Most Rev. John Vlazny Archbishop Emeritus of Portland
In the early days of Christianity the great St. Augustine proclaimed: “We are Easter people and alleluia is our song!” Yes, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of our Catholic faith. The only response that makes sense is the one the church will sing for fifty days, from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday, “Alleluia! Praise to our God!”
Easter celebrates such wonderful good news that Christian people never found one day long enough to celebrate its importance in their lives. The fifty days of the Easter season offer much food for our journey of faith. God’s holy word is rich, as is God’s table. It is good for us to listen closely to the Easter story and to take and eat the bread of angels given for the life of the world.
The good news of Easter is that Jesus Christ not only was gloriously alive that first Easter Sunday morning, but he is also still gloriously alive among us today. The crucifixion and burial were real, but they were not the end. As we shall be daily reminded throughout the Easter season in our readings from the Acts of the Apostles, the friends of Jesus who met the risen Lord were obviously changed in a dramatic fashion. They were relentless in their pursuit of continuing the mission of Jesus Christ. What happened?
In this age of skepticism, it’s good for us to remember that most Bible scholars and theologians readily agree that Mary Magdalene and the other women did find the tomb of Jesus open and empty that first Easter morning. Sometimes we hear about denials that scholars make about the empty tomb. We also hear from folks who assert that the Resurrection of Jesus simply means that he rose in the minds and the hearts of his disciples. This reduces Easter faith simply to accepting the message of Jesus and coming to a new awareness about our God and our life together. But this is not what the New Testament and the first Christians claim. Even though Easter did indeed happen to them, it happened primarily to Jesus Christ Himself.
Yes, Easter happened primarily to Jesus, but it also continues to happen to his followers. Easter is the feast of our “big hurrah.” It far outdoes the excitement of the “Final Four” last weekend in St. Louis. It is the heart of our common faith. The passage from death to life which was experienced by Jesus Christ must also be experienced by every Christian who seeks to be the Lord’s disciple in mission. How then can the paschal mystery truly register in the life of each and every one of us?
Basically, there are two fundamental ways in which we are called upon to identify with the Lord’s paschal mystery: 1) a personal experience of moving from darkness to light, from sin to virtue, from superficiality to self-awareness, from apathy and indifference to commitment and service; and 2) a communal experience, in our families and parishes and communities, of movement from suspicion to respect and from a focus on self to an experience of solidarity with all our brothers and sisters.
In her writings, St. Teresa of Avila insisted that self-knowledge was critical for any passage from darkness to light. She wrote, “Knowing ourselves is something so important that I would not want any relaxation ever in this regard.” We need to become aware of our own selfishness and indifference. We need to deal with sin, which requires passing through a kind of death. A passage to new life involves a simplifying of our personal desires. The ways of God are mysterious.
But all of this does not happen without some pain. Alcohol and drug addicts describe their own painful darkness as they move from enslavement to freedom from their addictions. One man told how alcohol had so impaired his freedom that he drove to his town’s high school football field in the middle of the night, lay out on the 50-yard line, and cried out, “Lord, take me or help me to find new life!” Luckily he found AA as the beginning of a passage to freedom. Throughout our journey of life we shall go through countless small deaths and resurrections to become the new creation God is preparing for his people.
But the paschal mystery of Jesus is not simply a matter of a personal passage from old ways to new ways. It is also a social and communal event for the church. For more than forty years since the close of the Second Vatican Council, we Catholic people have gone through major changes in moving from what seemed like a certain past to what we now know is an uncertain future. Parishes here in the archdiocese have moved forward in the call to renewal in varied and uneven ways.
Learning new ways of being a people of faith and relating to one another as collaborative partners in building up God’s kingdom does not happen without pain. In many of our communities, especially after the terrible scandal of child sexual abuse and all the criticism that has been directed as our church, reconciliation is needed. When disagreements occur, one of the biggest problems we have is convincing ourselves that in the Christian order reconciliation is the goal, not vindication. This will happen only when people are willing to listen, forgive and treat the overall good of the community as primary.
As Catholics we are blessed with a rich, sacramental life. Whenever we gather around our parish altar, we do indeed receive the life of Jesus Christ, the real life of Jesus which moves us through darkness to light. Jesus has described himself as the Bread of Life, the Bread of a real life, caught up in the struggles and pains of a changing world, a life entrusted to us by God the Father for the work of service and witness, a life enriched and renewed when we gather as a community of believers in the celebration of the Eucharist.
It is this real life of the risen Lord in our midst that makes possible the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of friends, the healing, comfort and peace of the sick, the committed lives of the married, the ordained, and those who have embraced consecrated life. In truth, the sacramental life of the church unites us to the work of the living Jesus in his Easter mystery.
As we begin this Easter season 2007 we pray that a gracious God will help us move through life with the courage to risk dying daily in order to find ourselves. Every day of our lives we do indeed live out the paschal mystery of Jesus, a mystery which, the church prays, will enable us all to discover what it means to walk with God as his disciples. Happy Easter! Alleluia!