In those four simple words lie all the glory and mystery and joy of this feast we celebrate. That is Easter.
If you want more, all you had to do was look around you as this mass began. In the darkness of this April night, one flame ignited hundreds of others, and the light spread. Person by person, candle by candle. And we stood in this sacred space embracing that light. Sharing it. Welcoming it.
And so it is that we welcome with joy the resurrected Christ. He has been raised.
And so it is, too, that we welcome with joy new Catholic Christians.
It is hard sometimes to describe what it means to be a part of this faith.
You can learn the catechism, you can study our history, you can memorize the sacraments or the spiritual works of mercy. But it’s something intangible. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is work that is often hidden.
But sometimes it displays itself in beautiful and inspiring ways.
Earlier this week, I read about a Catholic priest, who died at the amazing age of 106. His name was Fr. Mike Dalton. He was a chaplain to Canadian troops during World War II. There was a picture posted online with his obit, showing him celebrating mass on the hood of a jeep.
That jeep was his altar, and his confessional. He spent a lot of time at the front lines, putting himself at risk, hearing confessions of men who knew they might not come back. Those souls mattered to him.
He ended up being decorated by King George VI – the first Catholic priest to ever receive the Member of the British Empire.
Late in his life, when Fr. Dalton was in a nursing home and he could barely stand, he would struggle to get up and say mass, day after day, week after week. A priest who knew him said it wasn’t because of habit, or obligation. It was out of love. Love for the faith, love for God, love for the sacrament that he could hold in his trembling hand.
It is a love that reaches all the way back to the three holy days we have just marked – and that bursts open with those incredible words: He has been raised.
Two thousand years later, on this sacred night, we celebrate that. We celebrate those who are embracing it with us – those about to be baptized or confirmed. And as we welcome new members into our family, we proclaim to ourselves and to the world just who we are.
Describing the Catholic Church, James Joyce once said, “Here comes everybody.”
Yes. That says it.
Here comes Peter, the denier and Thomas the doubter, and the converted pagan Augustine. Here comes the soldier Ignatius, and the scholar Aquinas, and the tentmaker Paul. Here comes the outspoken Catherine of Sienna and the quiet Therese of Lisieux. Here Martin de Porres, and Andrew Kim — and here comes Francis, preaching to the birds.
We are all that and more. We are monks who copied scripture onto parchment, and preserved God’s word during one of the darkest times in history. We are priests and nuns who could barely speak the language, but came to an unruly place called America and created the most extensive parochial school system on earth, passing on what they knew, and what they believed.
We are laborers from Italy and Poland and Germany who arrived in Brooklyn with nothing, and left behind towering temples of stone and glass in what we now call a City of Churches.
We are Chesterton and Merton and Hopkins. We are Bob Hope and Newt Gingrich, John Wayne and Oscar Wilde, Tony Blair and Fulton Sheen.
We are Oscar Romero and Bobby Kennedy and Caeser Chavez and Mother Angelica.
We are the soldier in Iraq praying the rosary, and the immigrant in the barrio with Our Lady of Guadalupe tattooed on his back.
We are Fr. Mike Dalton, in a jeep in Germany, hearing one last confession.
We are Rosa and Richard, about to be baptized here tonight. We are Amanda and Lydia and Ana and Justine and Carmen, about to be confirmed.
We are saints. We are sinners. We are everybody.
We are the Body of Christ. Bruised. Broken. But resurrected and given new life, new hope. Changed forever.
A few years ago, Msgr. Funaro gave an Easter Vigil homily and reminded us that we are “Easter People.” We are people who live in the resurrection. We are men and women and children who hold the light.
This Easter, keep the flame burning. Remember all who came before us, and all who are joining us today – by one count, some 150-thousand in the United States alone.
150-thousand more people to hold the candle, and to spread the light, and to proclaim not just the good news – but the greatest news in all human history:
“He has been raised.”