The evening before the April 18, 2017, Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition, and Hope at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Jesuits celebrated a private Mass for the descendants of slaves sold by the Society of Jesus in 1838. Following is the text of the homily delivered by Fr. Robert Hussey, SJ, provincial of the Maryland Province Jesuits.
We share a history, all of us, and so it is good that we gather together at the table of the Lord.
We share a history that at once is marked by that greatest gift of faith, faith in the saving power of God in Jesus that makes us brothers and sisters, members of the one body of Christ, but a history that is also painful — painful in knowing denial of human dignity and the suffering of slavery, imagining what your ancestors must have known; painful in the deep shame we Jesuits feel that our brothers, in blindness, would treat people in a way so contrary to the values we profess; painful in “knowing that the Catholicism we [all hold] as emancipating and inclusive was, in historical fact, enslaving" (Dr. Onita Estes-Hickes).
In the face of our shared history, both graced and painful, it is good to gather together at the table of the Lord, because to do so is an act of faith on the part of all of us: a placing ourselves together in the hands of the Lord; a turning to God, whom we believe is ultimately the one who can heal any pain or hurt, any anger, any shame, who ultimately is the one who can save us.
Particularly in this time of Easter we hear again and celebrate how God works our healing, our salvation.
In this time of Easter, we celebrate the victory of God, a profound event meant to change forever the way we see one another and our world, the definitive act of God’s saving plan.
The Easter Gospel stories, though, that describe this astounding act of God are surprising — surprising because they are quiet and gentle and intimate. They only hint at the astounding thing God has done.
Yesterday, Easter Sunday, the story was about an empty tomb and a few isolated people. Today Jesus appears to the two Marys with no one else around.
The great victory of God comes with no powerful music pumping up crowds of people, no earthquakes, no trumpet blasts, no triumphant entrance.
Above all, there is no defeat of Jesus’ enemies, the ones who put him to death, no overcoming them or punishing them for their violence, no putting them in their place, no even making them admit they were wrong.
In the second half of today’s Gospel, after Jesus has risen, the deceit that led to his murder is still there, with plotting and bribery and lies.
God has raised Jesus out of death to new life — the victory of God.
But the stories that reveal this are quiet and gentle and intimate. They only hint at the astounding thing God has done.
It is important that we realize that the surprisingly gentle way that God communicates this astounding event, is the message itself.
God’s victory is not about power; it has nothing to do with defeating an enemy, taking power over another; it has nothing to do with erasing a violence that was done.
God doesn’t want to win; God doesn’t want to remove us from the vulnerability of human life; what God wants to do is give us new life.
God heals, God saves by disarming the power of those things that rob us of life.
And God does that by giving us the promise of resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus, God says “I will always — always — give you new life.”
When we believe that promise, we move gradually beyond our fears of those things that can rob us of life, move beyond our defensiveness, our anger, our shame, and have the sacrificial courage to try to share in God’s giving new life to others.
In our shared history, we know a sin that cannot be undone, a hurt that cannot be reversed.
But when we look to Jesus, we see that he knew the same thing because we realize that the resurrection did not undo the cross; it did not erase the brutality that Jesus had suffered.
The Jesus that God raised to new life bears the scars of what happened to him in his hands and side, just as we bear the scars of our own history. Jesus invites his disciples to see those scars, to touch them.
But astoundingly Jesus dwells not in the pain of what has been done to him, but chooses to say to his disciples, to us, “peace be with you.”
He has the grace to do that because he has allowed himself to be freed by God’s gift of new life. God’s gift is so profound that it has taken away not the violence of the past but the power that past violence could have over him.
We have known the experience of God giving us new life. We no longer live enslaved.
We think and act differently than in the past, appalled and ashamed at the attitudes and actions of past Jesuits and other people of faith who could abide by and participate in the enslavement of people. We hope we have a greater humility about our capacity for moral blindness.
But we are also so aware of the legacy of the roots of slavery that still robs people of dignity and life today, the ways that God’s promise of new life still needs to be realized.
Even in the Gospels, the disciples only gradually come to understand the resurrection; its power has to be appropriated by them; they have to take ownership of it. And that happens through their coming to believe.
In the Gospel today, the risen Jesus says to the two Marys, "Do not be afraid. Go tell [the others] to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."
Go back to Galilee, he tells them.
In other words, go back to where they have known Jesus before. There they will see him again and know him in a new way.
Go back to Galilee.
In these times, I think that is what we are doing: we are going back to Galilee.
We are going back not to the physical place of Georgetown, but as our ancestors knew each other so long ago, we are going back now and meeting each other again, knowing each other in a new way, in a way different from how our ancestors knew each other.
After the resurrection, Jesus says go back to Galilee, and there you will see me.
As we go back to Galilee, we Jesuits tomorrow will publicly acknowledge our sin, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. We all together ask for God’s new life and seek to participate in sharing that life. We open ourselves to finding the risen Lord, in new ways, alive and present among us.
Go back to Galilee, Jesus says, and there you will see me.