Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Meditation: The Women At Christ's Sepulchre

Easter is such a joyous Feast, celebrating Christ's victory over sin and death and the opening of heaven to mankind, that it cannot be celebrated in just one day.  Easter is celebrated the entire week, so each day is Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc. 

Below is the meditation from yesterday's traditional Breviary on the women who came to Christ's tomb early in the morning and were greeted by an angel who told them to fear not, that Christ was not there but had risen as he said he would.  St. Gregory the Great tells us that the story of these women symbolizes our walk with Christ, in that just as the women brought spices to Christ's grave, our good works are a sweet fragrance to our Lord.  The Roman guards were very frightened by the angel when he came and rolled back the stone, and they, who were supposedly afraid of nothing, even ran away.  This represented the fear of those who are opposed to our Lord compared with the love and acceptance shown to those who follow our Lord. 

The women going early in the morning to the grave are an inspiration to me because even though Jesus was dead, and as far as they knew, he was no longer there for them, their love for him was so great that they still served him.  After three days, a dead body would have a very bad smell, plus Jesus had been beaten so badly that it would have been worse than a normal dead body.  But that did not deter them at all.  Also, while Peter and the other apostles were hiding away from the Roman soldiers in fear of their lives, the women boldly went out without thought for their own safety to minister to Christ in the only way they could.  For this they were rewarded with a greeting from an angel of God, and were the first to receive the message that our Lord had risen.  They did not understand this message and Mary Magdalene was not convinced it was true until Christ Himself appeared to her and told her so.  But her lack of understanding was not counted against her or the other women.  And so our lack of understanding is not an impediment to us.  Intellectual understanding by itself will not save anyone.  It is only faith that counts, and that is what these women illustrated in their actions. 

A Homily by St. Gregory the Pope

Dearly beloved brethren, ye have heard the deed of the holy women which had followed the Lord ; how that they brought sweet spices to his sepulchre, and, now that he was dead, having loved him while he was yet alive, they followed him with careful tenderness still. But the deed of these holy women doth point to somewhat which must needs be done in the holy Church. And it behoveth us well to give ear to what they did, that we may afterward consider with ourselves what we must do likewise after their ensample. We also, who believe in him that was dead, do come to his sepulchre, bearing sweet spices, when we seek the Lord with the savour of good living, and the fragrant report of good works. Those women, when they brought their spices, saw a vision of Angels, and, in sooth, those souls whose godly desires do move them to seek the Lord with the savour of good lives, do see the countrymen of our Fatherland which is above.  [Like the women who came to the sepulchre on that first Easter, even though we may not totally understand all that we do for our Lord, he will reward us in far greater measure than we can ever imagine as long as we proceed in faith.]
The Demons Cast Out Of Heaven
It behoveth us to mark what this meaneth, that they saw the angel sitting on the right side. For what signifieth the left, but this life which now is? or the right, but life everlasting? Whence also it is written in the Song of Songs : His left hand is under my head and his right hand doth embrace me. Since, therefore, our Redeemer had passed from the corruption of this life which now is, the Angel which told that his undying life was come, sat, as became him, on the right side. They saw him clothed in a white garment, for he was herald of the joy of this our great solemnity, and the glistering whiteness of his raiment told of the brightness of this holy Festival of ours. Of ours, said I? or of his? But if we will speak the truth, we must acknowledge that it is both his and ours. The Again-rising of our Redeemer is a Festival of gladness for us, for us it biddeth know that we shall not die for ever ; and for Angels also it is a festival of gladness, for it biddeth them know that we are called to fulfil their number in heaven.  [St. Augustine taught that one of the purposes of creating man was to replace the fallen angels who had rebelled against God and been cast out of heaven.  Therefore, the angels in heaven rejoice greatly that man has been saved to join them in heaven.]
On this glad Festival Day then, which is both his and ours, the Angel appeared in white raiment. For as the Lord, rising again from the dead, leadeth us unto the mansions above, he repaireth the breaches of the heavenly Fatherland. But what meaneth this, that the Angel said unto the women which came to the sepulchre : Fear not? Is it not as though he had said openly : Let them fear which love not the coming of the heavenly countrymen ; let them be afraid who are so laden by fleshly lusts, that they have lost all hope ever to be joined to their company. But as for you, why fear ye, who, when ye see us, see but your fellow-countrymen? Hence also Matthew, writing of the guise of the Angel, saith : His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. The lightning speaketh of fear and great dread, the snow of the soft brilliancy of rejoicing.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Vigil Message: The Holy Father Warns Of Great Peril To The World

Christ Rising From The Dead
Today is Easter Sunday.  On Good Friday we commemorated the most solemn day of the Christian calendar, the day on which our Lord died on the cross for our salvation.  Today, Easter, we celebrate the most joyous day, for today Christ is risen and death is conquered.  Christ has opened the door to heaven for all mankind, and beckons us to follow Him.  Darkness and destruction have been lifted from the earth.  Our Lord has redeemed us, bought us back from the evil one.  We rejoice with the angels in heaven today.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15: "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?"  Our Lord has conquered death not through violence or anger or hate, but through love.  He has given himself for us, and now we must give ourselves to him and to each other. 

But as we look around us, it certainly doesn't seem that anything has changed.  If anything, the world seems to be descending into more and more evil.  Man's inhumanity to man is reaching new heights, or should I say, depths.  The evil one seems to be the one who is winning. 

Our Holy Father, as usual, explains this far better than I can even begin to.  Here is his Easter Vigil message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
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. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”, as Saint Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians (15:50). On the subject of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, the Church writer Tertullian in the third century was bold enough to write: “Rest assured, flesh and blood, through Christ you have gained your place in heaven and in the Kingdom of God” (CCL II, 994). A new dimension has opened up for mankind. Creation has become greater and broader.
Easter Day ushers in a new creation, but that is precisely why the Church starts the liturgy on this day with the old creation, so that we can learn to understand the new one aright. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word on Easter night, then, comes the account of the creation of the world. Two things are particularly important here in connection with this liturgy. On the one hand, creation is presented as a whole that includes the phenomenon of time. The seven days are an image of completeness, unfolding in time. They are ordered towards the seventh day, the day of the freedom of all creatures for God and for one another. Creation is therefore directed towards the coming together of God and his creatures; it exists so as to open up a space for the response to God’s great glory, an encounter between love and freedom. On the other hand, what the Church hears on Easter night is above all the first element of the creation account: “God said, ‘let there be light!’” (Gen 1:3). The creation account begins symbolically with the creation of light. The sun and the moon are created only on the fourth day. The creation account calls them lights, set by God in the firmament of heaven. In this way he deliberately takes away the divine character that the great religions had assigned to them. No, they are not gods. They are shining bodies created by the one God. But they are preceded by the light through which God’s glory is reflected in the essence of the created being.
What is the creation account saying here? Light makes life possible. It makes encounter possible. It makes communication possible. It makes knowledge, access to reality and to truth, possible. And insofar as it makes knowledge possible, it makes freedom and progress possible. Evil hides. Light, then, is also an expression of the good that both is and creates brightness. It is daylight, which makes it possible for us to act. To say that God created light means that God created the world as a space for knowledge and truth, as a space for encounter and freedom, as a space for good and for love. Matter is fundamentally good, being itself is good. And evil does not come from God-made being, rather, it comes into existence only through denial.   It is a “no”.  [St. Augustine explained that good can exist without evil, but there can be no evil unless there is good, because evil is the absence of good, or as the Holy Father explains, the absence of light, the True Light that is Jesus Christ.]

At Easter, on the morning of the first day of the week, God said once again: “Let there be light”. The night on the Mount of Olives, the solar eclipse of Jesus’ passion and death, the night of the grave had all passed. Now it is the first day once again – creation is beginning anew. “Let there be light”, says God, “and there was light”: Jesus rises from the grave. Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies. [This is the message of Easter - good has triumphed over evil.  Evil has been banished, and all those who cling to evil will be banished with it.  Come out of the darkness into the Light, the True Light of Jesus Christ.]  The darkness of the previous days is driven away the moment Jesus rises from the grave and himself becomes God’s pure light. But this applies not only to him, not only to the darkness of those days. [John 1:9 says that Jesus is "the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world."] With the resurrection of Jesus, light itself is created anew. He draws all of us after him into the new light of the resurrection and he conquers all darkness. He is God’s new day, new for all of us.

But how is this to come about? How does all this affect us so that instead of remaining word it becomes a reality that draws us in? Through the sacrament of baptism and the profession of faith, the Lord has built a bridge across to us, through which the new day reaches us. The Lord says to the newly-baptized: Fiat lux – let there be light. God’s new day – the day of indestructible life, comes also to us. Christ takes you by the hand. From now on you are held by him and walk with him into the light, into real life. For this reason the early Church called baptism photismos – illumination.

Why was this? [Here the Holy Father gets to the heart of the cause of evil in the world, that fact that mankind rejects the light of Christ and chooses instead the darkness of his own understanding.]  The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil. The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general.  [The Holy Father is giving us a dire warning here, that because of the spiritual darkness we have chosen, the continued physical existence of our world is in peril.]  If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other “lights”, that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk. Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify. Faith, then, which reveals God’s light to us, is the true enlightenment, enabling God’s light to break into our world, opening our eyes to the true light.  [All of the great creations of mankind mean nothing without faith and belief in his Creator, and in fact, those manmade creations will actually lead to our destruction.]

Dear friends, as I conclude, I would like to add one more thought about light and illumination. On Easter night, the night of the new creation, the Church presents the mystery of light using a unique and very humble symbol: the Paschal candle. This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the paschal mystery of Christ, who gives himself and so bestows the great light. Secondly, we should remember that the light of the candle is a fire. Fire is the power that shapes the world, the force of transformation. And fire gives warmth. Here too the mystery of Christ is made newly visible. Christ, the light, is fire, flame, burning up evil and so reshaping both the world and ourselves. “Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,” as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said. And this fire is both heat and light: not a cold light, but one through which God’s warmth and goodness reach down to us.
The great hymn of the Exsultet, which the deacon sings at the beginning of the Easter liturgy, points us quite gently towards a further aspect. It reminds us that this object, the candle, has its origin in the work of bees. So the whole of creation plays its part. In the candle, creation becomes a bearer of light. But in the mind of the Fathers, the candle also in some sense contains a silent reference to the Church,. The cooperation of the living community of believers in the Church in some way resembles the activity of bees. It builds up the community of light. So the candle serves as a summons to us to become involved in the community of the Church, whose raison d’être is to let the light of Christ shine upon the world. 
Let us pray to the Lord at this time that he may grant us to experience the joy of his light; let us pray that we ourselves may become bearers of his light, and that through the Church, Christ’s radiant face may enter our world (cf. LG 1). Amen
Pope Benedict XVI never ceases to amaze me with the depth of his thought and clarity of vision.  He makes his statements softly and without fanfare, and we must listen carefully to what he says.   He is giving us a very urgent message here which has relevance to every man, woman and child on this earth.  It truly is a message of life and death, of physical life and death, and of even far more importance, spiritual life and death.   The world ignores this message at its own peril.

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