Per request, Fr. Len’s Easter Homily (April 21, 2019) is available to read here!
Fr. Len Plazewski
Christ the King Church, Tampa
Easter Homily 2019
One of the many things that is different about the life of a priest from most other people, is that we don’t get weekends and holidays off! Consequentially, as a priest, I have to find other days off for some R&R. For many years now, my “day off” has been on Mondays. While once in a while I might do something extraordinary on that day, most often I just go home and relax. This past Monday, after running a few errands for my Mom and helping her get ready for some cousins from out of town who would be visiting that evening, it was a pretty uneventful day. Uneventful that is, until I turned on the TV that afternoon, and saw the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on fire! Like many of you, I could not believe my eyes as fire ravaged this historic gem, a church I had been to and prayed in numerous times. As I watched the TV reports, the news just seemed to get more and more grim. The spire collapsed, the fire continued to grow unabated, it spread to one of the towers and French officials were saying that they were not sure if they would be able to save it. My heart sank as I tried to imagine what Paris, what France, what the Church, what the world would be like without Notre Dame! Fortunately, as we now know, the firefighters were able to save Notre Dame, and though there was significant damage, it turned out to be less than was initially feared.
Obviously, fires happen. Notre Dame was not the first important building to catch on fire nor will it be the last, but, as we step back from the specifics of that fire, what are we to make of this fire’s destruction especially now during this sacred season? Obviously, any visitor to Paris for the foreseeable future will be disappointed in the current condition of this great cathedral. But what about our own lives, especially our lives of faith? If the Lord came today, what condition would He find us? Would our faith be strong and intact or would He find cracks and leaks, even rubble and bits and pieces – evidence of deterioration, and even destruction? The great truth of this day is that Christ comes into the world and that is exactly what He finds in us. The beauty of humanity – God’s greatest creation has been scarred by sin, mangled by hatred, distorted by jealously, charred by lust, and disfigured with greed. Given the sad state of humanity, one might have expected God to leave this sorry lot of humanity behind and begin anew. But instead of tossing us aside or allowing us to wallow in our own short-sightedness, He makes that ultimate sacrifice. He suffers death on the cross so that all of humanity, yes, you and me can begin again!
That is what this beautiful day is all about – our rebirth through Christ’s victorious resurrection! It is the light of Christ, symbolized by this Easter candle, that gives us new and real hope even in the darkest of times. For the Lord comes not to destroy, but rather to enlighten our lives so that we can share in the fullness of His Father’s kingdom. We celebrate today Christ’s glorious resurrection, but we know from the Scriptures that the resurrected Christ still bears the marks of His passion. Similarly, we know that even a rebuilt Notre Dame will still show in some way the scars of this past week’s fire. We also know that we have been called to be God’s new creation, but we too will always bear the scars of those past wrong choices, but here’s the difference: Those things need not define us for we have been redeemed through Jesus’ cross and resurrection.
The process to rebuild and restore Notre Dame will take at least five years or more, but the process to rebuild your heart and soul need not take nearly as long. Let that process begin today! Open your life and your heart to God! Allow the light of Christ’s love to penetrate every aspect of your life. Instead of sitting in the charred remains of sin and in the rubble of self-centeredness, let that rebuilding and healing begin! We can bemoan the once beautiful condition of our souls and grow cynical over innocence lost. We can be tempted with the thought that things will never be the same again or the belief that we will never get back what is lost. Such thoughts lead nowhere! They result merely in inaction! That is exactly what the evil one wants us to do – nothing! How tragic would it be for humanity if Notre Dame was never rebuilt and left only as an empty shell of a bygone era! How even more tragic would it be if you never allow God to rebuild your brokenness!
We live in a time when we are told that our past actions and choices are what define us. We are told that we have but one chance in life. We are bombarded with the threats of mistakes that we will might never be able to overcome. We live in a society that has mastered the art of public shaming, but has forgotten the ability to forgive. Our young people are growing up in a world in which every flaw or bad choice is amplified over social media and the internet. We live in a time that demands perfection as there is no return from a fall from grace. Our society has become an expert at singling out and putting down, and only rarely offers second chances. The dysfunction of our times has created the expectation in the hearts of so many of a need to be perfect, or at least appear to be so. Sadly, mercy seems to run in short supply today and the thought of forgiveness is only rarely considered. Ironically, in many ways we live in a new “Reign of Terror” for at any moment, we can be condemned by friends, neighbors, and society at large. Little wonder that so many people today pretend to be perfect. They go about their lives fearful that some flaw, some bad choice, some sin will be exposed to all. And while they may not literally “lose their heads,” they live in fear of losing family, friends, careers, reputations, and a meaningful future!
The good news this day is that we do not have to pretend to be perfect. We do not have to pretend that we have never done anything wrong. We do not have try to cover up bad choices for God to love us. God is so different than our world and our society. He does not abandon us in our sinfulness, but rather comes all the closer! God does not wait for us to be perfect to love us. God does not wait for us to be flawless to forgive us. God does not wait for us to be sinless to save us! God enters our world in the midst of its sinfulness, in fact, Jesus Christ comes to each of us, even to this day, in the midst of our own sinfulness. He suffers willingly for sinners so that we can have new life. He accepts the ignominy of the cross for our salvation. He takes upon Himself all of the ugliness of humanity, of each one of us, so that we don’t have to! That my friends is why the reality of this day should fill us with unabated joy. Our destiny is not to be found in the summation of our sins, but rather in the totality of God’s love! This indeed is the Good News of the Gospel! It seems so hard to accept or believe. It is so contrary to what the world tells us. That is why we see the apostles running to that empty tomb in disbelief. How could this be? Evil always gets the last word, doesn’t it? Yet that empty tomb echoes a different response: He is Risen! Life for the apostles, those in the company of Jesus…Life for us begins anew!
The truth is that so often we would rather wallow in our unworthiness than embrace the new dignity given to us by Christ Jesus. So often, we settle for what this world offers us instead of embracing what Christ freely gives. Sometimes, we have a hard time believing that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord. We can look at our lives or the disappointments of this life and settle for what we can find, not trusting what God has promised. Yes, sometimes our lives can look like the charred rubble of a once beautiful cathedral. In those moments, we can choose to merely subsist on what remains or we can allow the Lord to transform us into something better than before. But for that to happen, it takes our cooperation. Notre Dame is but a building. Any number of construction crews can start work tomorrow. No one needs to ask the building for its permission to clean, repair, and restore it. One needs only the consent of the building’s owner, in this case the government of France, for the work to commence. But you see, we are so different than a building! Not only are we far more precious to God, but we are not “owned” by God. In creating us, God also gives us self-ownership. Each one of us are the sole owners of our lives. We may recognize the urgent need for repairs in our lives. Indeed God too can see the urgency of that needed restoration, but God cannot act without our consent, as we are not His property. That is how He created us and that is why He comes to redeem us! If you want your life to change, then let God in! If you want God to repair what you have damaged by sin, then give Him permission! If you want God to restore what has been lost, then allow His grace to pour into your heart!
The damage may indeed be great, but there is nothing that God cannot do if only you allow Him! The choice this Easter is quite clear. You can settle for death or destruction or receive new life and new hope. You can live amidst the scorched remnants of what once was or you can allow God to make it better than before. As a lover of art and history, it is my hope that Notre Dame will indeed be rebuilt. As one who loves the Lord and His Church, it is my earnest hope that the Church can be rebuilt from the devastation caused by those leaders who turned their backs on God and that she becomes once again that beacon of faith and hope to the world that Christ intends her to be. As one who loves you, as your pastor and a priest, it is my hope that you will allow God to rebuild you as well, that you allow Him to restore you to the beauty of His original intention. Yes, Notre Dame, the Church, and our lives will always bear the scars of past trauma, just as Christ still bears the marks of His crucifixion. Yet in that, there is indeed hope for us all, that one day we will share in the fullness of Christ’s Resurrection – scars and all!