- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

The following is a sermon given yesterday by Bishop Francisco Gonzalez at Our Lady Queen of the Americas parish in the District.

We have been traveling together since Ash Wednesday toward this Easter day. I pray that all of us have tried to make this pilgrimage in the spirit of conversion, working hard to change our minds and hearts from the ways of men to the ways of God.

This past Friday, the whole Christian community celebrated Good Friday, the day we remember when Jesus, after a long night in which He suffered an unbearable situation, his most intimate friends betrayed him, abandoned Him and denied to know Him. That same night he was subjected to a mock trial and condemned to torture and humiliation. We recalled how Jesus walked to Calvary with a heavy cross on His shoulders and for six hours hung upon that cross, as an example to those who would oppose the authorities. It was a very dark Friday.

In more recent history, the last couple of years have not been the most glorious for humankind. We have experienced terrorism, war is not over, and violence has erupted around the world. Our basic freedoms have been curtailed, snipers kept us in fear, and the worlds of business, politics and religion have presented us with various scandals. Yet we need to shout the words of Jesus for everybody to hear: “Do not be afraid” and “Peace be with you.” As followers of Jesus, we must announce the good news and work to make it a reality. Peace requires effort.

For the last weeks, we have been saddened by a war that many did not see as necessary to defend our country. We have seen destruction by sophisticated armaments, cities in smoke and innocent people dying. In this chaos, brave men and women gave their lives. Countries on both sides have experienced their own Good Friday. Some people and things have been restored to wellness, others will not, and we will live with the hurt of an unresolved crisis.

But today, my sisters and brothers, we celebrate Easter Sunday, the triumph of grave over sin, of life over death, of Jesus over Satan. Today, we followers of Jesus sing enthusiastically, “Alleluia, the Lord is Risen.” During the weeks of Lent, we were invited to recognize our human condition, our fallen human condition, slaves of sin and death, unable to rise up by our own effort. But now we can look up to heaven, to the saving mercy of God, to the living water, which gives us life, to Jesus, the risen Savior.

The gospel of John (20:1-9), which we read this Sunday, tells us of the empty tomb found by Mary Magdalene and the Apostles Peter and John. Of course it is empty, brothers and sisters, because as He had promised, He was going to rise again. It was the third day and earth could not longer hold Him down. And He visited his friends, and He wished them peace, and He told them not to be afraid, and he asked them to have faith, and He promised that He was going to be with them until the end of time.

We are celebrating this year the 40th anniversary of the great document of John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris.” In that document, the Holy Father mentions that true peace must be anchored on “truth, justice, love and freedom.” As we dream of a peaceful world, we must search for truth, work for justice by respecting the dignity of every human being, and act in love to conquer hatred, envy and selfishness. Freedom is the fourth column, says John XXIII, upon which peace must be established. This freedom respects everyone’s rights, including those of the powerless, the poor, the immigrant, the sick and of all those who society does not accept as worth anything.

What can we do to really celebrate Easter? I believe the answer can be found in what we were told on Ash Wednesday: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 3:15). We pray: “Lord make us true witnesses of the Risen Lord, help us to remain faithful in the faith, joyful in hope and constant in our love for you and our brothers and sisters.” Amen.

Next week: a sermon at a Washington-area church.

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