Shepherd's Voice

Experiencing the risen Lord during the Easter season

Archbishop George J. Lucas shares his insights concerning how to find and experience Jesus through the reality of his resurrection and how belief in his resurrection illuminates our faith and calls us to live our lives through and with him.

Q. Easter is the most important day of the entire liturgical year, when we reflect on the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection, but how can we continue to experience the risen Christ in our lives during the entire Easter season, which runs through Pentecost?

I agree that it’s the pivotal feast. The meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and his resurrection particularly, is the foundation of our Catholic faith. One way to talk about the meaning of it is to say that Jesus is alive, to say that clearly. If he’s alive, then how do we experience him?

It’s worth reflecting on that during these days. We don’t just remember a significant event, the most significant event in human history, the resurrection of Jesus – it really happened at a particular moment in a particular place – but because Jesus is alive, we are able to encounter him through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. And he makes himself available to us in a variety of ways. He revealed to his disciples after his resurrection that they would encounter him in a powerful way in the breaking of the bread.

We understand that we meet Jesus, the risen Jesus, in a very powerful and personal way in the Holy Eucharist. It’s really the resurrection of Jesus, the power of the resurrection, which makes the Eucharist possible, and it makes it possible for us to truly encounter Jesus. It is his plan that he’d be present under the form of bread and wine. That’s not just talk, and it’s not just re-portraying what he did at the Last Supper, but it’s a real encounter with Jesus each time the Mass is celebrated. Because of his resurrection, he empowers the other sacraments that we celebrate in the Church as well.

We also meet him in the community of believers. And that’s why the time we spend together with other members of the body of Christ is very important, whether that’s study or prayer or just hanging out together. It’s a special opportunity for us to experience the presence of the risen Christ whenever two or more of us come together.

When we’re baptized, we’re incorporated into the body of Christ and so we have a real relationship with other members of the body of Christ. And when we form friendships or have association, maybe at work or in the neighborhood, with others who we are aware are also followers of Jesus and have also been incorporated into his body, we can expect that something good can come from those relationships. They can be helpful to us in a variety of ways, particularly because of the connection we have in Jesus and because he’s a part of that relationship. So, those encounters are moments of grace, and I think we come to value others who we know are disciples of Jesus and we know that they’re with us in important beliefs and understandings, and they want to support our faith just as we want to support theirs.

Q. What else can we do to truly recognize and experience the risen Christ?

Well, I think it helps to look for him. He’s not hiding, trying to make himself scarce. You can read the beautiful accounts in the Gospels of how, after the resurrection, the disciples of Jesus were gathered in the upper room, or they were out fishing, and there Jesus was in their midst, and they did recognize him and had the experience of his company. So, we look for him in Mass, in the sacraments. When we study the Scriptures, maybe in a formal way, or just taking the time individually to pray and reflect on a passage of the Scripture, we encounter the Lord, and we should look for him there. Jesus is the living Word of God and so, he’s really present.

Q. What does the reality of Jesus’ resurrection tell us about what we are to believe and how our belief should direct our lives?

It’s the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. So again, it’s the most important thing that we know to be true – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for us on the cross, but he’s not dead now. He’s alive, risen from the dead, and he wants to be part of your life and mine. He wants us to be able to encounter him and to have an experience of his living presence through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. St. Paul tells us, if this isn’t true our faith is in vain, so it’s senseless to go through all of the rituals and try to follow the teachings of our Catholic faith if Jesus isn’t risen. All that is really meaningless.

What it illustrates is that he was telling us the truth when he tells us that he’s the Son of God. As the Son of God, he took on our human nature, but also took on the effects of human sinfulness and was sacrificed on the altar of the cross. But sin and death are not more powerful than Jesus because he is the Son of God. He’s overcome those and now is living gloriously in his risen body at the right hand of the Father. That’s at the center of our Catholic faith.

There’s an important opportunity during the Easter season, especially, to reaffirm our belief in that to be a Catholic and a disciple of Jesus Christ is not first to follow the rules, it’s not first to subscribe to a certain way of life, but it is to have faith in the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, crucified and risen. And if I believe it, if I accept it, then that means things have to change for me. I have to look at things differently, and I have to look at the world with Jesus at the center of it.

I have to pay attention to him so that when he calls me to turn away from sin and to live in him, I want to say yes to that. I can’t do it perfectly. I’ve been trying it for many years. He’s very patient with me and his mercy is always available. But it means that once I look in his direction and accept this truth of Jesus as my Lord and Savior, that I need to orient my life around that truth, then the other things come from it. So, the way that I pray, my desire to be with him at Mass and in other ways, my desire to treat other people with respect as he treats us, my desire to follow a way of life in our Catholic faith that Jesus himself has revealed will be good for me and good for the people around me – these things all flow from that belief.

But I’m not sure why, if I didn’t have a sincere belief in the resurrection, that I would want to follow all these other things, because it would call into question the truth of God’s revelation that I’ve come to know and would call into question whether there’s any reality beyond this world. I might be tempted to settle for the mistaken notion that everything will just be settled here, and I should live my life in an immediate and self-fulfilling way.

If one focuses only on life in this world, it ends in death, period. What Jesus offers us, seen clearly through the power of his resurrection, is new life beyond this life. We begin to experience it here and now. He is with us in it and accompanies us in our life with him in the Church. It opens up to us a new and glorious life that he, himself, has claimed for us by the power of his death and resurrection.

Q. How can Catholics, and even non-Catholics, best prepare for Pentecost, the feast that concludes the Easter season?

First is to recall that Jesus has promised to give the Holy Spirit to his disciples. It’s a promise that was fulfilled for the first time in a powerful way on Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles describes that. It’s also a promise that’s fulfilled for each of us. It’s fulfilled for us in our baptism and confirmation and in many other experiences of our life in the Church. We have an encounter with the living, third person of the blessed Trinity, the Spirit who dwells in us and with us.

The second way to prepare is, knowing that that’s true, we should call upon the Holy Spirit and believe that we will receive power, we will receive the gifts that we need, to first of all, stay close to Jesus. The Holy Spirit confirms our faith that Jesus is Lord and that he has risen from the dead so it’s important that we ask the Holy Spirit to make us strong in that faith and that knowledge, and to help us be aware of how accessible Jesus is to us in our life in the Church so that we call on him and walk with him, look for him.

We also should ask the Holy Spirit to help us live our faith. To know Jesus and be close to him is a great thing, but that’s not enough. He also sends his disciples out and he tells us that when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we’ll have the power that will enable us to live our faith in a public way that will have an influence on other people, maybe by what we say, but also by how we live and how we cultivate relationships with others, how we respect them. So, it’s a great time to pray during these weeks between Easter and Pentecost that ancient prayer of the Church, “come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful.” We know that the Spirit is with us in the Church, and the Spirit is doing powerful work as God always does, but it’s up to us to participate in that relationship that the Holy Spirit is offering us, and so we do that by asking the Spirit’s help, and then being confident that we will receive it.

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