In this week’s discussion, communications manager David Hazen interviews Archbishop George J. Lucas about the great celebration of Easter. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and his resurrection on Easter morning give power to the sacraments of the church, prompt us to works of mercy and invite us to an ever-deepening personal relationship with him.
Q: We are now in the middle of the Easter season, and though it is 50 days long, we can often relegate our celebration of the resurrection to the single day of Easter Sunday. How can we pay attention to what the church is offering us?
It is true that, as liturgical seasons go, Lent sometimes gets more notice because of the penitential practices we adopt. Sometimes Lent becomes our project and we focus on what we are doing and not so much on what God is doing for us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
We begin on the feast of Easter with a renewed profession of our faith, and thus we are challenged: Do we believe in the truth of this central event of all human history? Do we believe that the Son of God was sent by his heavenly Father on a mission to announce God’s loving plan for us and accomplished that plan through his sacrifice on the cross and through the power of his resurrection?
The fact that he is risen from the dead gives power to what we experience in the church in the sacraments and the works of mercy. We live and act having been incorporated into the mystical body of the risen Jesus. It all makes sense. It all is effective for our salvation because Jesus has risen.
Q: Otherwise, our faith is in vain …
Yes, as St. Paul says, it would all be in vain. This may seem a little backwards, but it is not a bad examination of our life of faith to step back for a moment and ask, “If I found out that Jesus is not risen from the dead, what would I do differently?” Am I just going through motions trying to be a good person? Are we just keeping our organizations going and keeping our parishes open one week after another? Well, I am betting my life on the fact that he has risen. This makes all the difference, but we get caught up so often in our projects and the practical details of every day that we fail to take note of the marvelous, life-changing truth that we celebrate during this season: that Jesus is alive.
We have the opportunity to know him, not just to know about him. We remember the wonderful events that were part of his public ministry, and we remember his death and resurrection, but we don’t remember them only as past events. We are able to be immersed in his life now, and we are able to have a personal and life-giving relationship with the Lord now because he is alive. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we encounter him in the church. It is possible then for us to introduce other people to him. We proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. We proclaim the entirety of the Gospel so that more and more people do not just hear about Jesus, but they come to know him and have life in him right here and now.
Q: In what ways, then, can we more fully embrace that charge to evangelize?
I think there are several things that we need to focus on.
The first is to really come to know Jesus ourselves. We have to have a personal knowledge of and relationship with him. Like the first disciples, we become more convinced over time that he is the Son of God, so we put our faith in the truth of who he is, which means if he is the Son of God we need to pay attention to him. But we also take delight in the fact that he wants to be close to us and wants to have a personal relationship with us.
Secondly, like the first disciples, we have to consciously put our faith in the truth that Jesus has risen from the dead. The fact of the resurrection is the pivotal point of salvation history and it is an essential part of the Gospel message.
In the Easter season, all these weeks of the Easter season, we have an opportunity to be re-immersed in this truth and to reaffirm our faith in the truth of the Lord’s resurrection and in the truth that he is alive now; he is not dead anymore. The tomb is empty and Jesus is alive. That truth should stir us up. It should again make us rejoice, but also give us the energy and the impetus to share the good news of Jesus with others.
Then, of course, Jesus has commissioned us to go out, and we hear that commission at the end of every Mass. So why do we evangelize? Why do we proclaim the risen Jesus? Well, because he told us to, and he renews that commission in the life of the church, particularly as we come to Mass on the Sundays of the Easter season. The dismissal at the end of Mass is embellished by alleluias that we speak or sing. This should tell us that not only are we being equipped and commissioned to share the light of the Gospel with others, but that we can take delight in it and see it as our joy to go out and share the good news just as did Mary Magdalene, Peter and John who witnessed the empty tomb.
Q: How have you experienced his resurrection during this season?
The celebration of the Mass takes on a deepened meaning for me during the Easter season. I reflect in my own prayer that this would be a quaint ritual that we were all involved in – a sort of leftover from the past – if Jesus were not risen from the dead. The fact is that he has risen and has given us the Eucharist as such an intimate way to encounter him.
Celebrating the sacrament of confirmation with so many young people across the archdiocese is a particular joy for me. The Holy Spirit is a gift that Jesus has promised to give to his disciples. I get to challenge the candidates and other members of the congregation to know that being sealed with the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality, not something that is simply accomplished and forgotten. This celebration of confirmation gives us a chance to reflect on our discipleship and on the commission of Jesus to not hold our faith to ourselves but to be his witnesses, to share with others what we know and what we have experienced to be true.
I encourage everyone to continue to live in this Easter season as if every day were Easter all over again. It really is a joyful, hopeful time for us. If we pass through it too quickly or let it become routine, we will miss out on so much of the grace that is being offered to us.