I love what Jesus has to say about living in this world, although I don't believe his message about the next one.
So I'm on the mailing list for the homilies delivered by a wise parish priest down in Ayrshire, who seems particularly close to Jesus.
Below is Father Joe Boland's homily for Easter Week. If you want more of his homilies, you can find them at the St Matthew's Church website.
For more on the man's thinking, take a look at a post I wrote at Scientific Blogging, following a nuclear arms debate between Father Boland and Des Browne, then Secretary of State for Defence.
Father Joe Boland homily for Easter Week
One of the things about the Holy Week Liturgy is that, before we even begin, we know how the story ends. Even as we try to stay with Jesus through the agony in the garden on Holy Thursday or follow him on the road to Calvary on Good Friday, we are already thinking about the Resurrection and making sure everything is ready for Easter. But it wasn’t like that two thousand years ago. For the original disciples what happened during the final hours of Jesus’ life was a complete disaster. Everything they had believed in and hoped for was falling apart. They had come to see Jesus as the one the ancient prophets had spoken of and, to their utter dismay, he had been crucified like a common criminal.
And on Easter Sunday morning it was no different. At the moment of Resurrection there was no angelic choir waiting outside the tomb to greet Jesus with the Alleluia chorus from Handel’s Messiah, no adoring crowds to witness the moment of triumph. The whole of Easter day in the gospels is a story of disillusioned and frightened people failing to recognize Jesus and refusing to believe he had risen. And it’s only if we can get in touch with that Easter, the real Easter, the doubt-filled and fear-ridden Easter of history, rather than the romantic Hollywood version of it we see in films, that we can begin to understand what the Resurrection means in our own lives now. Quite simply, the experience of many in the world today is much closer to that of those early disciples two thousand years ago than it is to the Handel’s Messiah version, and it’s this that I invite you to reflect on this morning.
For so many of our contemporaries, you see, the world is a terrible place. All around us too, as was happening during the original Holy Week, things seem to be falling apart. I meet people who no longer watch the News on TV, so depressing do they find it all. Everything that is bad and unhealthy seems to be on the increase, from teenage pregnancies to drug taking right through to the current financial crisis. And within the Church things seem no better. All over the developed world congregations are falling and, to make it worse, there are hardly any young people to be seen in our churches. And then, of course, there is the scandal of sex abuse which is causing and will continue to cause many to struggle with issues of faith until such times as the Church as a whole has the courage to face up to its deep-rooted causes.
These are difficult times, and as such they are an opportunity for us to enter in some way into the experience of those who lived through the events of what we now call Holy Week but which felt far from holy at the time. They knew nothing then about the Resurrection just as for many today talk of Resurrection and the presence of the Risen Jesus among us is just words. I constantly meet church-going people who tell me that they cannot see any evidence of God in the world around them. And yet I can say to you today with absolute certainty that God is at work deep within everything that happens. Jesus is risen, alive and present among us, even if, like the people on the first Easter Day, we struggle to recognize him. So where is he? Well, that’s a bit like asking where the air we breathe is. He, like it, is everywhere. But, based on Resurrection stories from all four gospels, I would like to suggest three ways in which we might begin to recognize him.
And the first concerns Mary Magdalen. In a passage we will hear at Mass on Tuesday morning, St John has her stooping down and looking into the tomb, weeping, totally unaware that Jesus us standing behind her. A friend of mine who lives in Jerusalem often laughs at pilgrims visiting the church of the Holy Sepulchre on the grounds that it is the only place in the world of which the bible says, ‘He is not here.’ And if we spend our time bending down looking into tombs and weeping over the past we will never see Jesus. Jesus is not to be found in the past, in old hurts, in resentment nursed over years, in what once was or used to be. If we are to recognize the Risen Jesus in our lives, then we, like Mary, must leave the past behind, turn round and stop looking into tombs.
And the second scene is the upper room on the evening of the first Easter Day. There, the eleven were gathered together in a locked room, filled with fear. And of all the tombs we can crawl into, none is more debilitating and crippling than fear. And so Jesus calms their fear, opens their minds to understand the Scriptures and tells them that they will be witnesses to the resurrection to the ends of the earth. Within days, the Spirit of Pentecost will transform these weak, fearful men who at the first sign of trouble had abandoned Jesus and run away, into men of deep personal faith. And until that happens to us and our minds, too, are opened up to understand, not just the Scriptures, but many other things too, our fears will continue to cripple us and prevent us becoming the witnesses to the presence of Jesus in the world that we are called to be.
And the third scene I invite you to contemplate this morning is the road to Emmaus. Those disillusioned and disappointed disciples whose hopes had been crushed still exist in the Church today. Those first disciples, like so many in our own time, could not see God in what was happening to them. And yet the Risen Jesus was with them as they walked along. And the truth we must come to realise is that that same Risen Jesus has been with us every step of our journey too. All of us – and again I say this without fear of error - have had moments of grace and insight over the years, moments when the veil covering our eyes has been removed for a time and we have seen realities normally hidden from us. The trouble is that we forget them and live as if they had never happened.
And so I invite you this Easter to take time to think back over your personal journey to Emmaus. Ask the Risen Jesus to show you times you have experienced his presence along the way. Look forward in hope, not backwards in fear. Choose life in all its shapes and forms and sooner or later you will recognize him at the breaking of bread.
We begin our prayer this Easter by praying for the world at this moment in its history. We are living through a time when millions are filled with fear and anxiety about the future. The great epidemics of our age are stress, depression and anxiety resulting, in many cases, from the pressures of living in a consumer-driven society. And so we pray that the Good News of Easter will fill us with hope and that, by showing the people of our time that there are better ways of living, we will share that hope them.......Lord hear us
The hope we speak of is no naive optimism. Bad things have always happened, happen still and will continue to happen in the future. To be a hope-filled people we will often have to dig deep, as Jesus himself had to dig deep during the agony on the garden or as he hung dying upon the cross. We will sometimes have to trust when there is no obvious reason for doing so. But our trust is in the God who turns death into life and we pray for the grace to believe in his love no matter what happens........Lord hear us
As long as Mary Magdalen stood looking into the tomb she was never going to see the Risen Jesus. For that to happen, she had to turn away from what was empty and lifeless and look in a new direction. The past had nothing to offer. And so we pray for the grace we need to put the past behind us: to let go of old hurts or resentments; to embrace new ways of thinking; to accept and embrace the inevitable changes and developments of history and so recognize the Risen Jesus in our lives now..........Lord hear us
As the two disciples left Jerusalem and began their journey home to Emmaus, they were filled with a deep sense of disappointment. Their hope had been that Jesus would be the one the prophets had spoken of and now their hopes and dreams were shattered. And yet, without them realising it, Jesus was with them. And so we pray for the insight we need to recognize the ways in which Jesus has been with us every step of our life-journey, especially at times of pain and disappointment..........Lord hear us
On the first Easter Day, the disciples were huddled together in the upper room, paralysed by fear. Faith will always mean asking question, not understanding and, in some cases, spending many years struggling with doubt. But what prevents us becoming the people God calls us to be is not doubt but fear. Doubt can be our friend. Fear is always our enemy. It is fear that prevents us becoming the people God calls us to be and we pray for the grace we need to overcome our fears here in this parish.........Lord hear us
Millions today have lost faith in life after death. They cannot understand it and so it cannot be true. To lose faith in life after death, however, has profound effects of the way we live. If there is no life after death then our only hope of happiness lies in material things. And yet these constantly disappoint and fail to deliver the happiness we seek. And so we pray that the men and women of our time, seeking happiness in all kinds of strange places, will come to understand again that happiness ultimately lies in God alone..............Lord hear us