Happy Easter!

04-21-2019This Week in Vidi DominumFr. Chris Axline

Happy Easter everyone! We give thanks this day as Christ frees us from the captivity of death. It is truly a time to rejoice, especially after our long Lenten journey. I pray that this season is a blessed one full of joy and new life in Christ for you and your families.

In his Easter homily in 2012 Pope Benedict wrote these words which powerfully summarize the great joy of this blessed day:

"Easter is the feast of the new creation. Jesus is risen and dies no more. He has opened the door to a new life, one that no longer knows illness and death. He has taken mankind up into God himself."

Indeed, Christ's Resurrection remedies the ancient curse of sin and death brought into the world through Adam's and Eve's (and us as their descendants) disobedience to God. This disobedience transformed the very way we relate to and view God. Since Adam and Eve, we have seen God, not as the loving Father He is, but rather as someone watching, waiting to strike us. In other words, man's relationship to God was based on fear and not love. That was, until Christ came and showed us again how to live in the Father's Love not just on Earth, but into eternity. This is what the Lord was asking me to focus on both during Lent and now into Easter.

Lent, at least for me, was difficult and seemed to drag on. Yet, it was also very rewarding. The Lord demanded a great deal, but He also gave me a great deal. Specifically, the Lord was inviting me to confront some of the ways I distract myself from following Him, by offering these things over to Him. At first, I struggled...a lot. I hesitated in making the sacrifices He wanted. Why did I hesitate? To be honest, because I was afraid. I was afraid of what " giving in " to His infinite, perfect Love would mean. It was simply overwhelming; He cannot really love me that much can He? Yes, He can, and He does. That is why Easter is so powerful. God wins. He has the last word through His Son and that word is Life! But, to go deeper into His great Love and receive this gift of life meant that He was asking me (and all of us really through our Lenten sacrifices), to focus on Him in a powerful way by giving up a great many things for Lent. At first, the cost was too high, and I said no because I was comfortable where everything was. I was comfortable with my relationship with Christ and what I was doing. But that is exactly what the Lord wanted me to learn, I was following Him on my terms, not His. Thoughts of " Lord, I will do this and give you this, but not that " were surging around my mind. But the Lord showed me very early on this was a response based on fear; fear of what this would cost me and not the reward, a deeper, more profound relationship with Christ. This fear meant that I was holding myself back from God.

So, in the midst of this maelstrom, the Lord gave me a Scripture verse that guided me through most of Lent, 1 John 4:18 which reads: " There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love (NABRE)." Through this verse, the Lord was purifying my discipleship so that my response to Him is based solely on my love for Him and not on anything else such as what I might gain or lose from following Christ. This helped me to see myself (again) in light of God's Love for me and reminds me that, like Christ, to love perfectly, means to say yes, to unite myself to Him, not counting the cost, but seeing only the reward that a faithful gift of self brings. This " yes" means that the needs of the other come over and above my own needs.

This is how Christ Loves and how He calls us to love Him and one another, by making an authentic gift of ourselves. Only for a brief instant during His agony in the garden do the Gospels record Christ thinking about Himself. But it dissipates quicker than we can read about it as He overcomes that last temptation, unites Himself to the Father, and, from that moment, never wavers. In this light, Lent becomes a reminder that through Christ's self-offering throughout the duration of His Passion and Crucifixion, we, as His followers, are called to always unite ourselves to the Father. In doing so, we too are then given a share in the Resurrection as Christ recreates us through the glorious Resurrection we celebrate today.

In John's account of the Resurrection, we see Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb in the dark of the early morning hours. Biblically, darkness is associated with the absence of God and so, to find Mary Magdalene here John is setting up the drama of the Resurrection. It is in the darkness that she finds the Risen Lord. I wonder what doubts, hopes, and questions went through her mind as she made that walk? How would she, by herself, roll away the massive 300-pound stone? How would she convince the Roman guards to let her near the tomb in the first place? How would she respond to their taunts? Could what Jesus said (about His death and Resurrection) actually be true?

Intentionally, John does not record what went on in Mary's thoughts be- cause we are supposed to put ourselves in her place. What would we think as we made that same long walk? Would we even be able to control and face our fears enough to make that walk alone? Yet, this is precisely the dramatic tension John intends to describe as he recorded his Gospel so that he can highlight that only by confronting our own sinfulness head on, in accord with God's Will and plan for our life do we find the Resurrection. The Cross is not something we should avoid but embrace in Christ-like Love. Easter marks the turning of the tide of battle in our favor.

Today, during the Easter Masses we heard the beautiful musical piece (it is also one of my favorite musical pieces) called the "Victimae Paschali Laudes" (Praise the Paschal Victim), otherwise known as the Easter Sequence. In it, we heard this verse, " Death and life have contended in the combat stupendous: the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal ." These words describe a great battle being waged, not with armies, but internally, for us and for our souls! It is a battle that each of us must also take part in as we are given the opportunity to follow Christ and unite ourselves to the Father, or will we take the easy way and stay comfortable with Christ?

However, Christ's victory (the Resurrection) gives meaning and purpose to this struggle to unite ourselves to the Father as we take up our crosses and follow Christ. This is how God shows His power, not by making it so that we will never suffer; but rather, in using our sufferings to bring new life to ourselves and those we love, just as Christ's Cross brought us new life. Herein we find that the sting of death is gone, and we are re-created, restored by Love Himself so that we can share that same Love with everyone.

The Easter Sequence continues, taking on the perspective of Mary Magdalene and showing the dramatic restoration that comes after this battle to align ourselves to the Father. From this point on, the Sequence contemplates the dialogue between Mary and the Apostles and the vindication of our faith in Christ. " Yes, Christ my hope is arisen; to Galilee he goes before you " the Sequence concludes, triumphantly showing the Mary's walk to the tomb that morning was driven by hope. Even in the weakest moment, when Christ appeared to be gone, Mary clings to hope, setting for us a great example for use in our own lives. In the darkness shines the light of hope and today, this Easter Sunday, we are reminded that Christ goes before us always. Will we follow?

May God grant us to experience the joy of His Son's Resurrection; let us pray that we ourselves may become witnesses of His glory, and that through the glory of the Resurrection, Christ may recreate us all!