Prepare to be heard

Homily of the month

A love story

If we share stories at a family gathering, how could we not do so tonight, when we gather as Jesus' family, true brothers and sisters in Christ, children of God? asks author Santiago Cortés-Sjöberg, in PTW's featured homily for the Easter Vigil.

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Occasion: At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter
Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:2 or 1:1, 26-31a; Genesis 22:1-18 or 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Exodus 14:15-15:1; Isaiah 54:5-14; Isaiah 55:1-11; Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4; Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Perhaps it's an uncle, an aunt, or one of our brothers or sisters, but at every family celebration, no matter the occasion, there is always one person who tells the same story year after year. Maybe it’s a story about themselves from a few years or decades ago, or perhaps it is about a quirky uncle—whom we’ve never met—or the eccentric neighbor who used to live down the block, or maybe they retell how our ancestors arrived in this country after an obstacle-ridden journey.

It doesn’t matter if the one retelling the story for the nth time is an engaging storyteller or a bore, or if the story is filled with details or it only presents the bare facts, or if it’s funny, serious or embarrassing. And it doesn’t matter if things happened or not exactly they way the story says. What matters to us is that it be told. It has become as essential a part of the family celebration as Grandma’s green bean casserole or an aunt’s gelatin salad. The gathering would just not be the same without those signature dishes nor that one story that has become part of family life. In fact it helps define who we are as a family. To others they might “just be stories,” but for us they help us understand ourselves better because they help us define ourselves.

Tonight—the holiest of nights—we cannot help but retell some family stories of our own, even if we have heard them before and feel like we know them by heart: from the very origins of our family and how we came to be to moments in the lives of “uncle” Abraham and “grandpa” Moses, from the heartfelt lessons of distant “cousins” Isaiah and Baruch to the matter-of-fact words of our “older brother” Paul.

We listen carefully, once again, because their stories, although ancient, are our stories. Their world, although radically changed, is our world. Their struggles, although in different circumstances, are our struggles. Their joyful moments, despite the passing of centuries, are occasions of joy for us. We see ourselves reflected in these stories because they are part of who we are as children of God. And when we reflect on these stories and look at them through our faith and our own lived experience, we discover that they are but a single story: a passionate love story between God and God’s people that started from the very beginning when God, because of love, created all that exists—created us.

If we share stories at a family gathering, how could we not do so tonight, when we gather as Jesus' family, true brothers and sisters in Christ, children of God?

This story of ours, like any love story, has faced its moments of doubt and betrayal, of testing and challenges, of sadness and joy, of abundance and need. We have had to invest and give ourselves to this relationship of love with God just as our ancestors in faith had to do. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes—human as we are—we don’t. In any other relationship some of these struggles and challenges might be too much for the relationship to bear and it can come to an end. Tonight's scripture reminds us, however, that is not the case in our story because the one who loves us is none other than God.

Often we focus only on our side of the story, on what we have done or failed to do to keep our relationship with God alive and healthy, and we forget to dwell on what God has done and continues to do for us. In tonight’s many readings one thing is clear: God’s love for us has been and always will be, steadfas, faithful, and all-embracing no matter what. God’s love is so powerful that Christ, love incarnated, defeats once and for all even the greatest obstacle in our relationship with him: sin and its consequence, death.

The Resurrection! That is the story to which all others lead. That is the story we are meant to share. That is the story which we are meant to live. And if stories make us who we are, that is the story which truly makes us who we are: the body of the Risen Christ, who shines in and through us and brings us and the world true life.

So, in this holiest of nights, we celebrate and bathe in the light of love that shines in our world and in our hearts. We stand and let the saving waters of our Baptism, which welcomed us into this family of faith, rain on us once again, calling us to that same steadfast faithfulness and love which God pours on us. Alleluia! Alleluia!