By David Gibson | Catholic News Service
Easter begins in the darkness and at night, when the great vigil Mass for this central Christian feast is celebrated. Yet Easter is all about daylight -- a "new day" in time.
The resurrected Jesus is "the Morning Star," according to the Exsultet, the rather ancient and remarkable hymn still heard during the Easter Vigil. Like the morning star shining at dawn, Jesus signals a new day's arrival, with all the hopes attached to it.
The Exsultet proclaims Jesus as "the one Morning Star who never sets." With his return "from death's domain," it reminds worshipers that he sheds "his peaceful light on humanity."
It would be a shame to reduce Easter to a series of nice-sounding words and phrases to describe the risen Lord and to escape from the challenge of telling who he really is. So I need to be clear that calling Jesus the Morning Star was anything but that for our forebears.
Christ is the light; he illumines the world. His followers, like him, are called to carry his light and to assure that it shines brightly in the universe of all their activities.
The resurrection is like the break of dawn. To state this is to reach into the very heart of Christianity and to begin a conversation about the essentials of Christian living.
Christ is light, just as he is life -- new life.
Yes, Easter begins in the night darkness. But, in the Exsultet's words, "this is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day" and "full of gladness."
"Gladness," admittedly, is not a word uttered often nowadays. But we know what it implies: joy, happiness and, no doubt, a life in which hope plays a significant role and opportunities arise to experience fulfilling satisfactions.
Gladness may assume many forms, but in some form, I believe, it represents what most people desire. That's just the point.
Easter zeros in on the desires of the human heart.
Truth be told, darkness casts a shadow over the lives of too many. Pope Francis is well aware of this. "Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish," the pope said on Easter 2016.
The "first stone" to move aside on Easter, he said, is "the lack of hope that imprisons us within ourselves." Living without hope is a "trap" that, in his eyes, means living "as if the Lord were not risen."
But, the pope indicated, Jesus' followers ought to follow his lead. So the risen Lord sends each person who encounters him "to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life," said the pope.
An imprisoning trap. That is what Pope Francis believes a lack of hope becomes. No wonder the risen Lord so often is called a liberator.
What freedom do people need that reflects Easter's new life? Freedom, possibly, from the fear of putting the finest of their God-given gifts to fuller use and thus beginning to grow again.
It would be a mistake, after all, to imagine weak hope as a sign that someone actually is hopeless. In a famous 2013 interview with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, an Italian communications expert, Pope Francis insisted that although a person's life "is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow."
He has a "dogmatic certainty," the pope said then, that "God is in every person's life."
Easter sets the tone for all Christian living. It is a matter of coming out of the darkness and into the light. It is a matter, too, of accompanying others as they attempt, perhaps haltingly, to discover what new life means for them.
"Goodness always tends to spread," and "any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others," Pope Francis wrote in "The Joy of the Gospel," one of his most-read documents.
What the Jesus of Easter does is what Christians are meant to do. Remember, it was the resurrected Jesus who accompanied the two disciples making their way to Emmaus, spending time with them in ways that comforted and enriched them (Lk 24:13-35).
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich spoke in 2014, just before becoming Chicago's archbishop, about the Christian mission to stand alongside those who experience a "dryness" in life that "eats away" at their hopes.
"Our aim should be to make sure that everyone has a place at the table of life," he said.
He mentioned "the mother needing prenatal and postnatal care, and protection for herself and her child, the former inmate seeking a fresh start, the drug addict who needs someone to help her take one day at a time, the father and mother who want their children to have the educational opportunities other families have."
These people, the cardinal stressed, represent "the vast army God is inviting us to raise up with him."
Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.
Baptized into new life
By Dan Mulhall | Catholic News Service
Franciscan Father Rock Travnikar, who died on Christmas Day 2016, was one of the first priests in the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, to fully implement the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
As the pastor of the small (only 95 families today) mission parish of Mother of Good Counsel in Hazard, Kentucky (now part of the Diocese of Lexington), he absolutely loved the Easter Vigil.
He understood the power inherent in the liturgical signs used during the vigil. The new fire was created in total darkness and quickly became a raging tempest of flames to illustrate the light of Christ.
All nine of the readings were done (long versions) so that the history of salvation could be fully heard and understood. This made for a long night, but that's what a vigil is: a long wait in expectation for something important to happen, in this case, the resurrection.
The liturgical sign that Father Rock found most powerful during the vigil was the rite of baptism. Here in all of its enchanting mystery was the resurrection re-enacted in the lives of the elect who were seeking to be reborn in Christ.
Father Rock believed St. Paul when he wrote, "Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Rom 6:3-4).
To symbolize this "being baptized into his death" and being "buried with him through baptism into death," those baptized were inundated -- literally buried -- by a flood of water from which they would arise drenched from head to toe, spitting and sputtering, but knowing that they had been rescued from death.
By passing through this "tomb" of water, the newly baptized had now died to sin and were reborn in Christ's love. They now could celebrate this newness of life.
For Susan, this "newness of life" was experienced in full participate in the Mass, including the reception of the Eucharist. Although her mother had been raised a Catholic, Susan attended the Methodist services held across the street from her house.
But she loved the Mass, which she had experienced from time to time, and decided to become Catholic when she turned 21.
This joy has continued now for many years. According to Susan, "I take a lot of joy in being Catholic. It changed my life. Entering the church has brought me a new way of celebrating and understanding the Lord's teachings."
For Karen, entering the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. As a child, her family never practiced any type of religion, but, "I envied the family who lived across the street because every Sunday they would go to Mass together. I would watch as they got in the car and leave, thinking, they belonged to something special.
"I asked one day if I could go with them. I didn't know why, I just knew I wanted to do it, too. I remember being in awe of the beauty of the service and feeling a sense of that belonging they had."
Later, as an adult, she married into a large Catholic family. In this family she felt "a sense of unity, whether it was praying together at home, attending Mass or living their day-to-day life, they belonged and embraced the Catholic faith." She wanted to have what they had.
Following the birth of her children, Karen entered the church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and was baptized at the Easter Vigil and for the first time felt like she belonged as well.
For Karen, for Susan and even for Father Rock, baptism was indeed an entrance into a new life of faith.
Mulhall is a catechist who lives in Louisville, Kentucky.
Roll away the stone to new life
By Nancy De Flon | Catholic News Service
Tom Conry's "Roll Away the Stone" is arguably the most powerful Easter song to have been composed in English in recent years. Remarkable in its musical and textual simplicity, it answers the cynicism of unbelievers with the refrain, "Roll away the stone, see the glory of God."
What is this "glory of God"? St. Paul tells us in one of the readings for the Easter Vigil: "Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Rom 6:4).
Through our baptism we share in the new life to which Christ was raised. The new life Jesus came to give us was evident already in the signs he performed and in what he taught while on earth.
These foretastes of our new life in Christ were fulfilled in the resurrection, which shattered life's meaninglessness with its message that death does not have the final victory.
The Lectionary readings for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday highlight different aspects of living out that new life here on earth.
In a hymn-like passage in his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul exhorts us to "clear out the old yeast" and become "a fresh batch of dough." Celebrate the feast "not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
In other words, put away your former, sinful ways and replace them with new, authentic ones. We are fortunate in having Lent to help us with that -- 40 days to practice replacing a bad habit with a good one.
When Easter comes, Lent will have given us a good head start in our process of self-improvement.
The responsorial psalm, with text from the gloriously exultant Psalm 118 that Christian tradition associates with the risen Christ, reminds us that our new life isn't only for our own benefit. "I shall not die, but live," announces the psalmist, "and declare the works of the Lord."
The idea of sharing the good news of God's favors to us appears frequently in the Psalms, and in some of the Gospel stories of Jesus's miracles, the healed person goes off to proclaim the marvel that God has worked for them.
Let us continue, at Easter and beyond, to "declare the works of the Lord" by the Christian joy that informs our living.
And so we come to the Gospel and the rolled-away stone. The risen Jesus who suddenly appeared to the disciples in the tightly secured upper room without having to enter through the door did not need to roll away the stone to exit the tomb.
The stone was rolled away for the benefit of the disciples who came to the tomb on the first Easter morning and for our benefit -- so that they and we could look inside the empty tomb and see what is possible when we open ourselves to new life.
So that we can answer those who embrace despair and defeatism: "See the glory of God."
De Flon is an editor at Paulist Press and the author of "The Joy of Praying the Psalms."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
An Easter meditation on the new life Christ brings us:
Sit with these verses in prayer. How is God speaking to you through his word? How do you respond?
"So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: The old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5:17).
"We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Rom 6:4).
"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Is 43:18-19)
"Jesus (said), 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'" (Jn 11:25-26).
Do you believe this? How can you live as a "new creation" in Christ every day?