Bottom line: Jesus' death is the power to overcome bitterness, hatred and violence...in spite of our weaknesses and sins, we can be channels of divine mercy, we can help bring that newness to others.
Brothers and sisters, today is Good Friday - the day Jesus gave his life for us. His death has brought something new into our world. To understand this newness, we need to begin with the fact this is the second day of what we call the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.
On Holy Thursday we celebrated the Mass of the Last Supper - when Jesus instituted the Eucharist: His Body given for us, His Blood shed for us. In the homily I mentioned how Christians continue to follow Jesus' example by offering their lives, that in many countries today Christians are being put to death for their faith. This happens not only in Communist and Islamic nations, but also in countries with a Christian tradition. I used the example of Blessed Luis Magaña. I told you a little bit about his life, especially his concern for social justice for the poor, his devotion to Jesus in Blessed Sacrament and his marriage to Elvira Camarena.
This evening I would like to tell you about his death. Only twenty-five years old, he had a successful business which sometimes took him away from home. One day soldiers came for him, suspecting him of being involved in the armed rebellion against the government. Not finding Luis, they arrested his younger brother, Delfino.
When he returned home, Luis heard the news. Maintaining his calm, he took a bath, shaved and put on his best suit. He gathered his family and told them he was going to the police station to ask for Delfino's release. He knelt down and his parents gave him a blessing. He picked up his little son, Gilberto, and embraced him. Elvira, who was pregnant with their second child, he enveloped in his arms and gave a final kiss.
After saying good-bye to his family, Luis walked to the main square of Arandas and asked the general to allow him to take the place of his brother. The general accused him of being an armed rebel. It was not true. Luis had not taken arms against the government. The general, however, refused to believe him and ordered him to be summarily executed. They led him to a spot before the parish church. A crowd gathered. They heard Luis say:
"I have never been a Cristero rebel, but if you accuse me of being a Christian, then, yes, that I am. You soldiers who are going to shoot me, I want to tell you that from this moment I pardon you, and I promise that on arriving in the presence of God you are the first ones for whom I will intercede."
These final words of Blessed Luis help us understand the newness of Christ's death. The newness is this: To not only die for loved ones, but also for the salvation of enemies, those who do harm. This is something new - what Jesus brought into the world by his death.
Fr. Robert Barron - the priest who did the video series on Catholicism - has a powerful reflection on the newness of Christ's death. Fr. Barron uses an unexpected starting point - a movie titled "The Hunger Games." The movie is about something common in history - selecting someone for the spectacle of public execution. The Romans did it, the Aztecs did it; many cultures used human sacrifice to consolidate power.
Christ was such a victim, but his sacrifice was unique. We see that uniqueness, that newness, in our Good Friday readings: The Prophet Isaiah foresees a man of suffering who would give his life as "an offering for our sin." The Letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus as both priest and victim. In the Gospel, Jesus stands before Pilate. As commander of Roman troops, Pilate could free Jesus or send him to a horrific death. Yet Jesus tells Pilate, "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above." Pilate, in fact, would fall as quickly as he had risen. (Josephus reports that the emperor recalled Pilate after an unwarranted massacre of Samaritans.) Jesus knew that the ones persecuting him would vanish, but that his sacrifice would endure.
So, we see the uniqueness of Jesus' sacrifice in that he freely offered himself - not just for loved ones, but even for persecutors. This is major. Fr. Barron argues that Christ's death changed history: it eventually put an end to human sacrifice among the Romans and later among the Aztecs. And - if we allow it - it can drive violence, bitterness and resentment from our hearts.
We see this in the way Blessed Luis died. He rescued his brother, but he didn't want to save only one person. He wanted to save the very people who killed him: "You soldiers who are going to shoot me, I want to tell you that from this moment I pardon you, and I promise that on arriving in the presence of God you are the first ones for whom I will intercede."
On November 20, 2005, Luis Magaña was beatified - recognized as a "blessed" in heaven who intercedes for us. A huge crowd filled the sports stadium in Guadalajara - including his daughter. He had blessed little Luisa in the womb before going to his martyrdom. It must have been a powerful blessing because when Luisa married she had ten children - seven who live in Mexico and three here in the United States. The grandchildren listened to the beatification homily.* They heard Cardinal Martins mention the moment of their grandfather's death: February 9, 1928, at three in the afternoon - the hour of the Divine Mercy.
So appropriate because Blessed Luis Magana was a channel of divine mercy. Divine mercy is another name for the newness that Jesus' brought to our world. His death is the power to overcome bitterness, hatred and violence. As Blessed Luis' martyrdom shows, by Jesus' power, mercy can triumph over evil. Now, you and I may not have a death like Blessed Luis. Still, in spite of our weaknesses and sins, we can be channels of divine mercy, we can help bring that newness to others. Amen.
*In December of 2008, had the opportunity to meet two of Blessed Luis' granddaughters. In a homily I describe how the meeting came about. I spoke first to the oldest granddaughter, Juanita Garcia Magaña. She told me about their Grandma Elvira, her struggles and her tremendous faith. As often happens, when a widowed woman has a positive experience of marriage, she desired to remarry. She eventually met a man named Juan Cruz. They had four children, so in addition to Gilberto and Maria Luisa, it was a family of six children. In 1958 the family moved to Leon in search of work - and seven years later, at the age of fifty-nine, Elvira died. Her body was brought back to Arandas where she was buried in the cemetery next to Luis. Her second husband, Juan Cruz, died in 1982.
But what about Luis and Elvira's children? What happened to one-year-old Gilberto and the unborn child, Maria Luisa? The other granddaughter, Marta, gave me the answer. Gilberto married and had four children. He died about 2002, just a few years before his father's beatification. But Maria Luisa lived to see her dad beatified. Her dad had blessed her in the womb before he went to his death - and that blessing stayed with her all her life. It must have been a powerful blessing because, when she married, she had ten children. Three live here in the United States and the other seven in Mexico. Marta - who is the ninth child - did not marry and takes care of her mom. With great emotion Marta spoke to me about the confident, cheerful and calm faith her mom transmitted to his children and grandchildren. They witnessed their grandfather's beatification on November 20, 2005.
Pictures of Blessed Luis' Grandchildren
at the site of their his martyrdom.
From Archives (Good Friday Homilies):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Divine Mercy Novena (print ready in English & Spanish)
Parish Picture Album
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
National Petition to Stop HHS Mandate - important updates
Please take time to read what our bishops are saying about Religious Liberty & Conscience Protection
The Archdiocese of Seattle also has helpful resources regarding the defense of marriage and family