The following is adapted from Archbishop Gomez’ homily on April 19 at the annual Mass in remembrance of César Chávez. His homily was delivered in Spanish.
In the Easter season the Church celebrates the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a season in which we share the joy of those first apostles, who lived with the risen Lord as he taught them the meaning of the Scriptures and strengthened their faith and prepared them to go out and bear witness to his resurrection.
Today we also celebrate the life and example of César Chávez, who died 22 years ago, on April 23, 1993. We pray today for him and his family and we thank God for his life and commitment to migrant workers and Latinos in our country.
Like those first disciples that we heard about in our readings today from Sacred Scripture, our brother César tried to follow the risen Jesus and to be a witness to the resurrection in his life and in his work.
And this is the task that all of us have as Christians — to be witnesses to the resurrection.
In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear those powerful words from St. Peter: “God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.”
And in the Gospel passage that we heard today, Jesus, after explaining the Scriptures to his Apostles, says: “You are witnesses of these things.”
The first apostles were proud to be “witnesses of his resurrection.” And that’s what it means to be a Christian. It means being a “witness to the resurrection.” It means we are called to bear witness to God's mercy and love.
Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, said: “The witness is one who has seen … a reality, but not with indifferent eyes; he has seen and involves himself in the event. … Then the witness recounts, not in a cold and detached way, but as one who has questioned himself, and from that the day has changed his life.”
The encounter with the risen Jesus changes our lives!
Following Jesus means that we try to imitate his life, try to live by his life and teachings. The life and teachings of Jesus reveal the meaning of our own lives and how we can live according to God’s plan for our lives.
In the second reading of today’s Mass, the Apostle John gives us the key to how we can be witnesses of the resurrection. The key is to live according to what we believe, to what we have been taught by Jesus.
St. John says: “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. … Whoever keeps his Word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.”
As we all know the greatest commandment is the “commandment of love.” We have to live with love, and we have to love in deed and in truth.
We are called to share God’s love and mercy with others. We are called to transform this society so that every human life is treated with great dignity. Every life! The weak and the old, those with disabilities, the sick. The immigrant and the farmworker, the poor, the prisoner. Everyone!
And thinking of our brother César Chavez, we can say that he, like all of us, was trying to live as a witness to the resurrection.
Like the first disciples that we heard about in today’s readings, César experienced the power of the resurrection in his life. He believed in the risen Christ, and the salvation and mercy that God offers to all people.
He loved God and his love for God led him to struggle with courage to defend the dignity of God’s children — especially the vulnerable and those suffering injustice.
We remember the tragedy that happened in 1974, when a bus carrying migrant workers from Mexico crashed and 19 were killed. The words that he spoke are still a beautiful witness to the love that God has for every person. César said:
“The men and women we honor here today … are important because of the love they gave to their husbands, their children, their wives, their parents — all those who were close to them and who needed them. … They are important because God made them, gave them life, and cares for them in life and in death.”
César was a faithful son of God and son of the Church — human and flawed as we all are — but with a great desire to live according to the example and teachings of Jesus, to be a witness to his resurrection.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is our mission also. We are called to bring the love of God to the people of our time, to our society. We need to show the love and affection that God has for every human life.
This is the message of love that the first missionaries brought to this continent, missionaries like Blessed Junípero Serra.
From the time of Father Serra until today, our history in the United States is full of examples of Latino men and women who have lived as true witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. César Chávez was a part of this proud tradition of Latino leadership in our country.
These days I have been thinking especially of Blessed Junípero Serra because he will be canonized by Pope Francis on his trip to the United States later this year, in September.
Before coming to California, Father Serra was a missionary for many years in Mexico. He entrusted his mission to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and he carried the Catholic faith up from Mexico and to the farthest reaches of this state. He became the true “founder of California” and he was a strong protector of the Native people, in whom he saw the sacred image of a child of God.
So I think this canonization will be a great blessing for us all.
Pope Francis is the first Latino pope, the first pope from Latin America, and he is also the son of an immigrant. And he is going to canonize the first Hispanic saint of America and he’s going to do it on American soil, in our nation’s capital! What a blessing for all of us!
And by celebrating Father Serra, he is recognizing the great Latino contribution to our culture and society.
So dear brothers and sisters, let us each continue to make our contribution — by living our mission of being “witnesses to the resurrection.”
Let us pray today for the grace to be witnesses to the love and mercy of God — through our service to others, especially to those who are most in need.
And let us give thanks for the witness of our brother, Cesar Chavez. We pray for him and his family. And we pray to carry on his effort to achieve justice and solidarity in our country. May his life inspire us all to be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.
And may our Blessed Mother Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe, always be with us as our loving Mother. Amen.