Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Spirituality: Not among the dead
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the May 22, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
Parishioners seem to be growing a bit tired of the “Happy Easter” greeting which they have been hearing at the beginning of Sunday Mass these past few weeks. The more the weeks stack up, the more I get those looks, telling me I am one brick short of a load. After all, their expressions say, Easter was April 20 – and here it is nearly the end of May!
Well … the greeting will continue this year until June 8, the Feast of Pentecost, which con-cludes the Easter season, making the Risen Lord’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all creation.
Some parishioners call me a “liturgical purist.” Yes, they admit, it is true that according to the Church’s liturgical calendar the Easter celebration lasts 50 days. But, they protest, either explicitly or implicitly, in our culture we celebrate special events and then get on with life. One prodding parishioner observed after Mass last weekend that even the Easter lilies have long since dropped their white bugles and the dahlias are begging for a place in the parish garden!
Following the liturgical wisdom of the Church, we believers cannot just celebrate an Easter feast day and then pack away the decorations, much like we are tempted to do at Christmas. Our entire Christian faith is based on the testimony of the Apostles and early Christians that Jesus, the crucified one, is not dead but alive! That means that he is more than a memory to commemorate each year on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring solstice. Faith celebrates more than memory. It celebrates reality.
I am reminded of one of my seminary classmates. Just a couple months before priestly ordination he was struggling intensely with his Christian walk of discipleship. The Resurrection of Jesus and its connection with his personal life was central to the spiritual turmoil he was enduring. Somehow the life-changing encounter of God’s saving love in Jesus, the Risen Lord, had not touched and transformed his heart and life. For my classmate, the Resurrection was a hope to which he clung like a sailor who had fallen overboard (his imagery). “All those Christians over the centuries just could not have been off base; Jesus must be risen from the dead, right?!” I remember him com-menting painfully.
A later conversation with my classmate friend revealed more about his spiritual life. He believed intellectually in the Resurrection of Jesus. After all, he observed, it is a tenet of our Catholic faith. He clearly affirmed the values of the Christian moral tradition. He even was committed personally to live as a Christian, putting into play values like love, forgiveness and generosity of service. What was missing, he admitted, was the transforming power of personal experience of the Risen Lord.
We were discussing this matter with a wise old student priest. He made an observation which changed, or at least rearranged, all the pieces of the spiritual dilemma. Making reference to one of the Resurrection appearance scenes in the Gospel, he observed that the contemporary Christian tends to look for Jesus among the dead. If not among the physically dead, at least among the “dead” of the distant past. Such a mentality, he noted, is satisfied intellectually with keeping Jesus locked into the events of history. Morally speaking, it is even safer, he commented further, because a present-time real encounter with the Risen Lord may well demand a change in life-style from his followers.
There is little problem with the life, ministry and even death of Jesus of Nazareth as facts of history. The Resurrection of Jesus as witnessed and proclaimed by the early Church also can be packaged with the same bundle of facts. The Resurrection of Jesus is indeed claimed as a fact of history – a reality which happened in the historical life of the same Jesus of Nazareth. The exact date is just uncertain. The Christian, sub-sequently, seems to be left with the need to give witness to an event which happened (past tense) an increasingly long time ago.
Historical events naturally lose their impact the more time distances them from us. For example, take a look at the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy – a merely a fact of American history for contemporary generations.
The wise old priest cheerfully announced to us that Jesus not only rose from the dead (past tense) but is raised from the dead (present tense). “He is alive!” is a far more important proclamation than “He rose!” he pointed out.
The Church properly expends much energy and time each calendar year celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus because he is alive – now! Perhaps that is why so many C & E (Christmas and Easter) Christians sneak into Mass or worship service twice a year: to see if the Church does indeed still proclaim, “He is alive!” Because if Jesus is left among the dead of history, what hope and direction is there to life? One can live by principles and values – inspired by fond memories and good example – but the nagging search for a personal encounter with the face of God in truth and fullness of life calls for more.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
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