The Lord rising in the ‘strangeness’

| Archbishop Bernard Hebda | April 9, 2020 | 0 Comments

“Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.” Those words, from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday, first intended to describe the world on the cusp of the first Easter, seem eerily all-too-applicable to our own situation in 2020.

Our almost empty churches, our deserted streets, our attempts at social distancing, all suggest that “something strange” is indeed happening. Many have told me that they have never experienced such desolation in our communities, never struggled so hard to find hope, never felt so defeated.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda

Archbishop Bernard Hebda

It was into a situation such as this that the Risen Lord first proclaimed his Easter victory over sin and death. The earth-shattering good news of the Resurrection was shared first with a heartbroken, frightened and confused band of disciples, so downtrodden that they couldn’t even easily recognize their beloved Jesus in their midst.

Father George Aschenbrenner, a Jesuit of the Maryland province, has been a great blessing in my life. He preached at my First Mass, having patiently served as my spiritual director when I was a seminarian. It was he who first introduced me to Ignatian contemplation, a development that changed the way I prayed and related to the Gospels. Week after week he would encourage me to ask the Holy Spirit to lead me into a Gospel scene, considering what I would have heard and seen and smelled had I been with Jesus at the Wedding of Cana, or at the healing of blind Bartimaeus, or at the encounter with the woman at the well. He would have me consider: What was the experience of those touched by Christ? What did Christ say to me when he looked at me with the gaze of love?

This year it’s much easier to tap into the emotion of John the Beloved at the foot of the cross, or of Peter as the cock crows, or of Mary Magdalene as she makes the trek to the tomb, having lost the one friend who understood her and loved her. In a world changed by COVID-19, it’s easier to understand their emptiness — an emptiness that the Lord allowed to create space for the joyous news of the Resurrection.

I can’t pretend to know why our God has let our world be turned topsy-turvy by a virus, but I have confidence in St. Paul’s proclamation that we have a God who makes all things work for the good of those who love him. Perhaps he’s creating in us the space to know him with a new intimacy that allows the Easter proclamation to take root in our hearts, as it did for the first disciples. Stripping aside our attachment to opening days and ESPN, or removing the false sense of security that comes from a healthy financial portfolio, or assembling us around the family dinner table in a way that renews our ties and stimulates real personal encounter, might the Lord be creating just the right conditions for each of us to say “yes” to his call with renewed vigor this Easter?

With a more profound sense in this period of eucharistic fasting of our yearning for the Mass and holy Communion, might today’s hunger be preparing us to strengthen our commitment to our parish communities and leading us to endeavor to “become what we receive,” going forth from the Lord’s table with greater zeal to serve one another? Might our growing realization of the fragility of each human life deepen within us a sense of gratitude for the gift of each day and a greater respect for our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most vulnerable?

I continue to be inspired by the stories I hear about those in our archdiocese who are heroically giving of themselves in these days. I’m edified by the work of our priests in caring for the sick, especially our hospital chaplains who want nothing more than to be instruments of Christ’s compassion at a moment of need. I’m amazed by our lay ministers, who have been so creative in finding ways for parishes to stay connected and to care for one another. I’m moved by the selflessness of our medical professionals, first responders, caregivers and public servants, who consistently put others’ needs before their own. I’m encouraged to hear of parents who are doing all in their power to bring a sense of hope and security into the disrupted lives of their children, so that they can truly believe that Christ is risen.

We have been given a Holy Week and Triduum and Easter unlike any other. May the resurrected Christ help us to use the “strangeness” and “stillness” of this moment to bring Easter hope into a world that needs it more than ever. Even without the familiar trappings that we associate with Easter, let us be sure to share with one another the story of what Jesus has lovingly done for us. May our lips proclaim that he is truly risen and our lives give witness to his presence among us!

El Señor se levanta en la ‘extrañeza’

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Category: Only Jesus