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
Depends where you look
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the March 20, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
“Alleluia! Alleluia!” – the words 40 days absent from the liturgical lips of the Church – and even the more secular greeting, “Happy Easter,” are about to re-echo in the lives of the faithful. And they properly should resound in bold, explicit manner this year until May 11, Pentecost Sunday!
My parishioners probably will tire of the verbal reminder of how central the Resurrection Feast is for us. Yes, they will admit, it is true that according to the Church’s liturgical calendar the Easter celebration lasts 50 days. But, they will protest – either explicitly or implicitly – that in our culture we celebrate special events and then get on with life. One chiding parishioner observed last year that “even the Easter lilies drop their white bugles and the dahlias beg for a place in the parish garden!” Strange argument, I thought.
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 often do at Christmas. Our entire Christian faith is based on the testimony of the Apostles and early Christian community 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 equinox. Faith celebrates more than memory. It celebrates reality.
I am reminded of a seminary classmate who just a couple months before priestly ordination 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 image). “All those Christians over the centuries just could not have been off base; Jesus must be risen from the dead, right?!” he commented 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.
A wise old student priest with whom we were discussing this matter in rather serious fashion, made an observation which changed or at least rearranged all the pieces of the spiritual dilemma. “Depends where you look,” he quipped at one point in the conversation. Making reference to one of the Resurrection appearance scenes in the Gospel, he observed that the contemporary Christian may tend 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 said, 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 month, day and year is just uncertain. The Christian, subsequently, seems to be left with the need to give witness to an event which happened (past tense) an increasingly long time ago. And historical events naturally lose their impact the more time distances them from us.
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 a 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. The continuing faith of the Church tells the world where to look.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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