Homily for the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection
Fr. Roberto EN Rivera SJ
Ignatius House Chapel, Ateneo de Naga University
April 11, 2020
Dear brothers, the epic, marathon proclamation of nine scripture readings we have just heard for this mass of the Easter Vigil chronicles for us nothing less than salvation history itself. It is literally a testament, from both old and new testaments, of how God loving’s plan for humanity is initiated with our creation in His Image, is mediated through His covenant with our ancestors in the faith, the Jews, and is fulfilled through the passion, death, and resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a plan that begins with the sweeping vistas of Creation itself, continues through the saga of Israel and the onslaught of foes and trials she faced through the centuries, and comes to fruition at a quiet cave, an empty tomb at the outskirts of Jerusalem, with Mary of Magdala and the other Mary being the first witnesses to the risen Christ.
The drama of all these centuries, my brothers, comes down to this undeniable truth. Christ is risen! We have been saved! It is the same exhortation that we repeat, here, now, as we in this Jesuit community conclude our eight day retreat tomorrow evening, and as we together with the rest of the weary, worried, waiting world look forward to the end of this protracted trial brought about by the COVID-19 crisis. On this holiest of nights, in this darkest of times, I invite all of us, brothers, to reflect on how the hope of the resurrection, the radiant light of new life, shines forth in our personal, apostolic, and spiritual lives.
First, this retreat has been a chance yet again to delve into our personal lives as God’s servants. With the help of the points given by Fr. Cel, we went through the prayer exercises offered by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. Perhaps wearily, we went yet again through the cycle of giftedness, sin, mercy, and calling that is the hallmark of our existence. Maybe we have been forced to come to terms with persistent or emerging areas of sinfulness in our lives. We may have looked back at the bumbling, stuttering steps and the not infrequent falls and failures we experienced in following Christ’s call. But we are assured yet again that in the optic of the new life and salvation brought by Christ risen, these struggles are not meaningless. In the end, the conclusion is powerfully the same. Christ calls us to his mission despite everything, despite our very selves. He has triumphed over sin and death itself. And so, with great humility we proclaim: Christ is risen! We have been saved!
Second, in this age of COVID-19, we are asked to come to terms as well with our apostolic lives. Surely as we went through these days of repose we also struggled with our fears and insecurities amidst this crisis, especially as our apostolic work, the Ateneo de Naga, is forced to a grinding halt. It is a supreme irony indeed that in what is probably one of the greatest upheavals of our lifetimes, we as priests and religious are not even allowed to minister or to say mass. Together with most of humanity, we are told that the best way we can help is to stay home and basically to get out of the way. On my part, for instance, I have struggled the past days contemplating the efforts of my two nieces, Samantha and Rhia, as they risk their lives in the frontline. By virtue of their medical training—Sam is a senior resident in internal med and Rhia a fellow in infectious diseases—both are literally dealing day to day, face to face, with COVID-19 patients. Listening to their distraught mother, my elder sister, and praying for them intently I cannot help but ask, why them? As Jesuits and as persons of elder generations, we take it as a given that we will be the ones to protect the young entrusted to our care. Not so in this crisis. It is the young, especially our brave frontliners, carrying the fight for us. For us sitting, cowering in the dark, we are left to remember, to entrust, to pray for our frontliners, for our partners in mission, and for their families. And so now, more than ever, we wholeheartedly proclaim: Christ is risen! We have been saved!
Third and finally, turning to our spiritual lives, all of us have been surely asking in prayer, “Why Lord have you allowed this great evil to fall upon us?” We have been subject these past weeks to a constant refrain of reflections on the answer to this question, a lamentation really. All the answers offered are valid and comforting in some way. They include the following: “It is not God who has wrought this but our sinfulness that has unleashed this contagion upon the world.” “God does not wish this evil upon us, but He inspires men and women of great generosity and goodwill to serve.” “God is uniting us with the sufferings of His Son, so that we, like Jesus, may respond with love.” The explanations go on. But for me, the answer giving the most comfort stems from the resurrection itself. I have taken solace these past days in Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of the Omega point, the vison of a Universe and all of creation moving, evolving to perfection, converging towards a triumphant Christ. Could it be that this crisis is but another step, akin to the many steps taken through the centuries by the Israelites, in the inevitable progression of all creation towards perfection in Christ? The resurrected Christ certainly assures us so. And so, with hope undimmed we proclaim: Christ is risen! We have been saved!
The personal, the apostolic, the spiritual are things we do not experience in isolation from one another. As we move in, and God willing, emerge from the darkness of the COVID-19 pandemic, we take to heart Father Ignatius’ exhortation that love is indeed better expressed in deeds rather than words. In the same way, our proclamation of the resurrection and our salvation over these next months will be reckoned not by rhetoric alone, but above all by our efforts to create a more caring, loving world. On this holiest of nights, we pray for an end to the crisis, but we also pray for the strength to participate fully in the building up of a world moving towards perfection in Christ.
Let our final prayer be this: “Loving Father, tonight, in the empty churches, in the quiet, abandoned streets, in the hospital wards filled with the sick and suffering, in homes where families huddle together, but most of all in our hearts, give us the strength to proclaim, and to live out the greatest of gifts we have received from Your goodness. Your Son has Risen! Your Son has saved us! Give us the grace to participate fully in His continuing work of salvation. Amen.”