Today is the morning we have been anticipating throughout our Lenten journey. Lent has been a very special time of preparation for us as Catholics. We have been kneeling at the beginning and ending of mass during Lent, signifying for us the penitential nature of this season, of the need to repent, to seek forgive, and to change our lives. The Church asks us to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent, and to practice the Lenten disciplines of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.
We knew that this Lenten time of preparation would lead us to this joyful celebration of Easter. But it is interesting for us to see the reactions of those in our Gospel today as they come to the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene is worried and anxious, wondering what they have done with our Lord’s body. Peter and the other beloved disciple ran to the tomb to see what was going on, trying to figure out why the stone had been rolled away and why the burial cloths were sitting there in a pile. There is not a lot of joy in their responses, but rather anxiety, worry, and activity.
Sometimes it takes us a long time to realize the significance of an event, for it to penetrate our hearts and our lives, to reflect on its meaning and to ponder it. We have talking about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela – the Way of St James – all during the Lenten season. Being a pilgrim is a spiritual journey, but sometime it takes a while to really have that journey make sense. In the pilgrimage group that I accompanied to Spain back in April, one of the members of that group was an 80-year-old parishioner from St Richard parish in Jackson named Lyons. I cannot even imagine what I would be like to go on that pilgrimage at 80 years old, walking about 200 miles over the course of 2 weeks. While we were walking on the pilgrimage route, Lyons kept on remaking to me – “Father Lincoln – I just don’t feel like a pilgrim. I don’t feel the Spirit on this journey.” When a pilgrim is hiking 15 or 16 miles a day in rough terrain and through whatever weather there is – through snow, sleet, rain, and hail that we had throughout our journey – it is tough not concentrating on what is going on physically during the pilgrimage. The spirituality of the pilgrimage is there, but a lot of times it is not until the pilgrim has some time to pray and reflect upon what has gone on, then the real profound spiritual lessons hit home. When we finally arrived at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compestela, when we hugged the statue of St. James and went to mass and did all the other pilgrimage rituals upon arriving at our destination, the spirituality of the pilgrimage took hold a bit more. And when the pilgrims arrive back home, the spirituality of the pilgrimage starts to resonate more and more with each passing day. I still have insights and reflections about my pilgrimage experiences as the days and weeks and months go by.
The Passion of Christ, our salvation through his death and Resurrection, his real presence in the Eucharist – these are all mysteries of our faith. And by the word “mystery”, we mean that its fully meaning can never by fully absorbed or understood by us, that on our faith journey, we will always grow in our understanding and comprehension of God and the divine presence in our lives. I always think about what St Augustine once said – that when we think we fully understand God and know what he is all about, then we know we really don’t understand God at all. Think again about Mary Magdalene and the disciples that found the empty tomb that morning. Their first reaction was not initially “Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Christ has risen!” They had not expected the resurrection, and it took them a long time to figure it out. But even on that morning, our Gospel says that the “other disciple,” the one who first arrived at the tomb, “he saw and believed.” Our belief will help us grow in our understanding, and our understanding will help us in our belief.
During Lent, many of us took on disciplines that helped up in our preparation during this Holy Season. When I was visiting one of the CCD classrooms, one of the teachers was remarking to the students that those Lenten disciplines should not end with Easter, but should influence our life of discipleship throughout the year. I recall one young man from St Richard parish in Jackson who started praying the rosary and offering support to the women at the abortion clinic in Jackson as part of his Lenten observance one year. Many years later, he now is one of the most active Christians in the pro-life movement in the Jackson area. As a new priest, this young man often came to me and tried to get me more involved in my pro-life efforts. I started going out to the abortion clinic myself during Lent my first year as a priest to pray the rosary with a group of parishioners, and that group still continue that practice to this day.
So, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ today and the salvation we have in him, may we ponder its significance in our lives as we now journey through the Easter season, and may we live out the reality of the resurrection in our lives each day.