Madonna House

Bringing Easter to the Culture of Death

by Fr. David May

As I write this morning, on a snowy Ash Wednesday in mid-February, we are already starting to look forward to the Easter feast.

I know, I know. Ash Wednesday by most counts is a bit early to be anticipating the celebration of the Resurrection. But we just can’t help it around here.

All of Lent is for Easter, so that Christ, as Hopkins said, might “Easter in us,” live and love anew in us, be a brightness of hope for many through us.

Lord, we need you more than ever to “Easter” in us at this time. Poor Canada. We in this country have just taken another step into the jaws of the culture of death.

Our Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, struck down legal protection making assisted suicide a crime. Now the “right to choose” the manner and timing of death trumps the sanctity of life.

And along with that is a strong movement to force physicians for whom assisted suicide is unacceptable, to go against their consciences, to refer those who ask for this “service” and qualify for it according to existing law, to a physician who will provide it.

To top it off, a majority of Canadians are in favor of this decision and believe that “dying with dignity” as it is defined by our culture today is a right too long denied suffering people.

What is behind it all, one might ask? Why this throwing aside of an ancient and venerable tradition of protecting human life from conception to death, no matter what?

To put it simply, as a whole, our culture today no longer believes in the sanctity and worth of life at every stage.

A useful life (as “useful” is defined at a given time and place), that’s fine. Above all, a life I choose to accept, a life whose duration I have control over, a life that, after all, is my life to dispose of as I see fit—a life that is what is now sacred to our world, if one can use the term “sacred” here.

As long as my decision does not harm another (abortion being the obvious exception to this principle), I have the “right to decide,” “a right” now blessed by the highest court in the land.

That cursed “blessing” will, of course, soon be extended to all sorts of people. By some ways of measuring, I’m not as “useful” at 63 as I was at 43. How about you?

What to do about all this? There are legal measures we can take, working for legislation to restricting this decision as much as possible. We can work, perhaps to sway public opinion by clear, rational argument, and so forth.

But my thought on this Ash Wednesday keeps coming back to one simple point: we who believe otherwise must prove ourselves and the salience of our point of view by letting Christ Easter in us, become thereby visible in us.

Unless they see appearances of the Risen Lord in believers, people in our culture today will never listen to our arguments. They will just go on as they are doing, choosing death in all the diverse ways the demons can contrive for them to accept.

If the marketplace of ideas is to be cleansed of idols of self-destruction, people need to see Easter again.

But what on earth would this look like? For it is not something we can contrive or program, any more than the apostles could have caused the Risen Lord to walk through locked doors on cue or to appear on request as a gardener on Easter morning to console a weeping Mary Magdalene.

What odd and peculiar ways the Risen Lord chose to convince the world of the truth of his Resurrection! Secret appearances to small groups or individuals who were later commissioned to tell the whole world what had happened. Instructions given on a beach at a fish breakfast cooked on a charcoal fire: “It is the Lord!”

What sort of “presence” set the first disciples on fire with a message to be announced to all creation? What kind of life force had the power to conquer all the opposing forces of death rising up in fury in the ancient world?

What were the features of the love of the Risen Lord come to meet his disciples that perhaps he longs to live out in us today in the midst of the culture of death? Here are some possibilities:

He walked the length of their sadness.

The Lord met his two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus. He listened at length to what was troubling them about the recent events in Jerusalem.

Then, having let them drain their souls to the dregs, he poured into their thirsty hearts the words of truth, the truth of the Scriptures about the Messiah who would suffer and thereby enter into glory.

Having suffered to the end the way of the Cross, Jesus spoke with the knowledge of experience both of the meaning of suffering and of its true outcome.

The assurance of his discourse set their hearts on fire, and the compassionate sharing of the Eucharistic bread revealed to them the identity of their Beloved.

And so we who follow him as his disciples, having embraced our own suffering and allowed Christ to raise us with him, can walk with patience and sure hope the length of the road of the suffering of my brother or sister.

We can listen, listen, and listen some more, till the heart of the other is able to hear the truth about all sorrow and suffering: the truth that it is suffused with a glorious light:

“Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke…!”

He absorbed bitterness, grief and skepticism with patient understanding.

Thomas’ suffering and grief simply could not be surmounted by the happy reports of his brothers about a risen Lord. His bitterness was too deep. Or was it the disappointment of dashed dreams and promises of glory unfulfilled?

Had he beheld (from a distance apparently) the hammering of nails and the piercing thrust of a spear, and been seared forever by the sight of such horrors?

Was it a burden of despair he now carried that seemingly no one could reach?

Yet, the Lord came to Thomas. He let him put fingers into the wounds in his hands and a fist into the hole left in his side. Real suffering! Real wounds! But all the while Thomas also touched the gift of the risen Lord to His own:

Shalom! Peace!”

It was as if in a single gesture Thomas thrust upon the Lord every hard question that can be asked, every burden of despair a human being can know, all the disappointment of lost dreams and failed promises that can make life a burden to be gotten rid of.

Now, all of this was transformed into joyous worship: “My Lord and my God!” We who have been Thomas to the risen Christ are now called to be Christ to the hurting Thomases in our lives.

It is a grace of compassion the Lord is ready to share with us and through us.

He spoke the deepest truth one can ever know about another: the name.

Appearing to her to be a gardener, Jesus asks Mary Magdalene why she is weeping? Again, he draws out of her the source of all her grief, loss of the Beloved: “they have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.”

One word puts her at ease and raises her from the tomb of unending sadness. That word is her name, “Mary”. “She knew him then…”

Just as no one ever shared bread as did the Lord, so no one on earth has spoken a name with such power of tenderness and sureness of knowledge.

This is the same voice that with a word created the heavens in all their array, and Adam and Eve in his very image and likeness. Mary, who was “dead” in sorrow suddenly was raised up at the sound of her name pronounced by the Lord.

She who had once before been called forth from the tomb of her sins and offenses, was now called forth anew to go and announce the Good News to her brothers.

What power there is to give life, in those who know their brothers and sisters by name, and speak that word with the delight and the compassion of Christ himself! To speak the name means to have journeyed with a person, to have seen at least a glimpse of his or her real identity, and to delight in it.

It means there is at least one person who would be grieved at any diminishment, including that of depriving a person of all the time they need to journey on this earth as a preparation for the world to come.

Yes, the Risen Lord Jesus is ready to “Easter” in us in these ways and in many others, in order that a culture of death and its victims might be saved from its very self and become what it’s meant to be: a civilization of love and a sacrament of the eternal.