Sunday, April 26, 2015

Good Shepherd Sunday

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
—John 10:11

This Sunday, which is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations, is a time set aside each year to pray, in a special way, for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, permanent diaconate, and consecrated life. The Church needs ministers who are willing to give their lives in service and prayer for the sake of the Gospel.
 
The Good Shepherd from
the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome (250-300)

Today, as I offer my own prayers for those who are discerning God’s call, I was especially struck by the first line of the Gospel of this Sunday’s Mass (quoted above). This sentiment is echoed in Pope Francis’ Message for the 52nd World Day of Prayer for Vocations: “To offer one’s life in mission is possible only if we are able to leave ourselves behind… At the root of every Christian vocation we find this basic movement, which is part of the experience of faith. Belief means transcending ourselves, leaving behind our comfort and the inflexibility of our ego in order to center our life in Jesus Christ.” 

Although we most often think of priests when we think of “shepherds,” we have to keep in mind that the Good Shepherd is the model for all those who have a special responsibility to care for others. The Church needs priests, deacons, and religious who are willing to set aside their own comfort, agendas, and security for the sake of those entrusted to their care. And so, besides praying for an “increase in vocations,” we should pray just as much that those who are being called to the priesthood, the diaconate, and religious life be graced with charity, courage, and prudence so that they can truly reflect the self-giving love of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.  

This kind of commitment is costly and requires faith and fortitude. Only this past week, a Missionary Sister of the Precious Blood, Sister Stefanie Tiefenbacher, was gang raped and murdered in South Africa. For more than sixty years, she had served the poor, especially children, in her community’s mission in Ixopo. This is not the first incident of this kind this year. May God reward her for her faithful service, bless and comfort her religious and mission communities, and grant conversion and forgiveness to her murderers. My hope is that her life and witness will inspire many others to continue her work.  

Today and throughout this week, also remember in prayer those priests, deacons, and religious who are struggling to live their vocational commitment. Ask God to grant them the gift of perseverance.

Each of us, regardless of our own state of life, has a responsibility to pray for and promote vocations. The priests, deacons, and religious the Church so desperately needs are in our communities, parishes, and families. We have an obligation to call these individuals forth to serve and to support their service.


A prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Easter +
Almighty ever-living God,
lead us to a share in the joys of heaven,
so that the humble flock may reach
where the brave Shepherd has gone before.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)
 

 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blessed Maria Gabriella: The Saint of Christian Unity

 "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”
—John 17:20-21

The divisions that exist within the Church today are a sad reality that most of us simply take for granted. Although we’re quick to identify ourselves as followers of Jesus, we’re equally as ready to qualify our commitment when we label ourselves as “Catholic,” “Orthodox,” and “Protestant.”  

In his General Audience of August 27, 2014, Pope Francis spoke about this sad reality in a very direct way:
If we look at the history of the Church, there are so many divisions among Christians. Even now we are divided. Also in history, we see Christians have made war among ourselves for theological differences… But, this is not Christian. We must also work for the unity of all Christians, to take the path of unity which is what Jesus wanted and prayed for.
In the face of all this, we must make a serious examination of conscience. In a Christian community, division is one of the gravest sins, because it makes it a sign not of God’s work, but of the devil’s work, who is by definition the one who separates, who destroys relationships, who insinuates prejudice… Division in a Christian community, whether in a school, a parish, or an association , is a very grave sin, because it is the work of the devil. God, instead, wants us to develop the capacity to welcome, to forgive and to love each other, to be ever more like Him, who is communion and love. The Church’s holiness consists in this: in recognizing herself in God’s image, showered with his mercy and his grace.

Just over a century ago, a woman was born in Sardinia who dedicated her brief life to the cause of Christian unity. Now, honored as Blessed Maria Gabriella “of Unity,” she offers an inspiring witness of how each of us can offer our lives for the healing and unity of the Church.

Born into a poor farming family on March 17, 1914, Maria Sageddhu was the fifth of eight children. She was, by her own admission, headstrong, independent, and proud; she was also known as having a strong sense of duty, an intense loyalty, and dedication to purity. When Maria was eighteen, her favorite sister died. This marked a shift in her life and faith. She began to seek the guidance of a spiritual director and joined a young people’s branch of Catholic Action, beginning a ministry of teaching catechism to young children. When she was twenty-one, she decided to commit her life to God as a Trappistine nun in the Abbey of Grottaferrata, near Rome. She was given the religious name of Maria Gabriella.
 
Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu
 
Her religious life was marked by a spirit of gratitude to the mercy God had shown her in calling her to religious life and an eagerness to respond completely to the gift of grace. She dedicated herself to quietly and faithfully living out the strict Trappist rule of life. Inspired by materials on the new ecumenical movement, she asked for and received permission to dedicate her life for the cause of Christian unity, declaring, “I feel the Lord is asking it of me.” Interestingly enough, Sister Maria Gabriella had no firsthand experience of the divisions within the Church. But the knowledge that Christians were not one in belief, prayer, and worship was a source of great pain to her. Maria Gabriella’s sole desire was for “everyone to turn to God and for his kingdom to be established in every heart.” Her favorite text for meditation was the Gospel of John, especially chapters 17-20 in which Jesus prays that all his followers might be one. With the permission of her abbess and the community’s chaplain, she offered her life in a particular way for the cause of Christian unity.

A short time after she made her offering of self, she became ill with tuberculosis. As she struggled at not being able to be part of her community’s worship (she spent several months in hospitals in Rome and elsewhere), she still found ways to pray and to praise God.

Sister Maria Gabriella died on April 23, 1939, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (“Good Shepherd Sunday”). The Gospel proclaimed at that day’s Mass included the words, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). These same words from John’s Gospel will be proclaimed this coming Sunday (April 26), also the Fourth Sunday of Easter.  

After her death, a small Bible was found by her bed, in which the pages of Jesus’ “priestly prayer” (John 17-20) were worn and stained from constant use.

Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu was beatified by Saint John Paul II in 1983. Her commemoration is celebrated on April 24.
 
In his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Saint John Paul II said these Blessed Maria Gabriella and prayer for Christian unity: 
Praying for unity is not a matter reserved only to those who actually experience the lack of unity among Christians. In the deep personal dialogue which each of us must carry on with the Lord in prayer, concern for unity cannot be absent… Sister Maria Gabriella, called by her vocation to be apart from the world, devoted her life to meditation and prayer centered on chapter seventeen of Saint John's Gospel, and offered her life for Christian unity. This is truly the cornerstone of all prayer: the total and unconditional offering of one's life to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The example of Sister Maria Gabriella is instructive; it helps us to understand that there are no special times, situations or places of prayer for unity. Christ's prayer to the Father is offered as a model for everyone, always and everywhere.


A prayer in honor of Blessed Maria Gabriella +
Lord God, eternal Shepherd,
You inspired the blessed virgin, Maria Gabriella,
Generously to offer up her life for the sake of Christian unity.
At her intercession,
Hasten, we pray, the coming of the day when,
Gathered around the table of your word and of your Bread from heaven,
All who believe in Christ may sing your praises
With a single heart, a single voice.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from the Missal of the Order of Cistercians)

Originally written for Mayslake Ministries and posted on their site the week of April 19, 2015.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

To Be a Witness

In classes and days of recollection I offer during Lent, I often remind participants that the purpose of Lent is twofold: it is the time of final preparation of the uninitiated (i.e. catechumens) for baptism and the time for Christians to recall their own baptism and they prepare to renew their baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, this second aspect of Lent often gets lost. Yes, we all renewed our baptismal promises at Easter and were symbolically sprinkled with holy water, but, for most of us, that moment seems to be over as soon as it has begun and we don’t really appreciate the significance of the act… which is surprising since we’ve spent 40 days preparing to say “I do!” with a renewed mind, heart, and spirit.

We renew our baptismal promises each year because conversion and growing in faith are lifelong processes. In saying that, I simply mean that each moment of every day (not just the days of Lent) offers us infinite possibilities for experiencing grace, for choosing God and the good, and for giving and receiving love. And we have the freedom to choose how to live each of those moments. Ultimately, this all reminds me of a reflection of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who said that “the divine Majesty is a shoreless and fathomless ocean.” If we truly believe this, then, of course, we can spend an entire lifetime immersing ourselves in the depths of God’s mercy and majesty and never fully comprehend or adequately believe. 
 
Christ appearing to the Apostles by Duccio
 

I think this sense of going ever-deeper is at the heart of the Readings proclaimed on the Third Sunday of Easter. Each of the Scripture passages, in its way, speaks of what it means to be a witness of the Risen Lord. The Gospel passage (Luke 24:35-48) tells us about events after the well-known Emmaus story. As the Apostles are pondering what they’ve heard from those two who encountered Jesus on the road and who shared a meal with him that Easter Sunday, Jesus came to the gathered Apostles to teach and share a meal with them. They witnessed Jesus walking, talking. They listened as he explained everything that had happened to him, as he showed them his wounds. In a commentary on this Gospel passage, Timothy R. Martens writes:
Luke tells us that “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” What a terrific description! It evokes a sense of someone holding a newborn for the first time, a team winning an improbably victory or finding out you got the job. Is this real, or is it just a dream?
Then Jesus did the most human of things to ground them: “Have you anything here to eat?” The Greek of the NRSV seems to formal. I would opt for “What do you guys have to eat here?” They gave Jesus “a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” Things just got real.
Once Jesus had finished teaching and eating, he reminded the group that they were now-and had always been-witnesses of these things. But, they also needed time to understand and unpack everything they had seen, heard, and felt.
 
We get a sense of their own progression in faith and understanding when we read Peter's words recounted in Acts of the Apostles: "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus... You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses." Peter and the others had begun to get it. They were piecing together all the things they had seen and heard and they were empowered to go out and share the Good News of mercy and hope.
 
This is the same gradual realization that we experience in our own faith journeys. We have heard the stories and we encounter the Risen Christ present among us in the Eucharist and other sacraments, in the proclamation of the Word, in the praying and serving Church, and in the poor. But we are rarely (if ever) granted those "Aha!" moments when all the pieces fall into place and we somehow, mystically comprehend the Life, Light, and Life that is God. And so, we reflect, we pray, and we serve so that we can be effective witnesses, just like Peter and the Apostles. Remember that part of the reason we say those "I do's" at Easter is because we are also being sent out to share with the world that we are also witnesses that Christ is alive in the world, even now.
 
This leads us to a final reflection as we continue this Easter celebration: The quality of our witness is tied to how we live out our faith.
 
This point is brought home to us in the reading from the First Letter of John. Here, John is reminding us that, because we are witnesses, we have an obligation to live according to God's commandments: "The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, 'I know him,' but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them." These are strong words, but a powerful statement that we are called to live with integrity.
 
To profess that we believe in the One who has been raised from the dead, even as we refuse to live according to the teachings that he gave us, is to live a lie. Our commitment to care for the poor, the disabled, the outsider, the qualities of our friendships, the health of our family relationships, how we act in our private lives, and our habits of prayer are all fundamental aspects of our witness-commitment. This same is true of our willingness to be converted and to give up our sins: "Repentance and acceptance of forgiveness is not guilt-induced; it is the only adequate response to God's gift of new life offered in restored relationship with the risen Christ" (Barbara Reid, O.P., Abiding Word: Sunday Reflections for Year B). Only those who have experienced repentance and mercy can proclaim the Good News as Jesus intended (cf. Luke 24:46-48).
 
 
A prayer for the Third Sunday of Easter +
May your people exult for ever, O God,
in renewed youthfulness of spirit,
so that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption,
we may look forward with confident hope
to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blessed Lydwina: A Saint for the Sick

We are not discouraged;
rather, although our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this momentary light affliction
is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen;
for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.
—2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 
For most of us, the experience of illness is a burden. Whether we face a chronic, debilitating illness, just minor allergies, or a cold, our worlds can often be reduced to our “feeling bad” or the frustration that we aren’t getting better.

Our Faith tradition has always understood that illness and physical ailments are opportunities for growing in our relationship with God. Our pain and discomfort, the patience that has to accompany illness, and our reliance on others give us an amazing opportunity to be in solidarity with those who are suffering throughout the world. In his 2015 Messagefor the World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis reflected, “Even when illness, loneliness, or inability make it hard for us to reach out to others, the experience of suffering can be a privileged means of transmitting grace and a source for gaining and growing in wisdom of heart… People immersed in the mystery of suffering and pain, when they accept these in faith, can themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable of embracing suffering, even without being able to understand its full meaning.”

One of the saints who best embodied this truth is Blessed Lydwina of Schiedam.

Born in Schiedam (near Rotterdam) in the Netherlands in 1390, Lydwina was the daughter of a poor tradesman. When she was 15 years old, she suffered a serious fall in an ice-skating accident. At first, it seemed that she had only broken a rib, but complication set in and she began to suffer from extreme attacks of vomiting and a number of other painful symptoms. This marked a turn in her life and she spent the remainder of her life as an invalid.

Initially angered and depressed by her situation, she gradually accepted the advice of her local priest, Fr. John Pot, who helped her recognize that she had a special vocation. He invited her to see her own pain and suffering in the light of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus through meditating on the events of Jesus’ life. After a period of three years, she began to accept her suffering and understood that she was being called to offer her sufferings to God for the sake of sinners. A short time later, her illness took a severe turn and she became severely disfigured and she was able to use only her left arm. She also lost the sight in one of her eyes and the other was so sensitive that she could hardly stand even the light from a fire.

Her story made her an object of curiosity, devotion, and scorn. Many came to see her and their motives were mixed. Some thought of her as a sort of “sideshow freak” and others revered her as a saint. Reports began to circulate that she had miraculous powers. Many witnesses testified to her special graces, her visions, and that she lived on little more than the Eucharist for the last nineteen years of her life. During her visions, she would feel herself transported to Jerusalem and Rome and she would converse freely with Jesus, Mary, and the saints. She also had vivid visions of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
  
A murual in the Basilica of Schiedam showing
Blessed Lydwina's visions of the Passion and Resurrection.

Despite her popularity—or perhaps because of it—a new parish priest condemned her as a fraud and forbade her Holy Communion. He went so far as to have the local people pray for Lydwina’s release from the power of the devil. In time, however, Church and civil authorities thoroughly investigated her life and spiritual gifts and she was found innocent of the charges brought against her.

Lydwina died on April 14, 1433. In one of her final visions, she was given a rosebush by her guardian angel and told that she would die when the last of its buds opened. Because of this, she is often depicting with a flowering rosebush in sacred art. Her story was handed down by a number of biographers who had known her personally, including Thomas à Kempis, the author of the famed Imitation of Christ. Devotion to Blessed Lydwina of Schiedam was approved in 1890 and her commemoration is celebrated on April 14. Many European sources will often refer to her as "Saint Lydwina." 

Contemporary scholars, looking back on the various accounts of Lydwina’s life and illness, now believe that she might have suffered from multiple sclerosis. Whatever the true nature of her disease, her life is a powerful reminder that, regardless of our strength, health, or stamina, holiness is possible for each of us because, in Christ, each of us is whole and fully alive in the light of the Resurrection. Saint John Paul II reminds us: “Just as the Resurrection transformed Christ’s wounds into a source of healing and salvation, so for every sick person the light of the Risen Christ is a confirmation that the way of fidelity to God can triumph in the gift of self until the Cross can be transformed into a source of joy and resurrection… The sick, also sent out as laborers into the Lord’s vineyard, by their example can make an effective contribution to the evangelization of a culture that tries to remove the experience of suffering by striving to grasp its deep meaning with its intrinsic incentives to human and Christian growth. (Messagefor the World Day of the Sick for the Year 2000).
 

A Prayer in Honor of Blessed Lydwina of Schiedam +
O God, the exaltation of the lowly, who willed that Blessed Lydwina should excel in the beauty of charity and patience, grant, through her merits and intercession, that, carrying our cross each day, we may always persevere in love for you. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and posted on their website the week of April 13, 2015.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Blessed Ignatius Maloyan, the Armenian Genocide, and Divine Mercy

On Sunday, April 12, Pope Francis will celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday by offering a Mass in remembrance of the 1.5 million Armenians murdered in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918, in what has become known as the "Armenian Genocide."

Among those killed in what has been called the "first genocide of the 20th century," was a bishop of the Armenian Catholic Church: Blessed Ignatius Maloyan.

Born in 1869 in Mardin, Turkey, Shokr Allah Maloyan was baptized into the Armenian Catholic Church as an infant. A good student and gifted linguist, he was sent by the local bishop to a nearby convent to begin studies for the priesthood. Ordained in 1896, he took the name Ignatius in honor of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. In November of that year, he was sent to Alexandria, Egypt, to serve as an aid to the Armenian Patriarch. Distinguishing himself for his learning and rhetorical skills, he became a popular speaker and was actively involved in dialogues with the Coptic Church. He was later appointed to serve as secretary to the Patriarch of Constantinople.     
     
Blessed Ignatius Maloyan

In 1911, he was consecrated archbishop of Mardin. He faced a shortage of priests, lack of financial resources, increasing political pressure from the Turkish government, and the realities of his own ill-health. With the outbreak of World War I, the Turkish government increased its pressure on the Christian community. By 1915, planning for the extermination of “internal enemies” had begun and Bishop Maloyan urged his people to be prepared for the worst while he himself made arrangements for the administration of the diocese in the event of his own disappearance. Aware of what was beginning to transpire, Pope Benedict XV tried to intervene but his appeals for peace were ignored; the vast majority of the Armenians who were killed were also Christians and included women, men, and children from every walk of life.
 
Arrested on June 3, 1915, he was taken with 1,600 other Christians on a forced march during which Ignatius was able to give absolution and improvise a last Mass. On June 10, those Christians who had managed to remain alive were murdered. Bishop Maloyan was taken into the desert where, after refusing to accept Islam, he was shot before being stabbed to death. His final words were: "I've told you I shall live and die for the sake of my faith and religion. I take pride in the Cross of my God and Lord." Bishop Ignatius Maloyan was beatified in 2001. His commemoration is celebrated on June 11.
 
Sadly, the Armenian Genocide is a point of controversy. It is illegal to talk or write about it in Turkey and many of the countries with strong diplomatic ties to that country (including the United States) have consistently chosen to ignore the realities of history. The present-day politics of diplomatic relations has trumped the truths of history and the value of human lives lost in acts of aggression.
 
As we think about the experiences of so many Christians in the Middle East today, it is important that we also remember the lives and witnesses of Bl. Ignatius and the millions who suffered in the massacre that began 100 years ago. 
 
It isn't by chance that the Pope has chosen Divine Mercy Sunday (the Sunday in the Octave of Easter) as the time to remember the Armenian Genocide. In recent remarks made to the Armenian Catholic bishops and faithful who have come to Rome for tomorrow's celebration, Pope Francis shared his hope that the Divine Mercy "might help us all, in love for truth and justice, to heal every wound and to hasten concrete gestures of reconciliation and peace among the nations that have not yet reached a consensus on the reading of such sorrowful events.” (During the celebration, Pope Francis will also officially declare the Armenian monk St. Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church, an act which honors the significant theological and spiritual contributions of Armenian Christians to the broader Church.)
 
A fundamental aspect of mercy is our willingness to ask for and offer mercy to those who have hurt us. In her book, God's Tender Mercy, Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B., reflects:
Strange, isn't it? We expect that God will show us mercy; but, too often, we show so little ourselves. We believe fiercely in capital punishment; we tolerate the thought of nuclear war; we suspect whatever is unlike ourselves. If heaven is based on the same punitive, violent, and segregating principles, we are all in trouble.
The strangest of all human phenomena, perhaps, is that we take God's mercy for granted for ourselves but find it so hard to be merciful ourselves. If there were any proof needed that God is completely "Other," this is surely it...
"It is often the most wicked who know the nearest path to the shrine," the Japanese proverb reminds us. Don't let anybody fool you: Goodness is as goodness does. Be careful who you call bad simply because the "good" people have named them so. God, it seems, is far less quick to judge.  
The point of all of this is that we have to be willing to forgive and move forward in reconciliation and peace, regardless of the cost. Even as we courageously name injustice and persecution for the evils they are, we also have to be willing to recognize that we are all made of the same "stuff," victims and aggressors alike. So, while we continue to pray for and support our brothers and sisters today - who are facing the same threat of extermination as Blessed Ignatius and the victims of the Armenian Genocide - we also have to have hope that justice will prevail and that hate can and will be turned into love. Christians don't have the right to ever write anyone off or believe that anyone is beyond God's mercy. In his Bull declaring the upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (released today [April 11] in Rome), Pope Francis reminds us: "The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of one’s self. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy" (Misericordiae Vultus, 12).

As we remember those who have gone before and celebrate the Feast of Mercy, pray for the persecuted and the persecutor. Ask for forgiveness of your own sins and failings and for the grace to forgive others. Renew your own commitment to be a person of peace and justice.

A Prayer for Our Oppressors +
O God, who have laid down by your precept of charity
that we should sincerely love those who afflict us,
grant that we may follow the commands of the New Law,
striving to return good for evil
and bearing one another's burdens.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from the Roman Missal, Mass for Our Oppressors)

 
 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Morning After

In The Dwelling of the Light, a reflection on icons of Christ, RowanWilliams (the former archbishop of Canterbury), reflecting on the icon tradition of the Eastern Church, wrote, 
Orthodox theologians have said—surely rightly—that the moment of resurrection could not be depicted, any more than you could depict the moment of creation or the moment of incarnation. You cannot paint a picture of the simple act of God… You can only show the effect of God’s action: the creation itself carrying the mystery of God in its very being, the human situation transformed by God. So you can depict the Risen Christ, but not the event of the resurrection…
So the classical Easter icon shows something more than an historical event: it shows, you might say, the effect of God’s action on human history up to that point, and implicitly, the effect of God’s action on all history. Just as the transfiguration icon shows the light of Jesus’ presence illuminating Moses and Elijah, this icon shows Jesus bringing Adam and Eve out of the realm of death into the same light-filled presence.
 
The limitations of human language, art, and ritual were not news to the Early Church. Because of this, their Easter experience was not enshrined with abstract philosophical concepts and fine language (that would be the work of later generations of theologians and poets). Instead of just passively remembering Christ, they experienced him: the Risen One was not the subject of some myth or beautiful story—he was a living, redemptive, and actual presence among them. Those first Christians proclaimed (sometimes at their own peril): “Christ lives in me!” Like the icon writers who understood that God’s action transcends the limits of human intellect and artistry, the early generations of believers understood that the only way to truly celebrate the mystery of Easter was to live Christ.
 
There is nothing in Sacred Scripture that tell us that Jesus’ Resurrection was anything other than a hidden event. There was nothing in it, as Henri Nouwen observed, that would force people to believe: 
Rather, it was an event for the friends of Jesus, for those who had known him, listened to him, and believed in him. It was a very intimate event: a word here, a gesture there, and a gradual awareness that something new was being born—small, hardly noticed, but with the potential to change the face of the earth. Mary Magdalene heard her name. John and Peter saw the empty grave. Jesus’ friends felt their hearts burn in encounters that find expression in the remarkable words: ‘He is risen.’ All had remained the same, while all had changed.

It isn’t by chance that Church chooses to read the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter Season. Luke’s chronicle of the Apostles in Jerusalem, of the death of Stephen, and the missionary zeal of Paul, Barnabas, and Silas, is an extended account of what that changed world was like and of how the faith, hope, and love of those men and women began to spread like a fire, taking light into the darkest places of the human experience—just like the light of Jesus’ love had illuminated the dark places of their own hearts and minds. They didn’t have everything figured out and theirs was an imperfect, all-too-human faith, but their Easter experience empowered them (speaking in the person of Peter) to proclaim:
 
"You who are children of Israel, hear these words.
Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God
with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs,
which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God,
you killed using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
because it was impossible for him to be held by it"
(Acts 2:22-24 - from the First Reading of Easter Monday)
Where does all this leave us? Has the long passage of time dulled us? Have we lost the wonder and awe of our spiritual ancestors? Has dynamic faith been replaced with dull discipleship?


We have been re-created for love, for joy, for zeal, and for gratitude, “gladly enduring anything, however hard, in order to be free of death and of this life in the midst of death.” We have been granted the freedom to be truly alive. The image of the Risen Jesus taking Adam and Eve by the hand to lead them from the place of the dead is an image of what each of us has experienced. Like the first Christians, we have to unpack that experience, to recognize grace and life in the many little miracles of our day-to-day lives. Then, as Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt has observed, “the powers of the resurrection come closer to us; then Christ really becomes the Risen One, and a new life comes into being. Not the kind of life we have been seeking until now, trying to be a little better than other people, thinking that it is a new life if we steal a little less or walk around a little more decently than before or wear a more respectable coat, or if we exchange a criminal’s cap for something more acceptable. All this is supposed to be new life? Bah!” (from the reflection “Christ Rising”).

 

Just as it was for Peter and Mary and John, living Easter is not about being a little better than we’ve been in the past. Easter life means that the freedom and life restored to us by Jesus can be seen within us, that “something of God and of heaven, something holy, can grow within you” (Blumhardt).

Seek. Hope. Pray. Love. And, above all else, live.
Mary Magadalene announces
the Resurrection to the Apostles
from the St. Alban's Psalter, ca. 1120

Humming in the Dark –
Hope means to keep living
amid desperation
and to keep humming
in the darkness.
Hoping is knowing that there is love,
it is trust in tomorrow
it is falling asleep
and waking again
when the sun rises.
In the midst of a gale at sea,
it is to discover land.
In the eyes of another
it is to see that you are understood…

As long as there is still hope
There will also be prayer…

And you will be held
in God’s hands.
-from With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen