Welcoming new growth at Easter

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
From the empty tomb to the ever widening circle of God’s love alive in the hearts of believers, the miracle of the Lord’s resurrection is all around us. This is the Body of Christ, the Church, two billion in a world of 7 billion people. In a spellbinding way the Lord’s body in this world parallels the universe in which our planet is a miniscule speck. Creation and the church continue to expand at an accelerating pace.
The proclamation of the gospel has expanded and accelerated in recent decades due to the sudden far reaching impact of social media and the World Wide Web.  Moreover, the migration of tens of millions of people from the countryside to the city in many countries allows the gospel to reach so many more.
Yet, growth in the Body of Christ steadily occurs the good old fashioned way, person-by-person, family-by-family, in Christian communities throughout the world. Many of our local parishes, and parishes everywhere in the universal Catholic Church, welcomed the elect and the candidates into full communion through the sacraments of initiation, Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion during the Easter Vigil celebration.
Every person who stepped forward to say, I believe in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, became a part of the ever widening circle of God’s love. At the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil liturgy at the Cathedral, we shared in the joy of the Lord with three newly baptized, and overall, 14 were fully initiated into the parish community.
These are life-changing moments for many of the catechumens and candidates, and their godparents and sponsors. Their response to the Lord’s call, most often through the example and invitation of friends and family, is a source of renewal for us, the traditional Catholic family. Their zeal and joy can be infectious for us, renewing our enthusiasm for living the Good News.
However, we also know from experience that the ever-expanding church also experiences the attrition of its members. It is not necessary to look beyond our family, neighbors and friends to see that many in whom the seed and gift of faith were planted have withered for lack of active participation.
Rationally, we know that this is inevitable, especially among cradle Catholics, but when it is someone close to us it can be a troubling and sad reality.
The temptations and obstacles that can destroy or stunt the seeds of faith were identified by Jesus in his parable of the Sower and the Seed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
The seed that falls on the path and gets trampled represents the spirit of the world with all of its business and distractions that snatch the seed of life away. Or worse, as Jesus says, it is the spirit of the Evil One who relentlessly is seeking to destroy the gift of faith. The seed that falls on rocky ground is not capable of penetrating deeply into the soil and lives in precariousness so that when suffering or persecution for the sake of the name of Jesus comes knocking, the shaky disciple often falls away. Suffering or persecution can strengthen our faith and love for the Lord, especially in his Cross, but this requires deep roots.
In addition, the seed that falls among thorns is at great risk because as the growth occurs the hostile environment chokes the plant.  Jesus spoke of these obstacles or threats as anxiety or fear, or the lure of riches and pleasure that abound in our material world. Apart from faith and its companion morality, many people are set adrift.
Yet, the seed does fall upon good ground, and we see the harvest of 30, or 60, or a hundredfold. This is a great return for the time we invest because it is the work of the Lord who cannot be outdone in generosity. This is the blood and water that flowed from his side on the Cross, portrayed in the image of Divine Mercy flowing from the side of Christ which we know as the vision communicated to Sister Faustina.
On the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis declared a Holy Year of Mercy to begin later this year, a year of favor from the Lord which opens the door to forgiveness and reconciliation in our lives. As we move deeper into 2015, as a Church this will be our prayer, and this will be our hope in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy.
The wisdom behind the Pope’s announcement is transparent. He is not only ardently praying for the renewal of the Church throughout the world in light of the Lord’s death and resurrection, but he is also inspiring us to be instruments of God’s Divine Mercy for the lost and fallen away.
Jesus Christ has no body now but ours, and as the Lord bequeathed the gift of the Holy Spirit to his Apostles on the first Easter and sent them into the world in His name, he does the same for us. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Recall at the Last Supper, Jesus revealed the substance of his mandate with the Eucharist and the washing of feet: “Do this in memory of me,” and “as I have done, so you must do.” These images have been branded into our consciousness as Catholic Christians, and whenever we put them into practice we open the doors to the sacred, and to divine mercy. Evangelization flows out of the mercy of God seeking all people.
The Gospel message is expanding and accelerating throughout the world, but it is not on automatic pilot. The Church and her members are caught up in God’s plan of salvation, and it is a steady labor of love in order that the Kingdom of God, a realm of life, justice, and peace can be a greater reality for all people.
Jesus said to go out to all the nations, and Pope Francis, the successor of Saint Peter, inspires us to go to those who are on the margins, or whom we have marginalized, in order to bless every person with God’s mercy and peace. The world can never trample, scorch or choke the gift of Divine Mercy.
Indeed, the Lord is risen from the tomb, let us rejoice and be glad, Alleluia.