To some of us, it may seem like just yesterday that the forty days of Lent began. Perhaps to others, the time may seem longer. All of us can reflect on what these days have brought to us as we celebrate the new life which the Lord has gained for us in His Resurrection. Perhaps we took up certain practices during the forty days to which we were very faithful and which brought us a deeper insight into ourselves and our relationship with God. Perhaps we are disappointed that we were not as faithful to the practices we decided to take up and somehow feel lacking because of this. However, Easter is here and no matter what may have occurred during the season of Lent, we now celebrate its fruit which is a greater appreciation of our life in Christ. The greatest message of Easter is that it is the Lord who transforms and changes us even in spite of our best or worse efforts. Let us celebrate this season of fifty days in that spirit.
The sorrow and despair that the disciples felt after the crucifixion of our Lord was overwhelming. As they come to the tomb on Easter morning to pay their respects to the Lord, they are very much turned in upon themselves. They realize the mistakes that they made, some in abandoning Christ at the time of His Crucifixion. They feel supreme disappointment since they had put so much hope in the message of the Lord and now it all seems in vain. They truly have forgotten the words of our Lord and are in a state without hope. They believe that everything is ended and somehow they must pick up the pieces of their lives and go on. We certainly can identify with their feelings in so many situations within our own lives. They are turned in upon themselves and not looking at what is before them.
When they encounter the empty tomb, they are in disbelief. Rather than recalling the words of the Lord of His promise to rise after three days, they believe there must be some other reasons for His not being there. The Apostle John seems to be the only one to believe otherwise. They flee from the empty tomb just as they fled from the Cross. It is only the Lord's direct intervention in their lives as He appears before them that will transform them. The same is true of all of us. Christ can change us even despite our efforts to resist Him or to doubt His promises. The power of the Resurrection goes beyond our wildest imagination and makes the greatest difference in our lives. It is He who can turn us away from ourselves and to Him. During these fifty days of Easter that are before us we must be very open to the Lord's coming to us and touching us in various ways.
There is a magnificent depiction of the Resurrection by the Netherlandish painter, Matthias Gr?newald. The painting is part of an altarpiece which hung in a monastery in Isenheim, France, during the sixteenth century. This scene depicts the moment of the Resurrection when the Lord rises from the grave. He is dressed splendidly in red robes with the brightness of a golden circle of light emulating from Him. The light is in contrast to the darkness behind the Lord which is spotted with specks of light which are stars. The Lord's hands are raised and the nail marks from the crucifixion are visible on them and His feet as is the wound on His side from the piercing of the lance. The scene is an almost mystical one conveying the transforming power of the Lord's Resurrection. At the feet of Christ are three fallen soldiers bending over from the astonishment of the Resurrection's power. They, with the tomb, are enlightened by the light from the resurrected Christ which transforms their ugliness into a certain beauty. We are immediately drawn to the Person of Christ in the painting who in a very moving way draws us beyond time and ourselves. The painting certainly captures the power of the Resurrection and its ability to transform and enlightened the world and our lives.
As we celebrate Easter, we must turn away from ourselves and to the reality of Christ. There is always the tendency to look in upon ourselves and hold onto ourselves especially in difficult and hard times. This truly was the experience of the apostles and disciples on the first Easter morning. However, the power of Christ raised from the dead draws us to Himself and reminds us that only He can enlightened our lives in a manner that makes not only the darkness disappear but be transformed into something beautiful. The power of Christ raised from the dead reminds us that it is not our efforts which make any difference but only the reality of Jesus Christ which transforms. As the Lord hung upon the Cross on Good Friday and experienced the most terrifying suffering, He did so in order to be with us even in our darkest times. As He rises from the dead, He gives us not only the hope of our resurrection but the power to see beyond what is before us and to be drawn more to His life.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, relayed a moving personal incident which occurred in his life when he spoke to the priests of Rome during the season of Lent. He told them that when he was Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, he went to pay his last respects to a priest, an extremely popular confessor, who had died in his nineties. The Pope said that this priest forgave the sins of all the clergy of Buenos Aires, including his own, but there was not a single flower at his wake. The Pope went to the florist to bring back flowers to place at the coffin of the deceased priest. As he was arranging the flowers he noticed the rosary in the priest’s hands and picked up the cross of the rosary with the words, "Give me half of your mercy." He put the cross in his pocket. The Pope said he carried the crucifix in his breast pocket until his election as Pope last year. Since the Pope's cassock does not have a pocket, he had one sewn under it so that he could continue to carry the crucifix with him. He said that when he faces difficult times or the temptation of thinking uncharitably of someone comes to him, he touches the cross in his pocket.
The Pope's experience not only recalls the power of the Cross to remind us of the Lord's mercy but also the power of the Resurrection to transform our lives in every situation. It is not the cross by itself in the Pope's pocket that gives him courage and mercy but the real presence of Jesus Christ who has conquered death which makes the difference. The little cross is only a symbol of the reality of Christ's powerful presence in the Pope's life. The same is true for all of us. Forty days of Lent have brought us to fifty days of Easter. We may be tempted to think that we have accomplished something from our Lenten practices or have failed in some way. The reality is that it is Christ raised from the dead that transforms us, if we have been successful, and changes even our sins and failures, if we continue to look to Him. The reality is that whatever sufferings or pains we face in our lives or in the lives of our loved ones, it is only the power of the Resurrection that transforms them and brings us to a new life. God wants us to be happy and Christ has gone into the realms of death in order to raise us from the dead so that we might know his merciful and joyful presence among us. This is what we celebrate during this Easter season and, indeed, every day of our lives.
May this wonderful season be filled with every grace and blessing for you and your families. May we be drawn away from ourselves and more to the glory of the Lord raised from the dead and truly present among us.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
April 18, 2014