That is what Peter is telling the crowds, and that is what the Church is telling us: hope in Christ, leave everything aside to follow him, and he will work wonders in your life (John 21:1-21).
ST MARIA GORETTI’S MURDERER
Most of us have heard the story of St Maria Goretti, the 11-year-old girl who died as a martyr in 1902. She was mortally wounded when her neighbor, 20-year-old Alessandro Serenelli, attacked her with intent to sexually abuse her. When she resisted and admonished him not to commit this sin, he became enraged and stabbed her 14 times. The doctors tried to save her, but after 20 hours of agony, during which Maria forgave and prayed for Alessandro, she died. She was canonized in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, the youngest officially recognized Catholic saint ever.
We know that story, but have we heard the story of the murderer, Alessandro? Imprisoned and put on trial, Alessandro vehemently denied his guilt, but finally broke down in the face of overwhelming testimony. As a minor, he was sentenced to only thirty years hard labour. A priest came to see him soon afterward, and he turned on the cleric in rage, howling like a maniac and lunging at him. Soon afterwards, Alessandro lost his appetite and became almost excessively nervous, almost neurotic. After six years of prison, he was near the brink of despair. Then one night, Maria appeared to him in his cell.
She was surrounded by lilies, and smiled at him. It was the beginning of the rest of his life. He began to experience interior peace and a desire to do something constructive. After serving his sentence, Alessandro asked pardon of Maria’s mother and accompanied her to Christmas Mass in the parish church where he spoke to the hushed congregation. He acknowledged his sin, and asked for forgiveness from God and the community.
Alessandro took up residence at a Capuchin monastery, working faithfully and productively as a gardener until his death in 1970. The risen Christ, through the prayers and goodness of St Maria Goretti, gave this brutal murderer a fresh start, and turned him into a wise and happy Christian. A few years before he died, he wrote a short spiritual testimony. What he wrote is an astounding witness to the transforming power of Christ’s grace to give us a fresh start, no matter what.
“…Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I’ve been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.
“I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.”[Information for this Illustration was taken from http://www.mariagoretti.org/alessandrobio.htm.%5D
TWO WAYS TO ACTIVATE OUR NEW LIFE
We all want to experience more deeply the newness of life that Christ’s resurrection promises us. But it’s not something that happens automatically; we have to let his grace penetrate and transform us. At least two things are necessary for that to happen. First, as St Peter stressed in the First Reading, we must “repent, and be converted.” Today’s Second Reading echoes that: “… Whoever keeps his word [i.e., avoiding sin], the love of God is truly perfected in him.” If we want to put fresh honey in a jar, first we have to clean out the smelly old leftovers that we have been keeping there (Mt. 16:18; 18:18; Jn. 20:22-23; James 5:16) The life of wisdom, courage, and joy that Christ brings us is the fresh honey, but to experience it, we have to confess our sins and renounce our selfish tendencies – not just once, but constantly.
This is why the sacrament of confession should be a regular part of all of our lives.
Second, we need to give God room to work in our souls through prayer (Rom. 12:12; Eph. 5:20; 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:1). During this joyful Easter season let’s us spent more time in prayer, come to Mass more often, or make a point of reading good spiritual books. Those spiritual disciplines give more substance and strength to our daily lives. But God wants us to keep growing! Lord Jesus, you will once again share with us your new life, your glorified, resurrected life, in Holy Communion, we thank you and ask you to help us put it into action this week.