Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter: "There is a Horizon. There is Life. There is Joy."

This Easter comes in the midst of hard circumstances for our larger family. The two most important readers of this blog, my Dad and my Mom (a.k.a. "Papa" and "Grandma"), are struggling with new acute sufferings as Dad approaches his 83rd birthday.

The past week has raised many practical questions, and the need for some quick responses to meet immediate necessities. It has also brought up before our minds and hearts once again the mystery of our human limitations in their most irreducibly concrete form.

These are the experiences that reawaken the fundamental cry of the human heart. "O Lord, where is this all going? I long for happiness and I will not let go of your promise. But why is this journey of life so strange and so exhausting? And how long, O Lord?"

Theology and spirituality approach these questions in various ways, and these can be helpful. But the personal experience of the heart in suffering--our own suffering or that which arises from our connection to the ones we love--is not resolved by anything we can express in any of our discourse.

This Easter, I am grateful for the reality of Christ's Church. I am grateful for the touch of the Risen Jesus in the sacraments, through which He can lead us forward even though we don't understand the "how" or the "why."

And I am grateful for a Pope who is a pastor, who has the smell of sheep like me, who knows how to speak within the solitude of this kind of suffering (at least I can say that he speaks to me, and is guiding me here and now).

Before today's Mass, I read this text from Pope Francis's Easter Homily from last year (which was presented as MAGNIFICAT's reflection for the day). I found a particular nourishment in these words, a strength to stay with the Lord and endure with Him.

Here is the text from Pope Francis's homily for Easter Sunday 2017:
Today the Church repeats, sings, shouts: “Jesus is Risen!” But why is this?
Peter, John, the women went to the Sepulchre and it was empty. He was not there. They went away with their hearts closed in sadness, the sadness of defeat: the Teacher, their Teacher, the One whom they loved so much had been put to death; He is dead.
And there is no return from death.
This is the defeat. This is the path of defeat, the path towards the sepulchre. But the Angel says to them, “He is not here, He is Risen.”
It is the first announcement: “He is Risen.” And then the confusion, the closed hearts, the appearances. But the disciples stayed locked in the Upper Room the entire day because they were afraid that what happened to Jesus would happen to them.
The Church does not cease to say before our losses, our closed and fearful hearts: “Stop, the Lord is Risen.” But if the Lord is Risen, why is it that these things happen? Why is it that there is so much adversity: illness, human trafficking, human slavery, war, destruction, mutilation, vengeance, hatred?
Where is the Lord then?
Yesterday I phoned a young man with a grave illness, an educated young man, an engineer, and while talking to him, to give him a sign of faith, I said: “There are no explanations for what is happening to you. Look at Jesus on the Cross. God did this to his Son, and there is no other explanation.”
And he answered: “Yes, but He asked His Son and the Son said ‘yes’. I was not asked if I wanted this.”
This moves us.
None of us is asked: “Are you happy with what is happening in the world? Are you willing to carry this cross further?” And the Cross goes forth and faith in Jesus comes down from it.
Today, the Church continues to say: “Stop. Jesus is Risen.” And this is not a fantasy. The Resurrection of Christ is not a celebration with many flowers. This is beautiful, but this is not it.
It is something more. It is the mystery of the discarded stone which becomes the foundation of our existence. Christ is Risen. This is what it means.
In this throwaway culture where what is not needed is just used and disposed of, where what is not needed is thrown away, that stone—Jesus—the source of life, is discarded. And with faith in the Risen Christ, we too, pebbles on this earth of pain, tragedy, acquire meaning amid so many calamities.
[The resurrection of this 'discarded Jesus' gives us] the sense to look beyond, the sense to say: “Look, there is no wall; there is a horizon, there is life, there is joy, there is the cross with this ambivalence. Look ahead, do not close within yourself. You pebble, acquire meaning in life because you are a pebble near that rock, that stone which the evil of sin discarded.”
What does the Church tell us today before so many tragedies? Simply this: the discarded stone is not really discarded. The pebbles which believe and stick to that stone are not discarded. They have meaning and it is with this sentiment that the Church repeats from the bottom of Her heart: “Christ is Risen.”
Let us think for a while, each of us, think about the daily problems, the illnesses we have been through or of one that a relative has; let us think about wars, human tragedies and with simplicity, with a humble voice, without flowers, alone, before God, before us, let us say, “I do not know how this is, but I am certain that Christ is Risen and I have put a wager on it.”
Brothers and sisters, this is what I wanted to say to you. Go home today repeating in your hearts: “Christ is Risen.”