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Reflection on the Third Sunday of Easter

Posted on April 14, 2024, by Mary Ann McGivern SL

In the first reading, Acts, Paul is angry and he says to his listeners, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” When I took the job of director of a re-entry program for men and women released from prison, Vivian Doremus sent me a voicemail, saying, “I will pray to St. Barabas for you.”

St. Barabas. I think Vivian meant Dismas, but frequently I imagine Barabas chained to a wall in a dungeon beneath Jerusalem, stinky and humid and dark. The guards unchain him and push him forward and up several levels and out into bright sunshine. If they are like the guards I’ve known, decent enough men, they don’t think to tell him anything, probably they don’t know anything themselves. They thrust him out of prison in his filthy clothes and maybe tell him to get lost. I’ve thought about his choices, and I’ve prayed for him in his 2,000-years’ past decisions to live the next steps of his life. We don’t know if he was a murderer or perhaps a revolutionary – but by the death of Jesus he was free. What did he do? And I’ve prayed to St. Barabas, asking for help for the men and women I know who have these same choices today.

In the second reading John says that Jesus’ death is expiation not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world. I know this is the Third Sunday after Easter and probably you were not expecting a reflection on a murderer released from prison or Jesus’ expiation of the sins of the whole world – but the sins of the whole world are in the forefront of our minds these days, and we don’t like to think about them. Talking about sin is not fashionable. The first draft of the invitation I wrote to religious communities to fast during Lent in solidarity with those suffering from gun violence – my committee told me my letter was too negative, that people didn’t want to hear about devils that can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. They wanted to hear about love and generosity. And I know for myself that in order to keep working I have to keep my own hope burning. But walk with me on the dark side for a moment.

I was in Germany in 1990 to talk about conversion from military production. I stayed with friends of Connie Newton in Frankfurt, Monika and Uta. Monika and I were running errands and out of the blue she said to me she had never been able to ask her parents what they did with the knowledge that Jews’ bodies were being burned at the edge of the city. Monika was sure her parents could smell the burned flesh. She could never talk with them about it.

Britain’s “The Zone of Interest,” about a German officer’s family living next door to the Auschwitz extermination camp during World War Two, won this year’s Oscar for best international feature film. In his acceptance speech, the director said, this is a movie about how we are today. It isn’t just Monika’s parents or the German officer’s family or Netinyahu or Hamas. It’s us, denying the evil that surrounds us.

One of the readings at Mary Lee Murphy’s wake was about her own sorrow and prayers for the suffering of the world. That was such a moving moment for me. I barely knew Mary Lee but her feeling fit my experience of our Loretto Community, that we do ask questions, that we suffer keenly, that we are spending our lives in sacrifice for the suffering of the world. We are standing with Mary, sorrowing over the sin of the world. We’re not silent about atomic bombs or child abuse or poor care in nursing homes. 

Luke concludes today’s Gospel: “It is written that Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name, to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.“

We are witnesses. The crucifixion is every day. The resurrection is every day. We repent. We seek forgiveness for the whole world. We seek resurrection and love for the whole world.


Mary Ann McGivern SL

Mary Ann recently moved from St. Louis to the Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky. She is searching for entry points into Marian County, Ky., civic life — funding the day care center, improving jail services, helping stop a pipeline through Bernheim Forest. She is on the roster of homilists at Loretto Chapel’s Sunday Communion service. Mary Ann has been a Sister of Loretto since 1960.