My dear brothers
and sisters in Christ:
Have you had the experience of explaining a situation or event, or a particularly difficult experience to others who, for some reason, just do not understand? Well even Jesus had that same difficulty with His own disciples. In Chapter 9 of St. Mark’s Gospel, we read that Jesus was “teaching his disciples and telling them ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying” (Mark 9:31-32). Jesus was instructing His disciples about His very own passion, death and resurrection, the extraordinary salvific event, but they did not understand. It must have been even more disconcerting for Jesus when later He saw His disciples arguing about who was the first and the greatest among them! (cf. Mark 9:33-35).
The temptation to think of ourselves first and Jesus later has been a constant challenge to humanity. The church, founded by Christ but entrusted to the care of human beings, has had its moments of glory, moments of sadness, moments of great accomplishments and moments of defeat; in sum the church has experienced Good Friday and Easter. What keeps the church forever vibrant is that despite human frailty, her cornerstone is Jesus Christ and she breathes the life of the Holy Spirit. Difficulties occur when, like those first disciples, we do not comprehend the great salvific event and lose sight of Jesus! Yet, let us also remember that these first disciples did grow strong in the faith, even to the point of martyrdom. If Jesus ever passes from our gaze, may these courageous witnesses to Christianity inspire us to imitate that same strong faith.
The Lenten season has prepared us for this great feast of Easter, the feast of Christ’s Resurrection! Hopefully we do understand and we do appreciate this great moment of salvation and join our voices to those of the ancient Church:
“Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.” (Mass of Easter Day, Sequence, Victimae paschali laudes).
At the same time, let us also be mindful that many of our sisters and brothers do not know the joy and peace of this Easter season as they suffer persecution and oppression in countries torn apart by war and violence. Many Christians have lost their lives for the profession of their faith in Jesus Christ. Innocent persons have lost everything, even life, as victims of violence, hatred and war. And in our own communities, our nation, violence erupts on a daily basis, and the message of Easter, “Peace be with you,” is no longer heard.
Are we then to give in to hopelessness? I pray not; this is not the fabric of faith. Rather, “let us implore from on high the gift of commitment to the cause of peace. Peace in our homes, our families, our schools, and our communities. Peace in all those places where war never seems to end. Peace for those faces that have known nothing but pain. Peace throughout this world that God has given us as a home of all for all. Simply peace” (Pope Francis, Interreligious Meeting, Ground Zero Memorial, New York, September 25, 2015).
I was present at the Ground Zero Memorial ceremony to hear these words of Pope Francis. While it was a very somber ceremony, there was also the profound sense that we can never give up in our quest to know God and to love Him, and to love one another. This sentiment shared by peoples of all faiths filled this place with hope, where it could have been a place where all hope was destroyed. But once again, from ashes and death, new hope was born. This is the message of Easter: “Amid pain and grief, we also have a palpable sense of the heroic goodness people are capable of, those hidden reserves of strength from which we can draw” (Ibid.). Again, if we fail to comprehend the intense desire of Jesus to be a part of our lives, to unite His heart with our heart, His Holy Spirit with our spirit, to embrace us in His love, we deny ourselves the possibility to live with the dignity of the sons and daughters of God.
We find this strength in the Most Holy Eucharist, in union with the very person of Jesus Christ. I pray that the Risen Lord will bestow upon you and your families His joy and His peace. May you always find solace in knowing that Jesus lives among us and shares His very person with us, especially in the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist! The power of Christ accompanies all our human activities and brings to fragile humanity the hope of the Resurrection when we experience our daily crosses, fears and anxieties. For this, we, too, cry out: Alleluia!
Assuring you of my prayers throughout this holy season of Easter, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester