For 30 years I have been on college campuses during exam week. I know there are students in this congregation who are preparing for exams—over preparing or under preparing. There are graduating seniors and folks who may not becoming back to Fordham; and I know the emotions that accompany that reality.
Over the years I have sought a theme for this last Mass that would be both relevant and timely for you in your personal circumstance, as well as timeless; it applies to all of you.
Tonight’s Gospel works well—the vine and the branches. We are all dependent on the vine rooted firmly in the earth of life, which is the source of life. That tap root, on which we are dependent, is Jesus the Risen Christ.
Today’s Scripture point out the centrality of the resurrection.
In the Resurrection we are confronted with the irreducuble core of our belief, namely that Jesus died and rose from the dead. This is what the apostles proclaimed, this is what animated the early Christian community, and this is what remains at the core of our faith. The Resurrection is the belief around which the church grew. As St. Paul noted, “If Jesus had not been raised form the dead, all is in vain.”
It is important to understand as we listen to these Easter stories that the Resurrection, in the Scriptures, was not a spectacular event, compelling people to belief. Rather it was an event for the friends of Jesus, for those who knew him, walked with him, listened to him and believed in him.
The Gospels portray the Easter encounters as deeply self-involving experiences in which a number of men and women, but especially women, were invited to recognize their Lord and to become dedicated witnesses to him and to his Resurrection. To witness to the Easter Jesus became the hallmark of a disciple of Jesus.
So what can we learn form these Easter stories? What applies to us this May night? Three brief observations:
First, God meets us on our own terms, where we are. He met Mary Magdalla in her fear; he met Thomas with his doubts; he met Peter and the disciples fishing amidst their loneliness and anxiety; and he met them walking to Emmaus in their disappointment.
Just so, the Lord meets you where you are, in your anxiety, fear, doubts or distress, joys and successes. Who among us does not have concerns as we reflect on our life and the lives of those we love? In any given week our hearts are filled with competing emotions stemming from personal experiences or media headlines; foreign wars, economic uncertainty, unemployment, the death of a friend, the birth of a child, an engagement, final exams!
It is these and all the other human events that nudge us closer to God. This is where the Lord finds you, where you are, as you are: he finds you in your doubt and in your faith, in your strengths and weaknesses; in your fears and doubts. The French author, Francois Mauriac reminds us “the Risen Christ may be just around the corner.”
This is where God meets you, finds you, on your terms and in your circumstance, with your particular challenges and special gifts and needs.
A second point, the Easter stories tell us something about faith. Faith is not simply a felt emotion, intellectual propositions, or even moral codes. To be sure faith involves all three—emotion, intellect and behavior. But Easter faith must also be a personal experience of Jesus as Lord of history; as one whose words can be believed and whose deeds can be imitated; Jesus the Christ who is your personal savior.
The bottom line: Easter faith must be experinced and lived. The challenge for the believer is to cultivate a deep personal faith in Jesus to such a degree that you experience the effects of that faith in your daily routine and relationshops. This is at the heart of the Easter mystery and the Easter mystery is at the heart of our faith.
And the third lesson is that while faith is personal, Easter faith must be experienced with others in community.
Again the Gospel stories illustrate this as Mary runs back to Peter with the news, as Thomas makes his act of faith in the company of the disciples; and as the men of Emmaus after recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread rush back to the disciples to tell of their experience. They all return to their support groups.
So too with each of us. Faith is not to be kept inside you, in some private devotion, in a vacuum, unused, and unexpressed. Hence the importance to be part of a praying community where we can recognize jesus in the breaking of the bread.
Back to the Gospel: the Risen Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, whatever our circumstance, challenges or opportunities. We are joined together, with God and with one another.
Each of you know the quality, the strength of your connectedness to the vine’s tap root.
So to all of you, but especially the students preparing for the week ahead or indeed life after your Fordham years, recall the gifts and opportunities of the Resurrection: the Lord finds you where you are, whatever the circumstance. The quality of Easter faith is a personal response to the Risen Lord. And Easter faith must believed out in community, in sharing your belief in the Risen Jesus as Lord of history and Lord of your life. As the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said of the Easter Jesus: “Let him Easter in us...”
Let the Easter Jesus be a new beginning for your spiritual life. Let him be a sign of hope in these challenging times.
John P. Schlegel, S.J.
St. Paul the Apostle Church
Mass for Fordham University students
May 6, 2012