When I was in my twenties and just beginning my profession as a lawyer and certainly before my conversion, some friends and I after a long Wisconsin winter went on vacation to Jamaica. Easter occurred during our stay.
Most of my young friends had no interest in celebrating this Christian landmark. Some things do not change. One friend and I decided we did wish to celebrate this important day. After inquiring of where we might do so we were directed to a church not too far from where we were staying. Little did we know that we were to become a part of a religious service that lasted longer than a typical Easter Vigil.
Spirited music, dynamite preaching, personal testimonials made for a powerful statement of faith and a close relationship with Jesus Christ. It was uplifting if unusual from our experience and a bit wearying.
During this long prayer service a lady sitting beside my friend when she felt moved to add an exclamation point to what was been said or sung would elbow my friend in his side. For the rest of our time on vacation my friend coped with the painful impact of those staccato elbow jabs. Selfishly I was grateful for our seating choice.
Sometimes though we need an elbow jab to stir us out of our routine. We celebrate Easter every year. It is a wonderful family moment with Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, ham and jelly beans. However for many it is a day come and gone. The Church challenges us to not minimize the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection by setting aside fifty days for the Easter Season.
It is a time of hope, of new life and of new beginnings. As a beautiful example, hundreds of adults in our diocese were welcomed into the Church at the Easter Vigil.
I relate to this special moment in their lives. I was received into the Church on Holy Thursday at the age of 39. On that day I professed faith in the Church, made my first confession (I recall the priest jokingly suggest I confess only the highlights. It still took some time.), was confirmed, received my first communion at the Mass which I also served. What a day!
I had agonized over entering the Church, studying, praying and procrastinating. Fortunately the Holy Spirit does not give up. When I finally said yes a burden was lifted from me. It was a graced moment of peace. It felt so right. Why had I put it off, fought so long I wondered. Perhaps so that I might more fully experience the joy and peace that was now mine.
Malcolm Muggeridge, an English writer and longtime skeptic of religion, described his feeling when he entered the Church as “a sense of homecoming, of picking up the threads of a loose life, of responding to a bell that has long been ringing, of taking a place at a table that had long been vacant”.
As I have aged, I reflect on that joy tempered by the crosses that have also become part of my journey with greater gratitude to God for having given me the graces through His Church to weather them with hope and trust.
The season of Easter gives us all the opportunity each year to renew our commitment whatever our spiritual journey has been. We do so when we reaffirm our belief expressed in the Creed which we do at Easter season Masses.
This season always occurs in the early spring which seems slow in coming. We yearn for the warmth and flowers of May. But we must wait a bit longer. Easter encourages us to be patient. If we have faith in Christ crucified yet risen despite the cloudiness surrounding us in weather and circumstances they will not overwhelm us.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once suggested that we be the sunshine of God’s love for others. She wrote, “We wait impatiently for the paradise where God is, but we have it in our power to be in paradise with Him right now: being happy with Him means to love as He loves, to help as He helps, to give as He gives, to serve as He serves.
Christians have been referred to as Easter people. There is much in our world and culture today that make many worry, even despair. That is not the response of Easter people. It is in our power, with Christ’s example and continuing presence in His Church and especially in the Holy Eucharist, to bring light and life into our own lives, and from us light and life to those whose lives touch ours.
Archbishop Oscar Romero will be declared a saint later this year. In 1980 he was gunned down while praying Holy Mass in El Salvador because he protested the injustice inflicted on its people, mostly Catholics, by the then government.
He once said, “How beautiful will be the day when baptized understand that their work, their job is priestly work [though distinct from the ministerial priesthood, Lumen Gentium]. That just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter…at his workbench and each metal worker, each professional, each doctor with a scalpel, a market woman at her stand is performing a priestly office.
“Cab drivers, listen to this message; you are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God, bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride with you.”
As the letter to the Ephesians advises, “Be imitators of Christ…and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. (Eph 5:2)
That is a challenging mission but possible with the help of God.
Sometimes though we need to experience an elbow in the side to remind us of the wonderful gift of faith in Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, who died on the cross and rose for our salvation. Praised be Jesus Christ.
Pilgrimage to Poland
Forty years ago this year St. John Paul II was elected by the Cardinals under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the 263rd Pope. He served for over a quarter century. His leadership, courage, humility and witness influenced my own faith life and millions of others, and continues to do so.
I have decided to lead a pilgrimage to Poland from October 12-20. Not only will we visit sites important to his life, but also those of St. Faustina and St. Maximillian Kolbe among others. I invite you to join me. Additional information is available through the Catholic Community Foundation for Eastern South Dakota.
A blessed Easter season. May the risen Christ empower you to be imitators of Him.