Easter Vigil Homily of Bishop Niall Coll

Homily of Bishop of Ossory Niall Coll

Easter Vigil  2024

St Mary's Cathedral Kilkenny

Easter resonates in the Irish mind for both religious and political reasons. The Easter Rising in 1916 was originally timed for Easter Sunday itself. One day later the revolutionaries struck in the hope of both ending the long centuries of colonial rule and initiating the new life of an independent republic. They believed that their blood sacrifice would usher in a new, more desirable political dispensation.

Many today wince at the association of this violent political act with the most central Christian belief about Christ’s passage from death to new life. Nonetheless, it still gives us a perspective, however incomplete, into the power and scope of the Easter message.

Easter, of course, continues to be a major holiday in Ireland (and elsewhere), a very important festive time for both family and faith.

Liturgically it is the pivotal time with Christians celebrating the very kernel of their faith, encapsulated in those words from tonight’s Gospel: ‘He is not here; he has risen.’

It is second only to Christmas in terms of the amount of time spent in the company of relatives and friends.

At Easter time, with spring well underway, many of us find new energy and hope as the days lengthen and new life emerges.

We know well our need for hope in a world so disfigured by hatred and war, be it in the Holy Land, Ukraine, South Sudan, Yemen and so many other theatres of conflict that are rarely or every mentioned by the Western media.

Here at home, we know the need for hope too in the face of a culture saturated by materialism and individualism, undermining bonds that sustain us, especially the family, giving rise to growing levels of stress, unhappiness and threats to mental health, especially among the young. And this is exacerbated by, among other things, both our painful housing crisis and the impact of global warming.

On this most holy night we do well to remember that the symbols used in the Easter Liturgy like light from both the Easter fire and the paschal candle, and the newly blessed water (reminding us of our baptism) seek to point us to Christian hope. They engage anew our imaginations and remind us that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and that this Risen Lord is with us.

That is the great promise of Easter – the Risen Lord is with us – and it is one that we need to take to heart more on our own personal faith journeys, and in the face of the indifference and hostility which Christian faith can meet in equal measure in many quarters today. In the words of the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins when he turned the term ‘Easter’ into a verb, ‘Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.’

Our Easter faith, it should also be remembered, calls us to a longing for the world to come. It reminds us that the present of this world, its goods and pleasures, are in themselves insufficient. It exhorts us to open the doors of our hearts to the recognition and experience of the true greatness of our existence which is our hope for a future with God in the newness of eternal life.

Easter speaks eternally of hope and new beginnings in our very selves, our country, our Church, our world. It calls us to a hope and a confidence that is stronger than any limitation or burden under which we may labour and brings us to the threshold of eternal life with Christ and the whole communion of saints, those we have known and loved and those who will have known and loved us.

When Pope John Paul II stopped in Harlem during his visit to New York in October 1979, he uttered a memorable refrain which we can all gladly share in tonight: ‘Do not abandon yourself to despair. We are the Easter people and alleluia is our song.’ Alleluia.