Saturday, April 11, 2020

Jesus Offers Himself To Us This Easter

The Easter Vigil is happening NOW at St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Pope Francis, a few priests, some members of his staff, an organist and a few singers, and the Vatican Media workers - alone in the vast, cavernous church, under the immense dome.

It seems odd, this tiny gathering for an ancient ritual in an ancient building. They carefully observe the various liturgical forms as they pray in their apparent solitude.

But it is only "apparent," for in reality millions of people are praying with them and joining the celebration all over the world, using the tool of livestreaming audiovisual media. But this media connection is only a tool, that can help those who use it to remember the fundamental reality that the faithful are joined together though the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, who dwells in God's People and unites them in Christ's Risen Body in a bond that no force in this world can break.

This is the unity that overcomes death, that draws all of history to itself, the unity of God's children in His Son Jesus, to which every human person is called, and for which their hearts long.

There is much suffering in the world this Easter, and we continue to give particular attention to the kind of suffering brought about by COVID-19 and its many associated burdens. Our concerns and prayer go out especially to the suffering and dying, to those who care for them, to everyone afflicted by the disease, to those enduring economic hardship and/or job loss, to public officials who must make difficult decisions in the face of many unknown factors, to researchers seeking effective treatments, and to everyone who struggles with additional anxiety about these many problems.

Without minimizing in any way these trials or any sufferings, we have come to the day that celebrates the victory of Jesus over death and sin, in His resurrection which is the beginning of the New Creation, the fulfillment, the inexhaustible source of meaning for all sufferings which He Himself has borne and overcome. In all our efforts and all that we endure, He is our hope.

However we join in the Easter liturgy this year, let us remember this. Even if the circumstances of this pandemic and the (social and ecclesiastical) material restrictions entailed by it prevent us from being physically present and sacramentally receiving Christ in the Eucharist, let us remember that He is Risen for us and that in the Easter liturgy He re-presents His saving offering of Himself for us. He is present and given in the Eucharist for us. Our "spiritual communion" does not require a livestream or an Internet connection or anything other that a heart that desires to receive Him in this sacrament - His gift of Himself living in the heart of our Catholic Church as she journeys through space and time and history.

"Spiritual communion" is not just a pious exercise, much less an act of pretending or imagining something that is not real. Christ Himself as really present in the Eucharist nourishes us when we turn to Him with this desire and love. Thus we eat and drink "spiritually" of this sacrament and receive its effects, the deepening of union with Jesus and one another in faith and charity (see St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica III, q 80, a 1).

It occurs to me that the distinctive basis of all Eucharistic piety and devotions involves not only the Lord's substantial presence under the appearances of the accidents of bread and wine, but also that sacramental purpose of His presence which is to give Himself to us and nourish us with the entirety of Himself - body, blood, soul, and Divinity. The Eucharist is always our source of strength, where Jesus gives Himself to sustain us.

Let us remember these things on this unique Easter Sunday. Though indeed something is missing for us as embodied human beings in this world when we cannot worship together physically and receive communion sacramentally, we can still receive the graces of the Easter sacrament through our "spiritual communion." We are not willfully avoiding Mass and communion out of disobedience or laziness. We want to celebrate this holy day in union with the Church in these unprecedented and unusual circumstances. Thus, anything that helps us to open our hearts and deepen our longing for the Risen Lord has value. Even the very real sorrow we feel for "what is lacking" for us this Easter because of the phenomenon of the global pandemic can be "offered" to God to enrich the ardor of our "spiritual communion."

The experience of "what is lacking" may also serve to prompt us to share the fullness of Christ's love with those who do not know Him. As St John Paul II always said (here I paraphrase): "every human person has the right to know the fullness of the riches of Christ, because Christ has come in love for each person specifically." Those who encounter the Risen Lord are called (and empowered) to share Him with others. We are called by Easter joy to witness the truth, to share this new life, to carry out works of mercy where we will find His love ever more fully as we give ourselves away in love.

We can be certain that Jesus will not fail us.

He is Risen, Alleluia!