Countering Fear – Pastor’s Reflection (March 27, 2016)
What is the power of this day for you?
We easily domesticate Easter. It serves to celebrate Spring’s arrival, or at least coming into view. This feast of feasts arranges a bouquet for the senses. Spring flowers delight winter weary eyes and noses. In this denim age we retain the right to array ourselves in crisp pastels. We will wear them to a decadent brunch after Mass and put off the rigors of Lent. The triumphant hymn singing and organ playing of this day cannot help but lift us out of the doldrums.
Easter Sunday brings a sigh of relief for tired clergy. If we liken the parish year to a work week, then Easter is Thursday night. We start quietly to dream about summer’s respite.
These things speak to the humanity of priest and people and they are good. But perhaps we could look for more at the Empty Tomb.
The Passion and Death of the Lord set before us the whole array of our fears. Jesus crucified mirrors for us the fear of poverty, stigma, and desertion. He embodies the specter of pain and death. To this sad bouquet of feelings we rarely give voice, but I think they are always with us. Everyday the homeless in our streets echo the fate of Jesus who fell to the bottom of life.
To this array of unmentionable phobias, God responds with the Empty Tomb of Jesus. It declares the victory of life in the humanity of Jesus, now glorified, and it foretells the same triumph in our own humanity, beginning now. The Resurrection possesses too much power to be confined to the past when Jesus encountered Mary Magdalene in the Garden. Nor can we lock it away in the future as a distant reward for ourselves. The force of the Resurrection reaches us now through the sacraments to answer fears now.
Of course that which we fear does not go away, but its power to shame us into compromise, intimidate us into silence, or make us averse to all risk is overcome by the force of life within us. If we take a look at the holy ones of our time, St. John Paul II, Mother Theresa, or Oscar Romero, we see people who had ample reason to fear life. Yet faith enabled them to live undefended lives based on the promise of this day. The Easter faith gave them a new way to deal with the limits of being human.
That Jesus Crucified now lives in glory testifies to us that we have something that cannot be taken away by economic shift, relational fragility, or bodily failure. This Easter faith offers far more than hopeful palliation. It supplies a firm ground for serene living in the present at each stage and stratum of human life.
What a witness this faith gives to our time, when the language of fear permeates the air. It seems to me that the whole political drama enacted before us could be analyzed according to who is afraid of what and of whom. All across the board fear appears as the prime motivator for action and reaction.
We must of course confront the reality of our situation and we cannot evade the issues of the age. At the same time, we have constant recourse to a truth that is more real and more potent than all the forces vying to build empires on the knots in our stomachs.
First of all, the triumph of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit remind us that we always retain sovereignty over our hearts. We cannot make violence, resentment, and suspicion go away, but we do not have to be shaped by them. We can choose rather to be formed by Jesus’ confidence in the providence of the Father, and by His solidarity with every person, even with those killing Him. Thus oriented we make choices directed to the happiness delineated for us in the Gospels and made available in the Blood of the Lamb.
In troubled times may we remember that we already possess that peace which the world cannot give.