Sunday, April 20, 2014

A First Easter

“Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.”  (Matthew 28:5)

Imagine experiencing Easter for the very first time.

Sometime last year, one of our youth group kids brought a young lady to church with her.  This young lady had never been to church before, had never been baptized, and knew almost nothing about the faith.  Soon she started coming to youth group and I got to know her and noticed she was a kind, very peaceful young lady.  It’s rare to find a teenager who radiates peace.  One night, as I processed up for the evening Mass, I noticed that her friend had invited her to sing in the choir.  So August rolls around and I start announcing that our Catechumenate classes were about to start for all those who weren’t baptized, and this young lady approaches me to tell me that she would like to be baptized.  Of course, I’m overjoyed whenever anyone, especially a young person, tells me that they want to be baptized.  So she begins her classes and is ever attentive to every lesson.  She goes on her first retreat back in September with the Youth Encounters where she delves deeper into who Jesus is, and around Christmas she tells that friend who first brought her to church that she would like her to be her godmother.  As Holy Week approached, I tell those who are going to be baptized to join me for all the Holy Triduum services so that they can experience them for the first time and walk with Jesus on his journey.  Now this young lady was going to play an integral part in our Good Friday services since our youth group kids were going to stage a living Way of the Cross, and she had been chosen to be Mary.  I had no objections.  I just smiled thinking that we were asking a sweet young lady who wasn’t even baptized to play the part of the Mother of God.  As we went through the stations, she looked on at the young man playing Jesus as if he were Jesus himself.  The tears streaming down her cheeks were genuine.  She wasn’t acting or performing, and when we came to the 13th station when Jesus is taken down from the cross, he was placed in her arms right in front of me and her head sank so tenderly down to his body.  In every photograph that was taken of that scene, you cannot see her face.  She felt Mary’s pain.  She felt the agony of that moment.  Later on, the young man playing Jesus told me that when she held him at that 13th station, he felt as if his own mother was holding him.  Truly, you can’t make this stuff up especially when it comes to teenagers.

So we come to last night and the great Easter Vigil.  Seventeen people were going to baptized along with this young lady who sat in the third pew on the aisle hanging on to every word that was uttered and on every liturgical action.  Then the moment came when she approached me at the baptismal font with her best friend who is now her godmother.  I try to be very stoic during Masses and weddings and baptisms, but I must confess that it was tough holding in my genuine joy at that precise moment.  She approached me with her big, peaceful brown eyes and bowed her head over the baptismal font, and I gently poured water three times over her head and invoked the Holy Trinity.  Every person baptized last night got a rousing applause, but the entire youth group was sitting in the back and exploded in cheers when she emerged from those life-giving waters.  She was finally home.  I proceeded to confirm her and give her First Communion.  She was really home.  At one point, I thought to myself, “Would you look at that? `Mary’ is finally baptized!”

What struck me throughout the week is how she took in all of this mystery for the first time. I don’t know much about her past, and quite frankly I really do not give it a second thought.  All I know is that she has a future filled with grace with this great family of the Church that she was just baptized into.  She is a living witness of the Risen Christ just like the women who went to the tomb early on that first Easter morning.  Those women were overjoyed at meeting the Risen Christ just as this young lady was and their mission was to tell others what they had seen. 

We would do well to learn from the example of this new sister in Christ who experienced the Easter mysteries for the very first time.  Imagine how those women felt when they saw Jesus.  Imagine how Peter and John felt when they saw the empty tomb.  Imagine how our mother Mary reacted when she first saw her Son risen from the dead.  Our Lord is very much alive and I have seen him in the wonderful young people that walked with him these last few days from the table of the Last Supper to Gethsemane to Golgotha and finally to the empty tomb.  May we approach our Risen Lord this Easter Sunday as if we were meeting him for the very first time.

Postscript:  I preached this homily at my 10am Mass this morning.  Many of the youth group kids were back and went to Mass again because they were helping out with our Easter Egg Hunt.  The newly baptized young lady was not there.  When I preached this homily again at our way overcrowded Noon Mass, I was a quarter of the way through the story when I looked to my left and noticed that the kids had snuck her in through a side door and they were all sitting on the floor in front of the first side pew to my left.  When I finished the story, I approached her, took her by the hand, had her stand up and said to her, “Let me introduce you to your new family” as I motioned to the overflowing church.  The congregation erupted in applause, and, as always since I’ve known her, she cried tears of joy. (And if this story doesn't get any better, today is her birthday!)  What a gift to be a Christian!  What an even greater gift to be a new Christian on Easter Sunday.

Happy Easter, my friends!