By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As you open the pages of this issue of the Mississippi Catholic we are in the middle of the Sacred Triduum with the celebration of Good Friday, the commemoration of the Lord’s suffering and death on the Cross. We are caught up in the love of God that moves the heavens and the earth, who so loves the world that he sent his only Son.
Unlike the nameless poor souls who suffered the gruesome agony and torture of crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead, shining a new light on creation that often lives in darkness and the shadow of death. The prayer introducing the Palm Sunday liturgy proclaims the Church’s Pascal faith.
“Dear friends in Christ, today we come together to begin this solemn celebration in union with the whole Church throughout the world. Christ entered in triumph into his own city, to complete his work as our Messiah: to suffer, to die and to rise again. Let us remember with devotion this entry which began his saving work and follow him with a lively faith. United with him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life.”
During the season of Lent, in the Gospel of John we heard the Lord Jesus’ response to those who wanted to see him that “unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies it produces much fruit.”
The Lord was referring to his own life, death and destiny as the Son of God risen from the dead, and to all who want to see and follow him as disciples. To truly see the path of discipleship we have to live it; we have to walk the path; we have to die to self everyday in some form in order to rise to new life.
In John’s Gospel we know that ‘to see’ is one of the evangelist’s favorite themes. This reality culminates with Thomas who could only believe after seeing the signs of the crucified Lord in his resurrected body. Jesus went on to affirm all believers who would come after the early eyewitnesses who saw him during his earthly life, and experienced his resurrection appearances before his ascension into heaven. These words resound down through the ages. “You became a believer, Thomas, because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe.”
Faith in the one crucified and risen from the dead is the first work of one who wants to be a disciple of the Lord, but short of a direct vision from God our faith depends on seeing. You might think that I just contradicted myself or, more importantly, just contradicted the Lord.
Not at all! A person usually arrives at faith in the crucified and risen Lord by seeing the signs of his love in the lives of those who claim to be Christian. We can’t see the Lord’s physical body, but we can see his body, i.e. the Church, all around us. When we see people dying to self, to selfishness, sin and self-centeredness because they belong to Jesus Christ, we are attracted to the beauty and truth of a lifestyle that is open to God, life giving and bearing much fruit.
To the one motivated by faith in the Lord, every sacrifice, every act of love, every gracious response to suffering and every act of courage is a sign of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. Even when someone does not explicitly believe in Jesus Christ their actions for good can be appreciated by Christians as the Lord at work in them, perhaps through a foundation of good works that will open the door to faith. The Holy Spirit is not completely stymied by a lack of faith. Thank God!
The power of the resurrection in our lives is undeniably expressed in the prayers surrounding the preparation of the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil. “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all times belong to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age forever, Amen. By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ guard us and keep us. Amen. May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”
As the Easter season unfolds before us we will see the power of the risen Lord at work through the growth of the early Church. Many were able to die to self, and like the Lord himself, many were willing to pay the ultimate price if called upon to do so.
Nearly two thousand years later some Christians are called upon to give their lives because they belong to Jesus Christ, and all Christians are called upon to die to self like the seed that falls to the earth as witness of the undying love of the Lord. What a beautiful reality to behold.
May the crucified and risen Lord bless our families, the mission and ministries of our diocese, and ultimately our world. May we see every day the doors of faith, hope and love, justice and peace, opening into our world that often cries out for far more than we presently see. This is the power of the Lord’s cross and resurrection, for which we say, Alleluia, Happy Easter.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz