Today, we have an offer of a fresh start from the risen Lord as we are no longer bound by the consequences of our sin. He wants us to become a people of the resurrection. In the First Reading, St Peter assures the people of Jerusalem that, despite their conspiracy against Jesus, God has turned the evil of the passion into a definitive victory over evil, suffering and death. Christ has broken the bonds of sin and death and opened the door to a new life. His resurrection makes holiness and lasting happiness possible for us. That is what the Church is telling us today: hope in Christ, leave everything aside to follow him, and he will do wonders in your life. That’s a fresh start!
In the Gospel passage, Jesus offers one of his greatest gifts to humanity: “Peace be with you!” This was to calm his disciples who were frightened to see his glorious appearance. He encourages them to rise above their fears and doubts, and to believe all they had been taught by him and by Scripture. We too have the same offer of peace today – a peace that is enduring, free and all-embracing; an interior peace not based on wealth, comfort, or power, but rather on love, mercy, and compassion. It is a peace rooted in contentment and total resignation to the will of God. That’s a fresh start!
St. Maria Goretti was an 11-year-old girl who was stabbed to death in 1902 by her neighbour, Alessandro Serenelli for resisting his sexual advances. On her death bed, Maria forgave her killer who was subsequently sentenced to thirty years of hard labor in prison. The first time a priest visited him in jail, Serenelli attacked him, but slowly his aggressiveness began to soften, and after six years in jail he was on the brink of despair. Then one night, he had a vision of Maria Goretti in which she smiled at him and recounted how she had forgiven him on her deathbed. It was the beginning of a fresh start as Serenelli began to experience interior peace and a desire to live a good life.
He was released in 1929 after 27 years and on Christmas Eve 1934, he went to beg forgiveness on his knees from Maria’s mother. She forgave him wondering how she could not when her daughter had done so already on her deathbed. Incredibly, Assunta and her daughter’s murderer went to Christmas Mass together at which he spoke to the congregation, acknowledging his sin and seeking forgiveness from God and the community. Finally, Alessandro Serenelli moved into a Capuchin monastery, where he worked faithfully and diligently as a gardener until his death in 1970.
It is amazing how through the prayers and goodness of St. Maria Goretti, the risen Christ gave this brutal murderer a fresh start and turned him into a happy Christian. A few years before he died Serenelli wrote: “…Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society… and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.” That’s a fresh start!
Dear friends, this same transforming power of grace is available to us at any time! Jesus so much desires to give us a fresh start. He knows how frail and fickle we can be in our judgments and actions. He knows all our thoughts and feels all our pains. He became man that we might share in his divine nature. He shared in our shame and defeat in order that we might share in his glorious victory. He shared in our brokenness in order that we might share in his wholeness. Therefore, let us accept this offer of a fresh beginning as we let go of our sins, hurts, and difficulties.
But it doesn’t happen automatically; we must let his grace penetrate our hearts and gently transform us, and a few steps are necessary. First, as St Peter says in the First Reading, we must “repent, and be converted.” We need to confess our sins and renounce our selfish inclinations, using the sacrament of reconciliation. Next, as today’s Psalm reminds us, we must continue to turn to God in prayer because he is the one that blesses those he loves and listens to their cries for deliverance. During Lent, many of us spent more time in prayer and other spiritual exercises which gave more substance and vitality to our daily lives. We must resist the temptation to abandon them now that Lent is over. The Lord wants us to keep growing in our journey with him through prayer.
Finally, we need to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection with others. In springtime, trees grow new leaves. These leaves absorb the sunrays, which provide fresh energy for the trees, and then get transformed into growth, flowers, and fruit. Without spreading their leaves, the trees wouldn’t receive the new energy necessary for growth. The same goes for our spiritual lives. We are called to reach out to others with the fresh energy that we received at Easter If we don’t share the blessing of Easter, we will be like trees that never put out new leaves – Christ’s new life will wither and die in our souls, and that’s not a fresh start!
But with our co-operation, the love of God can transform our world disjointed by sin and restore peace and harmony to our hurting lives. We are called to become channels of the divine fresh start – men and women aflame with the love of God. Jesus is inviting us today to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). May we be so filled today with that love and fresh start and be able to say to everyone we meet: “come taste and see that the Lord is good.” Amen!