“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Remember that pointed question posed by the angel that first Easter morning?
The Gospel tells us that the women who were close to Jesus went to the tomb early Easter Sunday morning to anoint the dead body of the Lord. To their shock, upon arrival at the cemetery, they found the stone rolled away from the door to the grave, but no corpse. That’s when the heavenly messengers arrived to ask that pivotal question, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
Jesus is not dead! He’s alive! He has risen as He said!
And Jesus lives in His Church! During this Easter Season, we do well to look for the Church among the living, not the dead.
To be sure, we are tempted at times to consider the Church a graveyard: closing parishes and schools, declining numbers of priests, sisters, brothers; lifelong, life-giving, faithful marriages between husbands and wives under attack; heart-wrenching stories in the news about clergy sexual abuse of minors; people leaving the Church, or no longer going to Sunday Mass; dissent from the clear teachings of the Church in faith and morals…
…you get my point? Are you depressed yet? Did you enjoy that visit to the cemetery? Is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, a corpse?
Sometimes we’re tempted to think so, and there are certainly those who would dance on the grave!
But the great faith of Easter thunders out, “He is alive and still with us!” And He is with us in His Church. So, what do you say we stop looking for the living among the dead?
Let’s take the pulse here and check some vital signs, and I hope you’ll agree that it’s morning in the Church, not night; it’s spring, not winter; it’s Easter, not Good Friday.
At the Easter Vigil last evening, I had the honor of welcoming 6 adults into the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism – or Profession of Faith, for those already baptized – Confirmation, and first Eucharist. Most of the 185 parishes in our diocese had the same exhilaration, with hundreds joining the Church in our diocese alone, and millions throughout the world. These people of faith aren’t hooking up with a cadaver but with a vibrant living Person.
These millions joyfully confessed their faith in “all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.” What attracted them is a Church that teaches with clarity and credibility all that Jesus taught His apostles, a Church aware of its divine mandate to teach God’s unchanging truth with love.
This Easter explosion of sacramental life will continue this year:
• thousands of our beloved children will receive Our Lord for the first time in Holy Communion;
• scores of our teenagers reach Christian maturity in the Sacrament of Confirmation;
• 5 young men in our diocese will be ordained priests on 21 May;
• so many students are soon to graduate from our excellent Catholic elementary schools and high schools and colleges;
• promising young couples are putting the final touches on their wedding plans, eager to seal their vocation with a sacrament of the Church;
• our people – young and old – give so generously of their time, their talent and their treasure, serving others in the name of Jesus; and are committed to becoming more Dynamic Catholics by the regular practice of prayer, study, generosity and evangelization;
• the latest annual outside audit of dioceses in the United States demonstrates that children are safer in the Catholic Church today than anywhere else, as nobody, nowhere is doing more to confront the plague of sexual abuse of minors – found sadly in every religion, institution, profession and walk of life – than the Catholic Church is doing in the United States;
• our priests report that many, many people came to the Sacrament of Penance this Lent;
• political observers of all stripes note that the Catholic Church is the clearest, most consistent voice on issues such as respect for all human life, human rights, religious liberty and justice for the poor, the marginalized and the immigrant;
• one in five Americans is treated in a Catholic hospital;
• look at the work of Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services and all that the Catholic Church does to feed, clothe, house, care for and educate more people in need than any other organization on this planet. And we don’t ask them, “Are you Catholic?” We ask instead, “Are you hungry?” or “How can we help?” We don’t do this because they are Catholic. We do it because we are Catholic;
• with 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide – and with 67 million Catholics in the United States – we are the largest faith community on earth.
I could go on and on with the “good news,” but I trust you get my point: the Church, like Jesus, is alive, not dead.
Now I realize a lot of newspapers want us on the obituary page, and our many enemies warn that they will not rest until there is a “going out of business” sign in front of every Catholic parish. But the Church seems to keep bursting out of the tomb.
As the apostles found out, the glorified body of the risen Christ still bore the gaping wounds from the nails and spear.
So does His body, the Church. We’ve got wounds galore, and we always will.
But the Church is strong, healthy, alive, growing…and we’re in the wrong place if we’re looking for the living among the dead!
Jesus is risen from the dead! Alleluia, Alleluia!
And His body, the Church, is alive in Him! Alleluia, Alleluia!