On Monday, April 24, the Regis High School community gathered at the Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola to celebrate the Liturgy for the Easter Season. Below is a reprint of Fr. Anthony Andreassi, C.O's homily delivered at the Mass.
I would like to begin by asking you to take note of two large statues in the altar area: of St John Francis Regis on your right and St Francis Xavier on your left. And their relative position to each other is no accident. Regis on the “uptown” side of the church close to our school whose patronage he is under and Xavier on the “downtown” side of the church in the direction of the Jesuit school which is named in his honor. But these statues tell only part of the story Jesuit schools in the New York area. Not accounted for by statuary up here are three other Jesuit high schools not far away: Loyola (which is literally next door), Fordham Prep in the Bronx and St Peter's Prep in Jersey City. And mentioning these five Jesuit schools doesn't really begin to take into account all the other Jesuit works not far away such as two universities, several parishes, schools for elementary-school kids, ministries in hospitals, prisons and a few other works. And this is all happening in our sprawling New York metropolitan area of over 16 million people.
Now for us who may know a bit about St Ignatius Loyola and his vision, all these Jesuit goings-on in the area should come as no real surprise. Because when he founded the Society of Jesus in 1540, he very much wanted his Jesuits to be at the center of culture and society. And he wanted them here not to gain fame or prestige but rather to be in conversation with people and the latest ideas and trends. He wanted them in all the hurlyburly to help people to see where Christ is in the midst of all this and where His Gospel should be leading and challenging us all, Christian and non-Christian alike.
So now maybe knowing a bit more about Ignatius and his vision for his Jesuits and us others who collaborate with them in their ministry, the subject of a new book by a modern-day son of St Ignatius should come to us as no surprise. Many of you may know of Father James Martin, SJ or maybe have even read one of his books. But his latest is making quite a splash. Entitled, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity,” this book in a sense is of a piece with the Jesuit schools all around the New York area. It is at the center of it all and amidst some of the most important conversations going on. And lest some think Fr Martin's book is too controversial or even unorthodox, one of the Pope Francis' closest advisors, Cardinal Kevin Farrell has said that he hopes the book will be a great help to many, including bishops and priests, to more compassionately minister to the LGBT community. And he also hopes that it will also help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.
Now just last year Fr Martin wrote a long article in the Wall Street Journal, on the day before Easter last year that also made quite a splash. And I would like to talk briefly about the contents of that piece today as we celebrate Easter. Now of course Easter was actually more than a week ago, on Sunday, April 16. But because the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection is so powerful the Church gives us 50 days to try and unpack it. Unpack and reflect on things like what we hear in today's Gospel. Such as Jesus' explanation to Nicodemus about the need to be born again, to die to sin and death and be raised up. Or even in the first reading from Acts to see how the first disciples struggled and even suffered to understand and then to give witness to the Resurrection and all that Christ's rising from the dead would demand from them and those who would also come to believe.
Fr Martin's article in the Journal made quite a splash because maybe like his new book, he was upsetting conventional wisdom. Just like the way some may think LGBT people have no place in the Church, others in the wider secular culture, including many in our own city, may think the Resurrection of Jesus is a quaint idea from the past but not something plausible for people of the 21st century. And that is where Fr Martin begs to disagree. He thinks the message of Easter to be rational but also deeply subversive. Now an honest writer, Fr Martin readily admits that the Easter story, essential as it is for Christian belief, can be a confusing one, even a hard one to accept intellectually. In some of the post-Resurrection descriptions he seems like a ghost, and in others people touch his physical body. And several times they struggle to recognize him. Ghostly and yet physical, recognizable but unrecognizable. Which is it? How could the Gospel writers have presented the details of such an important story with such seeming contradictions? The agnostic or atheist will point to this as proof that it never happened. But maybe it is quite the opposite.
The narratives reflect the struggle of the eyewitnesses and, later, the evangelists to understand and communicate what had been experienced. After all, no one had ever encountered a body that had risen from the dead. So they struggled to explain it. If the Gospel writers were intent on providing airtight narratives with no inconsistencies, they would have made sure their stories all lined up. Instead they simply reported what they had been told. And what they had been told—what their friends had experienced--was beyond all telling. Now, if we don't believe in the Resurrection, we can go on living our life while perhaps admiring Jesus the man and even putting into practice some of his teachings. Yet, at the same time, we can set aside those teachings that we disagree with or that make us uncomfortable: Love your neighbors. Care for the poor and the marginalized. Protect frail and threatened human life, from its beginning to end and at every point in between. Put the needs of others before your own. Root ourselves in a community of faith, a parish, to break bread regularly are be consoled and challenged by the Gospel. We can set these aside because he's just another teacher. A great one, to be sure, but just one of many. However, if we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, everything changes. In that case, we cannot set aside any of his teachings. Because a person who rises from the grave, needs to be listened to and has a claim on us. His teachings are invitations, to be sure, but they are also commands. Yes, if we believe in the Resurrection it going to make a lot of demands on us. And it has the power to change everything.
The Resurrection says not only that Christ has the power of life over death, but something more subversive. The Resurrection says: Remember. Remember who Jesus is; remember what he did and taught. Remember how he died and rose. Remember that he will come again. And in the meantime, the time between his leaving and returning, what are we to do? By living as he lived. By being in a dialogue with all people. And also not being afraid to be out of step with the conventional wisdom. Not being afraid to witness to the Resurrection. Yes, every time we say “Amen” before receiving the Eucharist, we are really also saying: Christ had died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. Now let's go forth and live that subversive message of Easter in both word and deed.