Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 21, 2003
Easter promise dissolves the night
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
In a way, Easter's promise of renewal actually seemed to begin this year on Ash Wednesday, the very first day of Lent. Catholic parishes across the country, my own included, reported incredible numbers of Catholics appearing that day at Mass or at services at which ashes were distributed. It happened in the suburbs, in small towns, even in major cities.
At New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, for example, worshipers not only filled the cathedral but stood in line on the street by the thousands, despite a steady rainfall, to have ashes placed on their foreheads as a reminder of the rendezvous that awaits us all.
Not terribly surprising, you might think. After all, what happened on Ash Wednesday carried forward a trend that has been developing in recent years; traditional devotions are coming back.
But stop for a moment to realize this: the sexual abuse scandal that has so dismayed Catholics and others who love the Church was only beginning to emerge on that day a year ago. This was the first Ash Wednesday since the full impact of the crisis had set in. For months we've been reading predictions of declining church attendance, of a dramatic falloff in collections, of a loss of faith itself.
And yet here were people, crowding into churches all over the land - not only willing, but positively determined to bear the outward sign proclaiming their faith for all to see. Catholics might be shaken by the scandal, but their belief is as strong as ever.
For me, and I know for many others, the promise of Easter this year began that day.
Our Lenten journey has been long, but as always what makes it worth the struggle is the prize at the end of the road: the assurance, renewed every year, of rebirth, new life, new hope. Again this year the convergence of Passover and Holy Thursday reminds us of a common heritage, and a shared belief in the living God, with the Hebrew people who are at once our spiritual companions and our ancestors in faith.
And again this year the holy days of Good Friday and Holy Saturday lead us to the Easter Vigil and finally the triumph of Easter itself.
How we need it this year! It has been a time of war, and rumours of war; of terror and fear, of shaken faith and troubled belief. We have longed for deliverance. And even if peace still seems elusive, we have divine assurance that it will be ours at last.
That might well be the enduring message of this Easter of 2003 - that as troubled and disheartened as we might be by what goes on around us, a greater power still sees to our ultimate needs. As the Psalmist said: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. ... The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3, 7)
That's what we have been promised, all through the long days of Lent, beginning back on Ash Wednesday. And once again, with Easter, the promise has been fulfilled.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
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