Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Monday

After the solemnity and grandeur of Easter Sunday, Easter Monday seems somewhat of a let-down. Even more so for me this year, as my local Superior flies to Rome today to be part of a pilgrimage group celebrating the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II next Sunday. Meanwhile, our Paulist novice who has been with us since just before Lent returns to Washington today to continue his novitiate experience. So our house really feels empty!

Easter Monday (Pasquetta, "Little Easter," in Italian) isn't meant to seem like a let-down, of course It is still a legal holiday in some countries - a sort of socio-civic prolongation of the great Easter festivity before everyone resumes the routine of the regular work week.  In past centuries, Easter Monday was also widely observed in the Church as a holyday of obligation. Its ancient importance is suggested by the assignment of St. Peter's Basilica as the stational church for today. In the traditional (pre-1970) Roman liturgy, today was one of the days (together with tomorrow and Saturday) when the Paschal Candle was supposed to be lit this week.

The station at Saint Peter's accounts for Peter's prominence in the traditional liturgy for today. In that tradition, the 1st reading was Peter's proclamation of Christ's Resurrection in the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:37-43, now read in the reformed rite on Easter Sunday itself). The Gospel was the familiar account of the two disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35, postponed in the new lectionary until Wednesday). It ends with the 11 disciples responding to the news brought by the two with the further news that the Lord had truly been raised and had appeared to Peter. The intrinsic excellence and artistry of that account, speaking as it does so directly to the Church's situation, make it one of the most powerful and popular of the post-resurrection appearance narratives.

As I said yesterday, Peter's prominence in these post-resurrection appearance accounts highlights how what was happening then and there continues to happen now in the everyday life of the Church, as the Risen Lord continues to reveal himself to his people through the experience they share by baptism as members of the uniquely new community that is the Church, brought into being and animated by the Risen Lord's parting gift of the Holy Spirit.

This past Holy Week, I took advantage of my bits and pieces of free time to re-read Pope Benedict XVI's wonderful Holy Week book, Jesus of Nazareth: Part Two: Holy Week From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (2011). This morning, with much greater leisure, I re-read on chapter 9, "Jesus' Resurrection from the Dead." 

It's sort of obvious at Easter, but it's something that needs to be emphasized all year round that the Resurrection really is the core Christian conviction. If Jesus' body were still in the tomb, if it had long ago decomposed as dead bodies are supposed to do, then there would never have been - there could never have been - a Christian faith and a Christian community professing that faith. "Only if Jesus is risen," Benedict reminds us, "has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then he becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself."

These 50 days of Easter are about our taking that seriously and letting that revelation become effective in our lives. 

One of the great dynamics of the Easter story is the mysteriously gentle way (as Benedict says) in which God "gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind." Though God incarnate, he "can be overlooked by his contemporaries and by the decisive forces within  history." Risen from the dead, he comes to us "only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself, " and "continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens out eyes if we open our doors to him."

To me, the unique liturgical structure of the Easter season ritualizes for us this ongoing, life-long challenge of discipleship and mission - to recognize the Risen Christ in his Church (as the disciples did) and to open doors for others to do the same.

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