My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
I take this opportunity to wish you a blessed and joyous Easter season. Noting the events that have transpired since Holy Week and Easter of 2020, who among us would not welcome the joy and peace that emanates from the empty tomb! Unlike last Easter, it was a true blessing this year to celebrate Holy Week ceremonies and Easter Sunday Masses at parishes throughout the diocese with the faithful present according to approved capacity regulations. I began the solemn celebrations of this sacred time with Palm Sunday vigil Masses at St. Joseph Church, Campbell, and St. Catherine of Siena Church, Addison, followed by Palm Sunday Mass at St. Jude Church, Gates.
The magnificence and solemnity of Holy Week continued with the Solemn Mass of Chrism at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart; the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. James Church, Waverly; the Solemn Passion of the Lord at the cathedral; the Easter Vigil at St. Mary Church, Auburn; and Easter Sunday Mass at St. Mary Church, Canandaigua.
To the pastors, parochial vicars, parish staffs and parishioners of these parishes, I extend my sincere gratitude for your very warm and gracious welcome. It was a great joy to be with you as you so well represented our entire diocesan family, especially those suffering from illnesses. I also appreciate your many efforts to keep our churches safe places as pandemic-related challenges continue. The conscientious observance of these safety protocols keeps our churches open!
As we continue the joy of this Easter season celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord, we have begun the celebrations for the Solemn Conferral of the Sacrament of Confirmation for our young people throughout our diocese. It is always a very uplifting experience to be with our youths. At a very young age, they have had to make many adaptations because of limitations and restrictions created by the coronavirus. I pray they see the church’s support for them in the conferral of the Holy Sacrament of Confirmation upon them; I pray that they welcome into their hearts God’s tremendous love for them as the Father bestows upon each candidate the gift of His own Holy Spirit to fortify, to strengthen their faith as they navigate through the many challenges of life.
During this pandemic our young people still achieved outstanding accomplishments bearing witness to our Catholic faith as was evidenced in the Hands of Christ awards presented in ceremonies celebrated last month. Once again, congratulations to the recipients, their families and to all who supported them; already they are leaders in our church and communities, radiating the joy and faith of Easter.
In speaking of our young people, I wish once again to reiterate my deep gratitude to our Catholic school communities and the Office of the Diocesan Superintendent for Catholic Schools for the extraordinary efforts made to keep our schools open five days a week. I also renew my gratitude to our office for Evangelization and Catechesis and all our religious-education directors, teachers and staff for continuing the essential mission of the church to transmit the faith even in the most difficult times, and for welcoming parents’ participation in religious education, since they are called to be the first and the best of teachers of their children in the ways of the Christian life. In our ministry to young people, I pray that we are a real support to parents who have been and continue to be so concerned for their children with such love and devotion, the depth of which often is known only to them and God.
Catholic education, instruction in the teachings of our faith which come to us from Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the natural law are very essential in any age, but especially at this particular moment in history when some seek to redefine the nature of the person as created in the image and likeness of God; to challenge the family structure that is the heart of society; to continue to threaten human life from the moment of conception until natural death; to disrespect the dignity of persons with the scars of racism, prejudices and violence, again so contrary to the Christian message. Together with our families, we have the duty to teach our young children the authentic truths of our faith. One can have no greater love for another than to tell the truth about who we are as God’s children, what and in whom we believe and what defines our lives.
During this Easter season we renew our profession of faith in the central tenet of all that we believe, namely: Jesus Christ rose from the death; He conquered death, and He opened wide the gates of heaven! Jesus’ love for us, manifested upon the cross, now reaches the very gates of heaven, and eternity is made real for all who believe in Him. For every person the death and resurrection of Jesus has personal meaning. We all have experienced the pain and suffering that are a part of every life: broken relationships, grave disappointments, discouragement and depression, fear and anxiety, and some even coming close to death itself. All these human emotions have intensified with the pandemic.
But with Jesus this is never the end of the story. Through His presence in the Most Holy Eucharist and the sacraments of the church, Jesus restores peace and tranquility, turning despair into hope for the troubled soul; the scars that mark our lives, the crosses we bear, are transformed into the marks of victory that carry us over the threshold into eternal life. “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies” (John 11:25). Just as the five glorious wounds of Our Savior brilliantly pronounce His victory over death, so too our wounds, handed over to Jesus, will bring us eternal life. Take away faith in eternal life and there is no Easter!
In the Confessions of St. Augustine, written between the years 397-400 AD, Augustine treats his path to conversion in 13 books all emphasizing that God always protected, loved and guided him. Each book begins with a prayer. In Books VIII and IX, Augustine prays: “You have broken the chains that bound me; I will sacrifice in your honor.” This is the message of Easter: Jesus has broken the chains that bind us and the sadness of death is overcome by the promise of immortality. And so the Easter Proclamation cries out in jubilation:
This is the night,
When Christ broke the prison-bars of death
And rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been of no gain,
Had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
My sisters and brothers in the Risen Christ, I wish you a very blessed Easter season!
With an assurance of my continued prayers and invoking the intercession of Our Mother Mary and our diocesan patron, St. John Fisher, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester