Witness – Pastor’s Reflection (April 3, 2016)
For eight days now, we have had Easter Sunday The Church does her best to extend the singular joy of the Empty Tomb so that it lasts from Mary Magdalene’s quick and loving recognition of her Lord in the garden to Thomas’ more labored, perhaps more human, perception of his Lord and God. But together Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and the rest of the Eleven become witnesses that Jesus lives. Nobody saw the moment of the Resurrection, and yet untold numbers of men and women, over the course of 20 centuries, have heeded their testimony and have become witnesses of this event by the way in which they live the Gospel and seek mercy for failing to live it. How this comes to be appears poetically in the Collect, or Opening Prayer for this Sunday. The text amply repays our study.
God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the Paschal Feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. 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.
Simply put, our Christian maturity comes not through one Easter but through a lifetime of them. Like Thomas we labor a bit to realize the extent of what has already happened to us through our redemption by Christ, our baptismal rebirth, and our reception of the Holy Spirit. When we were baptized a white garment was placed on us and we were told that we had become “a new creation,” then we were handed a candle and told that we had been illuminated by Christ. Who gets all of that right off the bat? We absorb the Gospel by constant review in the light of new experience and thereby we begin to realize who Christ is, and who we are in the light of Christ.
The Holy Week just completed offered the Community of our Parish a more than average opportunity for this kind of learning. All of us were asked to celebrate something very familiar in circumstances radically altered. The generosity, patience, and charity with which so many people responded to this challenge offered an eloquent witness to the truth that Christ lives and gathers souls for eternal life the Holy Spirit sent among us.
Dozens of moments made this truth palpable to the eyes of faith, but perhaps the most powerful came on Holy Thursday, after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, when 240 people escorted the Blessed Eucharist from St. Vincent’s to St. Catherine’s, where many remained in prayer at the repository. This procession disclosed our Living Savior and the nature of His pilgrim Church. She not only moves through streets, but nourished by her Lord, she moves through time. The response of Friars, staff, and parishioners to this new reality was in my estimation heroic, and caused the reality of what we celebrated to come off the page of doctrines and take on living form for the world to read in the text of this community of souls. I can never adequately express my gratitude, except to say that I have never been more proud to be a Dominican or to be a pastor.
To all who made our Holy Week so beautiful and so credible, please accept my profound thanks.
This Sunday’s encounter of Thomas the Apostle with his Risen Lord reveals the other half of our witness. If we are being transparent we not only tell the world about our successes, but about our failures. The Sermon on the Mount declares that we are called to act like Christ, and that we fail to do it. We testify then that we are people in the midst of conversion. We have mastered neither prayer nor practice and yet we are not cast down by our inadequacy, because we rely in faith on the unfailing mercy of the Savior. We find His acceptance and transforming grace in the confessional. On this day of the Divine Mercy we want to assert before all that that even as He led Thomas to faith, the Physician of Souls is at work healing our belief and our behavior. May the readings, prayers, and hymns of this lovely season bring home to us more and more the bright truth that reshapes our lives.