Pope Benedict XVI once asked a very interesting question that we might do well to ponder as we celebrate the Solemnity of Easter. “What would it mean if Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, had not taken place?” He goes on to say, “Well, if there were no resurrection, the story of Jesus would have ended with Good Friday. His body would have decayed and he would have become a has-been. But that would mean that God does not take initiatives in history, that he is either unable or willing to touch this world of ours, our human living and dying.” The Pope goes on to say that this would means that love is futile, for there would be no judgment and no justice. The present moment would be all that counts and right would belong to the cunning, who live without consciences.
Some people would say to themselves — “sounds pretty good.” But they are wrong. Let’s make sure we understand why Easter really does make a difference. Easter means that God is active, that history is not some aimless journey. Justice, love and truth are realities. Most important of all, our God loves us and comes to meet us. Easter is not just a story of a miracle that happened a long time ago. It is an event which has changed the course and meaning of all history.
At Baptism all of us Christians were baptized into the death of Jesus Christ. Death is a great mystery, something we are uncomfortable in discussing. Our faith helps us to learn about the other side of death. Our hope for eternal life is the result of our acceptance of the gospel. As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ we remember that. This event is a continuing reality. Jesus lives. Jesus lives differently. He lives mysteriously. He really and truly lives.
As we hear the beginning of the Easter story from St. John, the Lord has already risen when Mary Magdalene comes to the empty tomb. She is alarmed and races off to tell Peter and the beloved disciple. At first she suspects that the Lord’s body has been stolen by his enemies. Then the story shifts to the two disciples, the one who reached the tomb first and then Peter. The beloved disciples seem to grasp immediately what has happened. The same is not true for Mary Magdalene and Peter. They would have to see the Lord first hand themselves.
Reactions to the good news of the resurrection varied right from the beginning just as they vary today. Many of our friends and neighbors look upon these gospel stories as concoctions of the early Christian community, trying to enhance the reputation of this Jesus in whom they were placing all their hopes. There are also those who even deny that Jesus ever existed. There were all kinds of reactions to the story of the empty tomb and the appearances of the Lord to his friends and followers. Which reaction would have been yours or mine? Would we have needed to put our hands in his wounds like Thomas or could we have believed on the testimony of a friend and fellow disciple?
If you and I are to be witnesses to the good news of the risen Lord, still present among us, there are consequences which perhaps some of us might prefer avoiding. The world tempts us to go along with the forces of death like war, poverty, abortion, greed, addiction and to say, “There’s nothing I can do about that.” But you and I are called to be witnesses for all those who are deprived of faith, those who live without hope and those who seldom are given any signs of affection or genuine love.
For more than 15 years I have been privileged to serve as the 10th archbishop of our Catholic community here in western Oregon. I began with great enthusiasm, eager to be a witness of the good news we celebrate at Easter. I asked all of you to join me in carrying out our baptismal responsibility to be disciples in mission together. I was hopeful that together we would really make a difference, for the better, in the lives of the people in our communities across the archdiocese. Not surprisingly, because we were so focused on doing something good, distractions from our sinful past abounded and our agenda was amended. Healing past hurts and promoting reconciliation among the aggrieved became our primary responsibilities. There was no way we could build a future of hope without tending to these responsibilities first of all.
But, in spite of all the hazards and roadblocks we encountered along our journey of faith together, the Lord has walked with us. I have felt His calming presence in you and for that I am most grateful. It has been an undeserved privilege to serve as your archbishop. I am grateful to all of you who have given me such loving support which has come my way through no merit of my own. I also apologize to those of you whom I have failed in my efforts or my lack of effort to respond to your reasonable expectations. So many kind sentiments were expressed in the previous issue of the Catholic Sentinel which highlighted my servant ministry among you. The editors saw to it that only those who seemed to appreciate what I had done were given an opportunity to say their piece. But I’m aware of the blogs, emails and tweets of those who are not so content. I have needed to hear those messages too. As I learned long ago, humiliation is the best tool for growth in humility!
Like yourselves, I am so happy these days with the election of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the upcoming installation of our new archbishop, Most Rev. Alexander Sample. The election of Pope Francis lifts my spirits because it’s a signal that my generation still has a little bit more to give. Maybe it will inspire me to be a little more zealous, even in retirement. I also look forward to collaborating with Archbishop Sample in promoting the New Evangelization here in this local church. Easter is a celebration of new life. The new beginnings in Rome and here in Portland certainly will bring some new life to our community of believers in western Oregon.
By now most people have reflected on the selection of the name of the new Pope. We remember how St. Francis of Assisi was asked by the Lord to rebuild the church. At first Francis thought the Lord was talking about a church building. He eventually came to understand that it was the revival of the church community in his own day, just as Pope Francis and Archbishop Sample will lead us in the revival of our church community today. Both of them will, of course, need our prayerful support and collaboration in order to be effective. I pledge my support and prayers. I hope you will join me in making that Easter promise.
Yes, once again we have been surprised by grace. Finding the purpose of human life in spite of sinfulness and brokenness is indeed the challenge of Easter. When we hear the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus we begin to see the way we can transform the crosses of our own lives into signs of hope and new life. Life is a mystery. Life is a gift. Life is a privilege, a prelude of the everlasting life we hope to share with God in heaven one day. As we celebrate Easter 2013, we pray with all our hearts that the hope and light of Easter will help us all persevere in finding our place and our purpose in God’s beautiful world. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for all you have been, all you are and all you will be, by the grace of God. A happy Easter to one and all!