April 9, 2023

Deacon Tim Papa Homily
Heaven Begins Now

Easter Sunday The Resurrection of the Lord

Acts 10:34, 37-43; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; John 20:1-9

A deacon walks into a bar. I don't know why it's at a bar. Alcoholic drinks have nothing to do with this. That's just the way you start a funny story. Or, in an attempt to control expectations here, a mildly funny anecdote. Anyway, as I said: a deacon walks into a bar. There are three people sitting at the bar. He walks over and asks the first, “Do you want to go to heaven?” He answers, “Yes, I think I do.” The deacon tells him to go stand over along the wall. He asks the second person the same question. She answers that she too would like to go to heaven. The deacon asked her to join the first man. Then he asks the same question to the third person. “No, not really,” he answers. The deacon was incredulous: “What is wrong with you, man? Don’t you want the rewards of heaven when you die?” The man quickly put up his hand. “Hold it. Of course I want to go to heaven when I die. I just thought you were getting up a group to go there right now.”

Well, let me tell you right here and now: Father Oscar and I are getting up a group to go to heaven right now! We call this group the Catholic Church. For those of you visiting or who have been away, I have had a theme this Lenten season of living the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives today. Those who view religion as a sort of retirement plan, that is to say where we pay now so that we have the reward when we die, have missed one of the central messages of Christ and of Easter. Heaven is a life spent living in God’s love, and we can experience that here on earth – maybe not as fully and maybe interrupted occasionally by sinfulness of ourselves or those around us – but we can get it here on earth if we would only listen to the Word of God.

On Good Friday, I talked about what are known as the seven last words of Christ, the seven statements that he made from the cross before he died. I want to explore a little more fully one of them. In John’s Gospel, there is a simple two-word statement: "I thirst" [Jn 19:28 NABRE]. Now anyone who reads the Gospels knows that none of the four evangelists puts in details that are not important and relevant to the episode of the life of Jesus. If they say it was a dark and stormy night, it is because the storm plays a role in the story and they are not just making idle remarks about the weather. So when John tells us that Jesus said, “I thirst,” it has meaning well beyond the bodily needs of Jesus at that moment of his life. In this case it has very significant meaning. For what exactly does Christ thirst for, looking down from the cross? The answer is love. The answer is Easter.

It is when we follow the arc of the Gospel of John that we understand the answer. At the start of the Gospel, in the third chapter, he tells us that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” [John 3:16] So we start with God loving us, the reason he came to us in the form of Christ the Son. Now, towards the end of the Gospel, he tells us that “I thirst.” So we end with God wanting us to love him and come to him in return. Jesus has spent the entire time between these two statements telling us how to love God and one another, and on Good Friday he simultaneously shows us the love of God and asks for us to love him in return. Paul confirms this in the second reading, when he tells us, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” [Colossians 3:2 NABRE]. If we do so, we get to heaven – here on earth – imperfectly – as well as eternally – perfectly.

We all know this in the depths of our souls, but the cares of the world tend to distract us from it and bury it under a mountain of sin. The people that have the most joy in their lives are not the rich or the famous – in fact, they seem, once you are past the hype of the their publicists, to be some of the most unhappy people. The people that have the most joy are the ones that have found a true and lasting relationship with God and with those around them. I can prove this simply: the next time you see an old picture that you took on a trip with good friends or family in it, note where your eye is naturally drawn. Even if it has some famous place in the background – maybe the Eiffel Tower, maybe Mount Rushmore, whatever – I bet you your eye is instinctively drawn first, and instinctively, to the people and the memories you have of them and not to the famous site that is also in the picture. We are made by God in the image of God to love him and to love what he has made. It is only when we turn ourselves into our own petty gods that love only ourselves that we fail to find heaven. This is when death wins out and there is no Easter. It is as simple as that.

Of course, that is a facetious comment. It is simple to say, but we all know it is not that simple to carry out. But it is not as hard as some would make it out to be, either. We have the Church to help. It is where we continually learn about the teaching of Christ and grow and develop our faith life. It provides the sacraments so that we can receive God’s graces, such as the communal celebration of the Eucharist or the forgiveness and atonement of penance. And it provides the example and encouragement of others around us, all trying to live up to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. We are an Easter people, banding together as the Body of Christ, living the love of Christ and the love of one another.

As we continue with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let us pray that the body of our Lord will instill in us the grace to build the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, and it will bring us all together as one community, one Easter people, one Body of Christ. May the love of God, demonstrated by our Savior coming to us, be returned by all us as we more fully understand the heaven that is the return of that love to God and one another. On behalf of Father Oscar and all of the staff of Saint James, and all of the many lay ministers who volunteer throughout the year and witness to their Christian faith and service to our Lord, I wish you and all your families great joy as you celebrate this most blessed Easter.

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