Miracles of Spring: An Easter Homily

Homily by Francis Gargani CSsR, Easter Vigil, March 30, 2024

Father Francis Gargani, CSsRCellophane bees – miracles of Spring?  Who knew?!

If you’re not aware, an aggregate of cellophane bees have made their nests on the beautiful property here, on the south end beyond this building, on the southwest slope facing the gorgeous Hudson River.  Come back in the daytime, if you haven’t seen the miracle!

Cellophane bees are pollinators of early-flowering bushes and trees, including the important apple trees of this Hudson Valley area, one of this region’s crop staples.

Totally non-aggressive, the female bees dig solitary holes in the sandy ground, pencil size, and through the genius of nature, from both their saliva and stomach secretion, build waterproof caverns to birth and nurture their young, after enthusiastic mating from the male bee colonies.

Though each female hollows out a cavern just big enough for her, and for her young to eventually emerge, solitary cellophane bees congregate, with a whole colony of them just a few feet away from us.

Bring binoculars, because the area is cordoned off to protect them from our unintended foot-fall crushing, and welcome the opportunity to discover them in your own neighborhood, or even, your own front or back yard.  They love to bathe in the sun and guard their eggs from invaders like ants and beetles.   And they love crocus, dogwood and red maples, early Spring budding plants, so they gather the nectar that in turn gives us life in the vegetation and fruit we depend on for sustenance.

Who knew?!  You want to be able to share a “resurrection story” at this sweet and tender time of homiletic reflection on thee resurrection story, and I was struggling to dig one up in my ever-diminishing ability of recall.   I shared my struggle with John, traveling up from Washington on Wednesday, as Mr. Boston-take-no-prisoners-driver-man made sure we were on-time for our final 3:00 p.m. planning meeting!   John listed, without hesitation, category examples like “recovery from addictions,” “reconciliation between spouses, with parents or siblings,” etc. etc.   All good material to mine for stories of resurrection and of holding on to hope – if I could remember a specific one.    But, surprise surprise, Holy Spirit serendipity comes through in cellophane bees poking out of the sandy south-western slope here in our Center of Hope!

Chapel at Mariandale during Easter Viigil, Triduum Retreat 2023Obviously, these indefatigable and gentle creatures come out of their tomb-like long winter hibernation as oracles of Spring, of new life.  And though they only hang out for six weeks around, they return to their nesting/resting underground homes by April’s end, wonderfully spinning new life for creation and its creatures, including us.   From the very fiber of their being they exude a home for their young to birth and flourish.   And the love-filled nectar they collect creates beauty and nourishment.   Do I need to spell out that even these wonderful little creatures are “Christ-figures” for us?!

Resurrection story indeed!   Now is that why all the spiritual guides keep imploring us to become mystics of nature,  attuning ourselves  to the signs of resurrection and hope in this great web of life.    And our scientific community, along with the prophetic religious community, especially women religious and young adults of our Church, keep exhorting us to heal and restore this only earthly home we have.    And here in our own backyard, resurrection life happening right before us, inviting us to wonder and awe.   Thank you, cellophane bees!   We’re in your debt, more than you know!

Perhaps it’s not because we’ve become too accustomed to the foundational story of our lives as Christ Disciples, this glorious Story of the paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Story we’ve been celebrating with all the Church over these three, grace-filled days.  It’s just that too many other stories are deafening our hearing, blinding our seeing, and deadening our hearts at this time in our evolution as a nation and world community, and as a planet, almost seemingly irretrievably wounded by our greed and stupidity.   We don’t want to hear, but hear we must, Francis, our holy Father, keep lamenting we’re now engaged in World War III, violently destroying us in a piece-meal nightmare.   How can we still tolerate stockpiling, let alone spending billions, in weapons of mass destruction, knowing the specter of nuclear annihilation haunts our dreams, cheating us of hope in the civil institutions we create and sustain?!   And whether they be the stories that substantiate utter discouragement of bridging the political divide in our nation, even tragedies like the Baltimore “Key Bridge” collapse becoming fodder for conspiracy theories, or of the determined on-going exploitation of the limited resource of water necessary for survival, let alone the profusion of the fossil fuel industry that is a blank check to fast-tracking climate change, with rising ocean water levels as our ice caps melt beyond our most dire calculations, and devastatingly destructive fires and storms that leave us numb with loss of life and property, the present political, national, international and religious reality nearly deafens our ears to hearing the angel appearing as a young man in Mark’s account telling us that “Jesus of Nazareth has been raised . . . going before you . . . as He told you.”

Cellophane Bees at the Center at Mariandale, a spiritual retreat center.Isn’t it wonderful, though, how a singular mystical experience of the serendipitous cellophane bees can illuminate our consciousness?!  And isn’t it wonderful how the singular, mystical experience of Liturgy can awaken us to the liminal space of altered consciousness?!   Somehow, here, in all our personal limitations and challenges, in all the cacophony of war and violence, teeming millions of our sisters and brothers in flight from poverty and crime, deprivation and injustice, we can know to the depths of our being that Christ is alive, and that does indeed make all the difference!

Such a difference that we just had to spread our storytelling and our ritual transformative doing over three days!

Holy Thursday we celebrated so wonderfully with John as our presider and preacher, animator and proclaimer, that because love is the reason for all our giving and receiving, our living and dying, the Eucharist is the central ritual that keeps us tethered to life and hope:

Christ truly present to us, in the exquisite moment of the explosion of God’s redeeming love, Christ’s very death and resurrection, love broken open, and in that self-emptying of God in Christ, divine love poured out upon us and everyone and everything!   The Real Presence in the Sacrament we celebrate always hopefully opening us up to the real presence in each and all others, a divine “real presence” radiating in the very cosmos itself.   How we treat the least of our sisters and brothers, the least of creatures like our cousins, the cellophane bees, makes clear how well we truly believe Christ is present in the consecrated Bread and Wine we eat and drink!  Say that again, Francis!   Do I hear an Amen!  AMEN!

Yesterday, Good Friday, we venerated the symbolic wood of the Cross, on which our crucified Redeemer hung, as both sign of the God who submits to being broken out of unfathomable love for us in our brokenness, but the God who becomes wounded to heal our wounds, who walks with us even though that walk for too many of us too often ends up on Calvary with Christ.   That beautiful Liturgy invites us to contemplate the great silence of God in the midst of suffering, a contemplation that keeps us from turning love into condemnation and pietistic inflation of personal sinfulness.

This Holy Saturday morning we were invited to enter the grief of a world gone mad that tortured and killed the Christ, and continues to cover countless numbers of us with a suffocating blanket of grief.  Michael J. Sanem writes in “Give Us This Day,” “We contemplate the disorienting stillness of the garden, the unnerving sense of absence, the crushing pain of a future denied.  Before the world-shaking irruption of the resurrection, there is only the earth-shattering reality of grief, of knowing some wounds may not be healed this side of eternity.”

But without denying the darkness, we literally embrace it with the flickering light of this Easter Vigil!  On this cusp of liminality, between the deep sorrow of our world and of our lives, and the great joy of this Christ-life death could not contain, we stand.   We in no way are trying to drown out the brutality of yesterday or of the yesterdays of our suffering mother earth and of wounded sisters and brothers.  For the Christ we hail and alive among us still bears His wounds: pierced hands, pierced side, pierced heart!  The horror of His crucifixion remains imprinted upon His glorified body!  But those very wounds become fountains of healing grace.   Do I hear an Amen?!

It is when those who loved Him, downtrodden and defeated, see His wounds, they finally recognize Him.   And we recognize Him, alive and bearing the wounds of his rejection and deadly defeat.    It is  those wounds we celebrate tonight as the channels of our hope, of our on-going metanoia, of our gratitude and yes, of our joy!  For these holy mysteries we celebrate invite us to a wholeness bigger than all the brokenness the world could ever muster, and a goodness greater than all the suffering we may experience.   And most importantly, we begin to know the Love that is stronger than death!  Do I hear an Amen?!

We learn that this Love has a face, and a name, and is holding us with hands that have known suffering, and continues to hold us in ours, whatever may come!   Do I hear an Amen?!

Amen indeed!

Mark your calendars now to join us in the 2025 Triduum Retreat, Holy Thursday, April 17 through Easter Sunday (breakfast), April 20, 2025.

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The Center at Mariandale | New York Retreat Center