Archbishop George J. Lucas greets Clarissa Love prior to a Nov. 2 listening session on racism at Omaha’s Highlander Center, sponsored by the archdiocese’s Black Catholic Implementation Team. Steve Goodwin, left, and Steven Gregory are in the background. All three are members of St. Benedict the Moor Parish. MIKE MAY/STAFF

Shepherd's Voice

ARCHBISHOP LUCAS: Jesus wants to share his risen life with us

In this month’s discussion, Archbishop George J. Lucas explains to communications manager David Hazen the importance of the Resurrection. If Christ is truly risen from the dead – to which numerous witnesses testify, some even by their deaths – then it should be a “very big deal” and have a tremendous impact on our lives. We should seek his presence, the archbishop says, and that includes attending Sunday Mass, where we should do our best to pay attention and dispose ourselves to the graces he offers us so generously.

Q: In this Easter season, the Church focuses on the Resurrection. This is that central, pivotal fact of being Christian. How can we begin to see this fact more clearly?

We celebrate Easter every year, and the resurrection of Jesus is one of those things we can take for granted. We speak about it so often in the Church because it is a central mystery of our faith, but it may not be as powerful in our experience and in our thinking as it should be.

This is, to use secular terms, a very big deal. It makes all the difference in human history, and it makes all the difference in our own personal history. There would be no Church without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Son of God came among us as a member of the human family and taught powerfully about the kingdom of God. He worked miracles, and there were moments when people could glimpse some of his power. His disciples, little by little, began to put faith in him as the Son of God.

Their faith would have been shaken at the time of his arrest, torture and crucifixion. His resurrection – for them and for us – proves that he is who he claims to be. It is very important that we take note of that. So if the Son of God has come among us, if he has laid down his life for us and now conquered death through the resurrection, then he among all people is the one person we should pay attention to. We should notice him, we should listen to his invitation, we should follow his teaching. But ultimately, we should allow him to share his risen life with us, which he desires to do so freely. He makes himself so accessible to us in the sacramental life of the Church.

I had the privilege of baptizing seven new members of the body of Christ at the Easter Vigil at St. Cecilia Cathedral this year. All of us who were able to be at Mass this Easter had the chance to renew our baptismal profession of faith and to be sprinkled again with water. We don’t need to be rebaptized, but we do need to remember that we are baptized. In baptism, we died with Christ and are raised to new life in him.

After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples numerous times so that they knew that he still loved them and that he was alive. This truth made such a difference in their lives that many of them were willing to die rather than deny it.

The risen Lord wants to appear to us, too. If we are so distracted with other things or other people that we do not even turn in his direction, then the truth and the power of the Resurrection won’t be effective in our lives. That is not because the power of Jesus is weak, but because he never forces himself on us. He always invites me to turn from death to life in him.

Q: You have announced that the dispensation from the Sunday obligation is ending as of Pentecost weekend. Given that we profess to believe that Christ offers himself to us in a profound way in the Mass, how can we prepare to better receive him there? How do we begin to appreciate the Mass more, such that we aren’t just checking the ‘obligation’ box again and moving on?

That is a good question, and it is our challenge by the nature of things; Jesus has made himself so accessible to us and comes to us so humbly, that we are often not afraid of missing out on that experience. We do not get hit by lightning if we don’t show up for Mass on Sunday, for instance (at least most of the time).

The Easter season is an opportunity to take inventory: Do we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God? We renew that profession of faith at Easter, and we renew it every Sunday when we come to Mass. We should renew it every day. We should ask ourselves: What is the most important thing that I believe and know to be true?

Of all the things that we know, the most important thing is that Jesus is alive. Jesus, the Son of God, has come among us. He died for us on the cross, but he is not dead now. He is risen from the dead and he is offering a way, a path to eternal life for us who will accept it. Despite all of our sins, no matter how many times we stumble and get distracted, that path will remain open to us if we will take it.

The Gospel of St. John reminds us that God loves us so much, that he has given us the gift of his Son, and that we have life if we put our trust in him. If I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then I am really stupid if I do not pay attention to him. If I really believe that all Jesus wants for me is good, that all he wants is that I grow into the man that I am created to be, then why wouldn’t I pay more attention to him? And why wouldn’t I take the opportunity week by week to be in his presence, to receive him in holy Communion and to allow him to identify himself so closely with me?

Jesus wants me there with his other disciples, where we encourage each other, praying for each other through difficulties. From the beginning of the Church, it has been understood that we cannot really have this ongoing encounter with the risen Lord if we are not there with the community on Sunday, celebrating the eucharistic liturgy. The Eucharist constitutes us as followers of Jesus and constitutes us as a community of believers. We cannot have the Church without the Eucharist.

Q: You mentioned distraction as the key obstacle to noticing and paying attention to Jesus’ presence. It seems inevitable that we encounter distractions at Mass; how should we overcome them?

Yes, we do get distracted. The first disciples of Jesus got distracted and were stubborn and confused in all kinds of ways. I go back to what I said: If I really believe Jesus is the risen Son of God, my Savior, where do I think I am going to find him?

He can reveal himself to me any place, but I really need to put myself in the place where he has promised to be, where the Church has always understood that he is really present – not in some gauzy, imaginary way – personally, in his integrity. That is what should draw us to the Mass on Sunday.

Sometimes it is a glorious experience and sometimes it is pretty dull, I hate to say it. I would like to think I knock it out of the park every time I give a homily, but I know that’s not true. And I apologize for not being better. Sometimes the music is totally transporting, so beautiful you could hardly stand it. And perhaps other times it is dull, and sometimes it is not even present. People with young children have built-in distractions as they come to Mass. I am in the front of the church looking out at everybody, so I have a lot of distractions. That happens.

But at a certain point, I just need to be mature about what saying yes to Jesus means in practice. I know I won’t do it perfectly, but I need to make myself available to what the Lord wants to offer me. And nothing can take the place of what is offered at Sunday Mass.

We can’t bargain away what is offered to us at Mass on Sunday. It is very serious to say we are going to do something else with our Sunday, instead of being present when the community of believers gathers, when the Lord himself invites us to be together in him. To trade that for something else is a bad trade. We can come back from a bad choice to stay away from Sunday Mass, but like every other sin we commit, once you do the first one, it’s easier to do it again.

In these weeks, I am inviting us all to think about the beauty and power of our Sunday celebration of the Mass. This time last year when our churches were closed, so many of us felt deprived. I have heard some speak indignantly about how we cannot let that happen again, to protect our freedom. Well, we are free now, so let us choose the best thing, to take part in the Mass.

Q: In your Easter video message, you invited us all to reach out to people who could use extra help or encouragement to return to regular attendance at Sunday Mass. How would you like to see the faithful make this invitation?

We all know family members or neighbors who in recent years have not been coming to Mass very often.

Almost everybody likes to receive a warm invitation to something good from somebody whom they respect. If possible, we should give a little witness about how much it means for us to be able to come back to Mass, not telling anybody else what they should do, but simply witnessing to the goodness of it ourselves.

Maybe sweeten the invitation a little: “How about if we go to Mass together, then out to breakfast? Or then we can go to the zoo.” There are many great things to do on Sunday after going to Mass that do not interfere with it at all and that deepen our bonds of friendship in Christ.

I encourage everybody to invite someone. Maybe the first invitation won’t be accepted. Continue to pray for that person. And then after a few weeks, you could issue the invitation again; sometimes the second time around there is the grace again, or they have thought about your kindness the first time and do not want to turn you down.

The point is that week by week, it is important to have this reunion in the Lord, to experience his risen life together, to reconfirm our faith in his resurrection, and then to allow him to send us out for the week to proclaim the astonishing news of the resurrection by the way we live.