Many years ago I had occasion to travel to the beautiful city of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. While there I happened to visit one of the art museums. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but what was most memorable was an enormous painting which hung at the top of the stairs on the second floor landing depicting Jesus victoriously bursting forth from the tomb. I remember standing at the foot of the stairs, awe-struck, for some time: it seemed as if I was actually at the tomb at the moment Jesus emerged. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of who the artist was, though I believe it was a Canadian, and even with numerous online attempts to find this painting, I have never been successful. However, the experience is etched into my consciousness, even if I cannot remember the details of this particular painting. What I do remember is that the figure of Jesus Christ, surrounded by light, appeared to be radiantly happy. He was looking out into the world as if to say that He was ecstatic because His mission was accomplished so that we might live. That is, the painting made me realize that the total reality of the Resurrection is not only about Jesus and what He did, but it was about what He did for us. It was and is always about us, His dearly beloved friends. He died and rose for us! He died to offer us mercy, yes, but also to offer comfort for our afflictions, as well as the unfading promise that we will have joy in the Kingdom with Him forever because He indeed conquered sin and death. In short, the resurrection is about hope.
In his Easter Urbi et Orbi Pope Francis centered his remarks on hope. He said: “[Hope] is a different ‘contagion,’ a message transmitted from heart to heart – for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope: “Christ, my hope, is arisen!” This hope is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not ‘bypass’ suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God.” Pope Francis’ comments took me back to the painting in Toronto. What gave me such a visceral reaction at the time I experienced it was that the painting spoke of the power of God, and thus it spoke of hope. It also reminded me that I can revisit my reaction to a painting of which I can no longer completely visualize its unique qualities, but which was a real experience; my memory and imagination, fueled by hope, allow me to envision Jesus in the joy of His Resurrection. In other words, we did not have to be present at the Resurrection of Jesus to experience the joy and the hope, and indeed the fullness, of that event. It is as real now as ever: all we have to do is place ourselves at the empty tomb and we are indeed there. The reality of it will never change.
This is similar to the ‘distancing’ we are experiencing regarding our worship. We are not physically in the space where we normally gather, yet our prayer joins our faith family together, uniting us to Christ and to one another. Further, that we are physically elsewhere does not mean the reality of what goes on there, or our connection to one another, changes. Remember, no one living today was present at any of the events recorded in the Scriptures and yet that does not change their reality or the lessons and graces we receive because of them. Their reality was not contingent upon our presence, but it is our faith and hope in them which enables us to receive the benefits of what God has already done. Just as my experience with the painting I cannot fully remember has had a lasting effect upon me, so too do the events of salvation history have lasting effects upon God’s people. As St. Paul said, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) In this truth, then, lies the hope we receive at Easter: when we are with Jesus in Heaven at the end of our earthly lives, we will be one in a new way, no longer bound by the division between the physically alive and those already in Heaven. We will see not indistinctly as we do now, but clearly: our longing for Jesus now will be completely filled then. Thus, our longing, even the pain of it, is a sign of our hope and our trust in Him, and it is a foretaste of things to come. We are all one In Christ: we are all in this together. And in our acceptance of doing what we must rather than what we want, we are acknowledging that salvation is not something we can accomplish on our own, but it is our future: Christ has done it for us. Yes, it was all for us. Christ our hope is arisen! Alleluia! Alleluia!
May we be filled with Easter hope, trusting that Jesus has indeed conquered sin and death, and that our future awaits in unimaginable joy and glory with Him forever! May we persevere through this difficult time, praying for patience, for those who are suffering to have the hope offered by Christ, and for an end to all that which separates us from one another! And may we continue to reach out to our brothers and sisters in word and deed, bringing the light of the Risen Christ through our love for them! Let us meet in joy at the empty tomb of Christ our Hope! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
1.Fresco, inset of the Risen Christ from Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb, by Blessed Fra Angelico. This fresco is in cell 8, within the Convento San Marco, Florence, Italy, the Dominican residence where Bl. Fra Angelico lived with his community. Of course this is not the painting I saw in Toronto, but Jesus was in this posture, holding the same victory banner.
2. My photo, taken in the Rose Gardens in Portland Oregon. If you look closely you will see a bee in the middle of the central flower. The bee reminds me of the line in the Exsultet (sung at the Easter Vigil) with its reference to the candle being the work of bees.
3. My photo, taken in Sant' Eufemia Church in Verona, Italy. This empty church building seemed appropriate given what our churches are like at this time. Our churches are beautiful, but are even more beautiful filled with the community!
4. My photo of an icon which sits on my desk, The Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is saving those who were in the tomb, if you look to His hands.
On March 27 Pope Francis did something extraordinary: he blessed the entire world with an Urbi et Orbi, (“to the city [of Rome] and to the world”), a special address and blessing that can only be given by a pope, and usually only at Christmas, Easter, and at his consecration. In his address Pope Francis spoke of the gospel passage about Jesus in the boat during a storm at sea. The accompanying apostles were terrified and Jesus questioned their fearful response. Upon reflection I realized that Jesus rebuked the storm, but not the apostles; He challenged their human weakness, (their lack of faith), but He did not judge them. Perhaps like the apostles we too are in need of the gift of greater faith. As we have had to surrender so much, we might also need to offer Jesus our fears and anxieties, knowing He will not judge us, but rather, offers us love. It is only if we offer our honest feelings and thoughts, coming to Him as we are, that we can let Jesus calm the storms in our hearts and heal the fears which can keep us from trusting as completely as we wish we could. As the Pope said near the end of his address, “Cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Jesus is the one who cares for us, something we dramatically experience as we enter into Holy Week. The One who is God and man, the great I AM, humbles Himself in unimaginable ways, entering into suffering and death so that we can have life.
Holy Week offers an extraordinary opportunity this year, especially for those who have never experienced the Triduum: we can attend the liturgies via media and thus walk the entire Passion with Jesus, not alone, but with the entire community gathered together though apart, joined by love.* It is a moment in which we can channel our longing for the Eucharist as we participate from our homes beginning with the Holy Thursday liturgy. As we celebrate the Institution of the Priesthood and the Institution of the Eucharist we can give greater thanks for both of these gifts. That we are physically separated from our priests can help us appreciate them all the more, encouraging our prayer for them and also for vocations. We can also grow in gratitude for the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which would ordinarily be received into our bodies, but now are received only spiritually. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us rejoice and be grateful for these gifts during the Holy Thursday liturgy as we pray for full access to them to be returned.
As the Holy Thursday Mass ends the Blessed Sacrament is usually removed from the Church, representing the absence of Jesus after His death. On Good Friday there is no Eucharist consecrated; we receive from the consecrated hosts that were reserved on Holy Thursday. (There is never reception of the Blood of Christ that day.) But although we have had to let go of these in the physical sense already, perhaps there is another invitation here: instead of bemoaning its ‘loss,’ we can become the Eucharist, letting what we receive spiritually move us outward in new, creative ways. We have to keep our distance from others, yes, but the distancing is meant to be physical, not emotional or spiritual. Therefore, reach out as far as you can by calling, messaging, checking on, volunteering, giving, sharing from your excess, and along with these things, by praying! Ask the intercession of the saints; beg for the mercy of God. Young or old, we can all do something!
Remember that Jesus is the great I AM: His suffering was not to humiliate Him, but to reveal and glorify Him as He offered the unfathomable gift of salvation. While Holy Week is meant to get us in contact with our sinfulness, our contribution to Jesus’ suffering, it does not end in death, but rather in new life. Death is not the end! Jesus rose and He will return again! And we need to remember that with every Resurrection appearance Jesus’ first words were “Be at peace!” These words remind us of His presence, His promises and assurances of the truth He revealed throughout His ministry: “I AM the Bread of Life;” “I AM the Light of the world;” “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life;” “I AM the gate;” “I AM the Good Shepherd;” I AM the True Vine;” and “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” Finally, Jesus said: “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.” (John 8:58)** St Paul attested to these words when he wrote, “What can separate us from the love of Christ? .... For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, [viruses]*** nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(from Romans 8:28-39) And St. Peter also attested to Jesus as I AM by saying, “Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” (John 6:68) Let us take these words to heart and be filled with joyful hope this Easter!
May we turn to Jesus our triumphant Lord with St. Paul’s hope and St. Peter’s trust, entering into the Easter season fully even if the darkness would rather we believe that Lent is unending! May we entrust our prayers to the intercession of the saints, especially Mary Most Holy and St. Joseph her chaste spouse! May we embrace Jesus, the Light of the World, the Risen One! May we remember that this present darkness shall pass and Jesus is already victorious! And may we find joy in knowing Jesus, the Son of God, is the great I AM, the Savior of the world! Let us meet in the Heart of the Risen Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* A resource for the Holy Week liturgies is https://www.archgh.org/
This is my diocese, but you can search for your own diocese and livestream the Masses as well. I also recommend Bishop Robert Barron at Word on Fire for daily Masses. He will televise Holy Week liturgies including Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday as well. https://www.wordonfire.org/daily-mass/
** You can find a link to the verses from which these sayings of Jesus are found at https://www.thomasnelsonbibles.com/jesus-seven-i-am-statements/
*** I inserted the word 'viruses' for emphasis of my point: it is not in the actual quotation.
1. This photo was taken as Pope Francis blessed the world at the end of the Urbi et Orbi. It comes from https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/pope-francis-urbi-et-orbi-blessing-coronavirus.html
2. Painting, The Last Supper by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11)
3. Oil painting, Eucharist in Fruit Wreath by Jan Davidsz de Heem (1648)
4.Icon, I Am the Resurrection and the Life
5. Icon, Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I think this is appropriate for the end of this entry because it shows Mary holding the world, (which is surrounded by the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit), in a loving embrace. You can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mary-most-holy-mother-of-all-nations-080-william-hart-mcnichols.html
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart