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Bishop’s Easter Message

Bishop’s Easter Message

The Lord’s Victory is Our Victory
 
“We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.”
 
Shortly after the funeral of my mother in late February, I received the following request: “I’m not sure if you feel you’re ready to write about this yet, but as someone who has just experienced personal loss, perhaps you can speak about how Easter assures all of us — but especially you this year — that Christ’s victory is a victory for all of us. Again, I realize this may be challenging for you to share, but I think your personal witness could be powerful.”
 
The first thing that came to mind when I read this request are the familiar words of an acclamation which we make immediately after the consecration at Mass: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.” In the Roman Missal this acclamation is referred to as the great Mystery of Faith.
 
It’s important to note that these are not just words of faith. They are also words of love and hope.
 
However, it’s important for us to admit there is no point in talking about the Resurrection without stating the obvious. The Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross. In his humanity, our Lord experienced the most dreaded human experience: death. 
 
The impact of the loss of a loved one is often felt in a profound way when the final prayers are said at the cemetery. At that moment we often feel an emptiness and we find it hard to make sense of death and what it means.
 
The empty tomb discovered by Mary Magdalene and the other disciples was not a proof of the Resurrection, but a fact whose meaning needed to be discovered. They were as bewildered and grief-stricken as anyone who has lost a loved one. The meaning of the empty tomb did not become clear until the disciples experienced the risen Lord in person. They did; they really did see him. But for some, that didn’t come easy. Just ask the apostle Thomas who did not believe until he touched the wounds in the hands and side of Christ.
 
So you may be thinking, “Where can we experience the risen Lord in person?” How about all the things that your mother or father taught us; like prayer, the Word of God in the Sacred Scriptures, the sacraments of the Church (especially the Holy Eucharist), or the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. 
 
And how about one of the most ordinary ways we see the risen Lord in person; in nameless persons we simply know as neighbors or the poor; in each other; or in members of our own families. 
 
After going to the cemetery following Mom’s funeral Mass, our family gathered with friends for a meal. Stories of loss and grief continued to be shared, but gradually they turned to other things that are signs of the newness of life that comes to us through our faith in the risen Lord. 
 
Two of my nieces shared plans for Uncle Mark to baptize their new children. Another boy and twin girls have joined the family! And my eldest sister and brother-in-law shared plans to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary this summer. I was an altar server for their wedding and now they want me to witness the renewal of their vows! And if that’s not enough, a sister-in-law asked me to invite all the priests present at the luncheon to join me in saying a prayer of blessing over her new grandson because we need another priest in the family!
 
I’m sure that anyone reading this Easter message can tell similar stories. It’s the stuff of our daily lives, which are filled with the good and the not so good. It’s the stuff of our daily lives where faith, hope, and love truly make a difference.
 
My mother Rosemary was almost 92 when she died. During the last months of her life she had her share of human suffering as she passed through the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, not to mention heart and kidney disease. Mom had a devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. Therese is Mom’s middle name. One of my nieces now has Mom’s statue and first class relic of the “Little Flower.” It is reported in The Last Conversations that when the young 19th century Carmelite nun was getting close to her own death from tuberculosis she said, “I am not dying; I am entering life.”
 
In the funeral homily for Mom, I cited an expression often used in the Greek Orthodox tradition, “Death is the threshold of eternal life.” These are words that should assure all of us that the victory of Christ over the power of sin and death is a victory for all of us. We can share in the effects of the Resurrection even as we wait for Christ to come again. As St. Therese knew, wherever we find Christ, we find eternal life.
 
And if those words are not enough; if those words don’t adequately convey how this great Mystery of Faith applies to all of us who believe in Christ; consider these words of encouragement that I found in an Easter reflection:
 
“Take joy in everything. Start with whatever it is that burdens you the most. Whatever it is that makes you angry, sad, or depressed. Whatever that is, it can potentially become one of your greatest sources of grace and joy. Seriously, it can. If the brutal Crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God, can turn out to be the greatest event in all of human history, then your personal suffering, your burden, or even your sin can very much become a source of great joy as long as you let God transform it into part of His Resurrection!”
 
”This is the meaning of Easter! Easter means that nothing can keep us from the joy that God wants to give us. Nothing can steal that joy away. Sure, at times we will struggle as Jesus did in the Agony of the Garden and the Way of the Cross, but those sufferings will not win. The Resurrection won with Christ and it will win with us when we cling to Him. Jesus persevered and, in the end, rose victorious. This is Easter!” (John Paul Thomas, Lent and Easter Reflections, p. 120).
 
With prayers and blessings for you and your families at Easter and always,
 
Most Rev. Mark L. Bartchak
Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown

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