“Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!” (from The Easter Proclamation) After forty days of prayer and sacrifice we have arrived at the great feast of Easter. Christians throughout the world would ordinarily be filling churches on this day for prayer and celebrating the end of Lent. Many families traditionally would gather at home for food and being together. But as we all know we are not living in ordinary times. For over a year we have tried to keep one another healthy, avoiding close contact, wearing masks and learning how to live our lives in a very restricted environment.
As we celebrate this Easter 2021 we give thanks to the many medical, scientists and health care workers who have worked tirelessly to combat the COVID virus and to keep us safe. As more and more people in the USA and other countries have been able to receive vaccines we are seeing the danger of this terrible disease slowly lessening. Though we all need to continue to be vigilant (wearing masks, getting the vaccine, practicing good hygiene, etc.) we are slowly easing the restrictions that have kept us apart these past months.
As we gather together this Easter to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and his promise that in baptism we also will rise with him on the last day, we do so remembering all those who have died in the past year due to COVID. Though the winter storms of January and February hit Chicago hard this year we knew we would sooner or later experience the promise of green grass, crocus, tulips and other spring flowers starting to bloom with the arrival of spring.
Holy Week reminds us that Christ has shown us how to live when we suffer, when we experience tragedy and pain and that in his promise comes Resurrection and Eternal life not only for Him but for each of us who accept his message.
Last year at the Easter Vigil Mass in Rome, Pope Francis preached of our hope in Jesus. He reminded us that in Jesus we do not need to be afraid. The Pope's words last year have even more meaning this year having experienced this year of pain and suffering with the pandemic. I encourage you to prayerfully read the following excerpts from Pope Francis. Discuss them with your loved ones, your friends and others. For even though in the past year we often had little to hope in, these thoughts of Pope Francis call us all to be people of hope. Even in the coldest, darkest and snow-filled winter of February we placed our hope and trust that warmth would return. We trusted that trees will fill with leaves, flowers will bloom and the sun will reflect off the deep blue of Lake Michigan reminding us of the beauty of our earth and our honored place to be humans on God's good Earth.
Easter thoughts from Pope Francis
At dawn the women went to the tomb. There the angel says to them: “Do not be afraid. He is not here; for he has risen” (vv. 5-6). They hear the words of life even as they stand before a tomb... And then they meet Jesus, the giver of all hope, who confirms the message and says: “Do not be afraid” (v. 10). Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today. These are the words that God repeats to us this very night.
On Easter we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope. It is a new and living hope that comes from God. It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, uttered with an empty smile. No! It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own. Over these weeks, we have kept repeating, “All will be well”, clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts. But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate. Jesus’ hope is different. He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.
The grave is the place where no one who enters ever leaves. But Jesus emerged for us; he rose for us, to bring life where there was death, to begin a new story in the very place where a stone had been placed. He, who rolled away the stone that sealed the entrance of the tomb, can also remove the stones in our hearts.
So, let us not give in to resignation; let us not place a stone before hope. We can and must hope, because God is faithful. He did not abandon us; he visited us and entered into our situations of pain, anguish and death. His light dispelled the darkness of the tomb: today he wants that light to penetrate even to the darkest corners of our lives. Dear sister, dear brother, even if in your heart you have buried hope, do not give up: God is greater. Darkness and death do not have the last word. Be strong, for with God nothing is lost!
All you have to do is open your heart in prayer and roll away, however slightly, that stone placed at the entrance to your heart so that Jesus’ light can enter. You only need to ask him: “Jesus, come to me amid my fears and tell me too: Courage!” With you, Lord, we will be tested but not shaken. And, whatever sadness may dwell in us, we will be strengthened in hope, since with you the cross leads to the resurrection, because you are with us in the darkness of our nights; you are certainty amid our uncertainties, the word that speaks in our silence, and nothing can ever rob us of the love you have for us.
On behalf of all the Franciscan Friars at St. Peters, the lay staff and all our volunteers, I wish to all of you and your family a blessed and holy Easter Season. I give thanks to so many of you who continue to support the ministry here at St. Peter's through your prayers, support and financial help. Without you we would not be able to be a prayerful oasis here in the Loop.
As spring returns and more people are in the Loop on weekdays and weekends, we are hoping that everyone will continue to be vigilant in following medical guidance to keep everyone safe from illness. As the danger of the COVID virus reduces and health protocols are eased we are planning to offer more times for prayer here at St. Peter's. Let us continue to pray for one another as we rejoice in the blessings of this Easter Season!