EASTER 1998 (Jn 20:1-9): 23 March 2008 (Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord)
When you think about it, there are many things that aren’t quite right with the Gospel story we just read. First of all, the tomb wasn’t supposed to be empty: Just three days ago, on the eve of the Sabbath, the corpse of a man, executed like a common criminal, was hurriedly buried there. And precisely to prevent the body from being stolen, the authorities had installed guards to stand by the heavy stone that sealed the tomb.
Secondly, if the body had indeed been taken away by thieves, the shroud that used to cover it, because of the price it could fetch, wasn’t supposed to be left there in the tomb. But as the evangelist makes sure to point out to us, the two disciples who ran to the tomb saw the linen cloth lying there, as well as the napkin that had been used to cover Jesus’ head rolled up by itself.
Finally, even the two disciples weren’t supposed to be there at the tomb of Jesus: For three days ago, after an entire city witnessed the death of their Master, His body broken on the cross, the disciples scampered away in hiding, for fear of the Jews. Something seems to be wrong with the picture.
When I look at my life the last ten years, there are also many things that don’t seem to be quite right with it. For one, I can think of many reasons why I didn’t have to end up getting ordained a priest ten years ago.
I almost didn’t even study in a Catholic school. Back in 1973, when I was in the third grade, my father heard about this Catholic school for Chinese boys called Kuangchi somewhere among the cogon fields of Little Baguio, San Juan, and just decided out of the blue to move me out of a Chinese school downtown and to send me to the new school. If my father had not made that decision, a decision made almost on a whim, I would not have met the priests running the school—and it’s hard for me to imagine today how I would even have thought of becoming one of them.
Second reason why I’m not supposed to be a priest: I have to confess—beginning with high school up until after college, I did not want to be a priest. Despite the insistence of my high school spiritual director—or maybe because of it—I did not want to think I was being called to the priesthood. The life of a priest did not sound like it was going to be a lot of fun (It isn’t). But of course, we know today that he was right, after all. Even then, long before I was ready to recognize or accept the truth about my vocation, somehow he saw it. He knew.
In general, my grade school and high school teachers were also not surprised when they first heard about my joining the priesthood. Somehow, like my spiritual director, they had a way of knowing. But that wasn’t the case with my closest friends. One good friend, a colleague at work, was aghast when I confided to her about my plans: “How can that be?” she asked with all sincerity, “all those jokes and thatlanguage—how can you even think of becoming a priest?!”
There is one other important reason why I didn’t have to end up a priest: My mother was very much against my decision. Like a typical Chinese mother—and perhaps like many mothers, for that matter—she did not want me to suffer in the way priests are often portrayed as suffering. I remember a couple of afternoons when I was still a novice, she would take the car and sneak into the novitiate grounds, hoping to chance upon me. And the moment she spotted me, she would quickly roll down the car window, wave to me frantically, and before I knew it, the car would speed away, and leave me standing there on the road and–to the delight of my companions–holding a bag of siopaos and chocolates in my hands.
Unknown to my mother, our Master of Novices, that wise and kind soul, would watch the entire secret operation through his office window, but understanding, always chose to look the other way.
When I think about the people in my life, I cannot help but marvel at the gift that they’ve been to me. Many years ago, almost in spite of myself, I found myself setting out on a journey, an exciting journey but also a terrifying one, a journey that I really at that time believed would take me away from many of my friends. But today, I look around and see that God has surrounded me with so many more good friends, wonderful colleagues, and supportive people. Many of them I never would have even met without that life-altering decision. If I had not taken that detour, my path would never have crossed with theirs.
And so it seems that every time we think we’ve seen it all, the Lord pulls the rug from under our feet, and he surprises us. That seems to be the heart of the Easter experience–as in the case of those two disciples that first Easter morning as they rushed to the Lord’s tomb, their faces a mixture of fear but also of great expectations.
The Lord of Easter takes all our broken dreams and gathers the scattered pieces of our lives, and out of them, creates something new and totally surprising.
Lord, this coming April I’ll be ten years your priest–far from a perfect one, as you know, but then again, you’re known for having this thing for sinners. In the worst of times, I found a hiding place in your “arms of love.”
I still recall those uncertain moments that Easter morning ten years ago. You made me a promise then. It was the promise of the hundredfold–that whoever leaves mother, father, brother, sister would receive so much more.
Today, Easter Sunday, ten years later, I look at the way you’ve shaped my life all these years and the way you’ve filled it with so much love. I see that promise fulfilled. But in typical Easter fashion, you outdid yourself, exceeding every expectation and fulfilling your promise beyond my wildest imagining.
Note: The song “Arms of Love” capture how I feel today. If you want to listen to the song, clickhere. Here are the lyrics of song.
ARMS OF LOVE
Lord, I’m really glad you’re here.
I hope you feel the same when you see all my fear,
And how I fail, I fall sometimes.
It’s hard to walk on shifting sand.
I miss the rock, and find there’s nowhere left to stand;
I start to cry.
Lord, please help me raise my hands so you can pick me up.
Hold me close, Hold me tighter.
I have found a place where I can hide.
Its safe inside Your arms of love.
Like a child who’s helped throughout a storm,
You keep me warm in your arms of love.
Storms will come and storms will go.
Wonder just how many storms it takes until
I finally know You’re here always.
Even when my skies are far from gray,
I can stay; Teach me to stay there,
In the place I’ve found where I can hide.
It’s safe inside Your arms of love.
Like a child who’s helped throughout a storm,
You keep me warm In your arms of love.