“Overcome With Paschal Joy and Friendship with God”
A Homily Delivered at the First Mass of Thanksgiving
Fr. Robert Anthony LeBlanc
St. Paul Church, Cambridge MA
May 23, 2021
“Overcome with Paschal Joy!”
For the entirety of the Easter Season—which comes to its completion today on the Solemnity of Pentecost—that phrase has been included in the Preface that the priest prays at every Mass. Today the Church will place those words upon the lips of our brother and our father, Robert LeBlanc.
“Overcome with Paschal Joy!” These words, perhaps better than any others, give adequate expression to what fills our hearts today. To be overcome with Paschal joy is really to be overwhelmed by the love of God himself. This joy, this being overwhelmed by the goodness of God—by the nearness of God—is a sure and certain hallmark of the Christian life. Joy, St. Paul tells us, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings God near to us, and it is this nearness—this closeness—that brings us joy.
The readings today abound in joy. On that first Easter Sunday the disciples who were locked away because of fear, rejoiced when they saw the Lord. When a friend has gone away from us, we naturally experience joy upon his return. But Jesus did not simply return from a long journey. No, he had passed into death itself, the place from which no one returns. He conquered death and was truly Risen! He did the impossible! This alone would be enough to bring great joy to the disciples, but there is more! Jesus enters that room and brings with him a whole new way of life, a new beginning, and previously unimaginable possibility. He brings with him a life that is stronger than death. And this new life is not reserved to him alone. He breathes on his apostles, giving them power, power to extend this new life to others; power to forgive sins in his name.
Jesus—who was crucified and died—now lives and gives to humanity the hope of conquering sin and even death itself. The old order is destroyed and a new life is now open to all who will receive it. Yes, the disciples rejoice! They rejoice because they are close to the Lord, and today we too rejoice because we can now be friends of Jesus. We also are close to him. Friends who remain with him. Friends who abide in him. And so yes, we are overcome with paschal joy.
Yesterday, our brother was made a priest by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings us joy, not merely because our brother and our friend received a tremendous gift. We are overcome with Paschal Joy. We are overcome by God’s extraordinary goodness to us. Bobby’s ordination reminds us that God is still reaching out to people in this time and in this place. God is still extending the hand of friendship. God loves us and is still opening a new way of life to us. God is still offering us a way to be free from sin and a way to share in a new life. He poured out his Holy Spirit upon Bobby because God chooses priests to be the ministers of His friendship, the ministers of His joy. Joy comes from being in friendship with God. And the priest is the minister of God’s friendship, the minister of His joy.
From the pulpit, filled with the Holy Spirit, Fr. LeBlanc—like the apostles—will preach the Word of God. Those who hear him will be filled with wonder and with amazement. They will hear from him the Good News offered to us in Christ. Into the dark clouds of their fears and anxieties, their pains and their sufferings, the Holy Spirit will speak through this priest. They will hear that God’s love is stronger than sin, stronger than death. They will be drawn deeper into friendship with God and yes, they will be overcome with paschal joy.
At the baptismal font, he will introduce others into friendship with God. In that Font, by the power of the Holy Spirit, those who were once under the condemnation of sin and death will die to sin and will rise with Christ into new life. They will share in the new life that comes from friendship with God. And yes, they will be overcome with Paschal Joy.
In the confessional, those who have lost friendship with God, those who are weighed down by guilt and by sin will be lifted up by mercy. There they will find Fr. LeBlanc ready to restore them to friendship with God. They will find a Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost and who carries them back to Divine friendship. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he will absolve them from their sins. They will enter that confessional heavily burdened. And yes they will leave overcome with Paschal Joy.
At the deathbed, those who are afraid as they pass from this life to the next, will see Fr. LeBlanc standing by their side, reassuring them of the hope that belongs to the friends of God. He will be there to offer them the Sacraments and to prepare them to meet the Lord. Those who are privileged to have him at their deathbed, they will be overcome with Paschal Joy.
All of us know that Bobby possesses a special gift—a special talent—for friendship. He shares a beautiful friendship with his parents and with his brother. Their home was really his first seminary. Many of us here today have also come to know and are deeply grateful for the gift of his friendship. But yesterday, God did something more than any of us could have dared to hope. He made Bobby a priest. He made our brother into an instrument of Divine Friendship. He made our brother into a minister of Paschal Joy. Through the priesthood of Fr. LeBlanc, the poor, the lonely, the sinner, the abandoned, the mourner, the weak will all come to know that God is their friend. They too will be overcome with Paschal Joy.
No place will this ministry be more evident than at the altar. Every day for the rest of his life, Fr. LeBlanc will offer the Holy Mass. He will offer the Paschal Sacrifice. Without the Cross, there is no friendship with God. It was on the Cross that Jesus restored us to Divine Friendship. At every Mass, Fr. LeBlanc will make present—by the power of the Holy Spirit—the Sacrifice of Calvary. He will bring us to God and from his hands, we will receive God Himself. Knowing this, we cannot help but to be overcome with Paschal Joy.
My brother, we are filled with joy for you today because we love you. But even more, we are filled with joy today because your priestly life is a reminder of the unfathomable truth that God loves us, that He has drawn near to us, and that He has made it possible for us to love him in return. You are now and forever a minister of friendship with God, a minister of Paschal Joy.
Every day after Mass at the seminary, I would find Bobby kneeling in prayer at the Altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary is “causa nostrae laetitiae,” the cause of our joy. By the Holy Spirit, Mary conceived and brought God near to us and, because she brought God near to us, she is referred to as the “cause of our joy.” Similarly, through his priestly ministry, Fr. LeBlanc will bring God near to us and thus, he will bring us joy. We can be certain that she who is the cause of our joy will remain close to this minister of joy.
And so, brothers and sisters, in case you didn’t get the message, today is a day of great joy. This joy—this paschal joy—is not fleeting. In the Sequence of Pentecost that we chanted before the Gospel, the Church begged the Holy Spirit with these words: “Give them your salvation Lord. Give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.”
God has seen fit to answer this prayer favorably. In the pulpit, at the baptismal font, in the confessional, at the deathbed, at St. Mary’s in Brookline, wherever Fr. LeBlanc is—and most especially at the altar--by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and through the instrumentality and sacramental ministry of this priest of Jesus Christ—this minister of Divine Friendship—from the very hands of our brother and our Father, Robert), God indeed gives salvation to his people and will lead them into the joys that never end. This, this is why today we are most certainly overcome with Paschal Joy. Amen. Alleluia.