“On the first day of the week, they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24: 1-3).
The fact of the empty tomb continues to fascinate people two thousand years later after the discovery itself. God’s greatness is revealed in His silence when we consider the Resurrection. The greatest act that He has ever accomplished historically was witnessed by no one. No one saw it and nobody heard anything. Yet, the tomb’s emptiness continues to speak volumes even today.
Indeed, the Church’s celebration of Easter is her greatest act of worship toward God. In Jesus’ Resurrection, we see that everything that He said about Himself is absolutely true. No one else in history fulfilled the prophesies of the Old Testament as Jesus has, declared in exact terms how He would die, remained in the tomb for three days exactly as Jesus said He would, and then rose from the dead never to die again.
In His Resurrection, Jesus shows us that He is the Christ. He is the Anointed One by the Father who is able to share His Holy Spirit so that we, too, will one day experience the resurrection of our own bodies to share life everlasting with Him. He teaches us that we can place all of our trust in Him who calls us each day to Himself. However, in order to share in the glory of His Resurrection, we must also share the life of His Passion. In both aspects, which are inseparable, we remain united to the One in whom we have been baptized and have been called to fulfill our unique mission in Christ everyday of our life as a prelude to the next.
The empty tomb, therefore, will forever be a symbol of God’s supreme act of love and generosity poured out on our behalf. Everything that He achieved by His death and rising again is given to us for our life now and forever with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God continues to work on our behalf always for our good!
That is why many of the faithful have come to Mass to celebrate this Easter day. The Resurrection of Christ is not only a Sunday celebration, but because they are connected to Jesus daily, they recognize Easter Sunday is the center of their faith. By our living united to Jesus, His Blessed Mother, and the Church each day, we see in Him what our daily life is meant to be in all of our joys and sorrows, and even in all the necessary, routine duties we have to accomplish each day. All is sanctified when united to Jesus Himself.
However, there are many persons who also come to Easter Mass for other reasons. It is no secret that many Catholics today simply do not practice their faith in Jesus each Sunday. Even though every Sunday is a celebration of His Resurrection, endless surveys among Catholics largely across all age groups (with the exception of many pre-Vatican II Catholics) show that many of them simply do not want to make time for Jesus on Sunday. They have convinced themselves that they can busy themselves with other activities that are far more beneficial in their eyes.
Why do such persons come to Mass on Easter and Christmas, therefore? If they fail to attend Mass throughout the year regularly or attend even sporadically, then what is so special about today? The honest answer is that Mass attendance among the weak of faith is expected at least on the two greatest days celebrating Our Lord’s life: His Birth and His Resurrection. Family pressure can exert a sense of obligation for at least two holy days out of the year, apparently.
When Catholics who do not attend Mass regularly hear about the empty tomb, what is their reaction as they hear the Gospel? We know some of the original disciples were perplexed, but they wanted to find out further where Jesus was. Other people took a worldly perspective and convinced themselves that someone had stolen the Body of Jesus. Still others decided to walk away from Jerusalem using the road to Emmaus because things did not work out as they expected. Therefore, they walked away leaving everything behind looking for something else to satisfy their lives.
The situation today is much the same. Why do Catholics not attend Mass each week? There are three major reasons. The first is sheer and unadulterated laziness. They fail to attend Mass or learn anything about the faith after Confirmation and are not particularly interested in changing that. People do not come to Mass because they find nothing appealing about it and are not interested in learning anything more about the Mass, their faith, their salvation, or Jesus. Interestingly, these are often the same people who label themselves as “good” because they do not kill anybody, and they believe that they are going to heaven automatically. It is interesting how we can convince ourselves of anything we want based not on facts, but based purely on feelings. I “feel” like I am a good person, so therefore, I must be! How very convenient for them.
Second, people fail to practice their faith in Jesus through His Catholic Church each week because of a litany of gripes and complaints against the Catholic Church and what she teaches, or they complain about how other Catholics have failed to live Jesus’ teachings. Failing to attend Mass is a protest, therefore, against the Church. There are two responses to such a belief. First, for anyone who has a problem against the Catholic Church, they can get in line. It is a very long line, however. Anyone can be angry at the Church for something these days, so there is nothing particularly unique about anyone’s problems with the Church. The second response stems from the first: Grow up. Immature, adolescent Catholics whine endlessly in their spiritual temper-tantrums about what they don’t like about the Church. There is nothing unique about that, either.
A spiritually mature Catholic, however, understands that life does not go the way we plan it. That is because our life is not our own: we belong to Christ Himself. It is the life of Jesus Christ who we have been baptized into and which entails the Cross. We can fight and try and flee from it, but the Cross is an integral part of our lives each day. Being angry at God, the Catholic Church, or anything else never solves anything. Only by uniting ourselves to Jesus Himself will we find meaning in every aspect of our life—the good, the bad, and everything in between.
Third, many Catholics have dropped out of Mass because the sacred mysteries present at every Mass with the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ are essentially meaningless to them. The contemporary, popular belief states that the only reality today is that which can be scientifically, empirically demonstrated; anything else is intellectually deficient. However, by denying and failing to live the Catholic faith, a person only demonstrates an ANTI-intellectual posture. The Catholic faith is the only one that is perfectly reasonable and fully coherent in all her teachings because the Church’s faith comes from Christ directly, who IS Truth Himself. How many of the elitist, so-called “pseudo-intellectuals” who have abandoned the Catholic faith have actually taken the time to understand it deeply instead of relying falsely on what they think the Church teaches?
Most pastors shy away from addressing the situations we encounter on Easter and Christmas. They fear to “offend” those Catholics who come only twice a year, and are, therefore, content essentially to pat them on the head, send them on their way, and confirm them in their sin of avoiding their obligation to God EVERY Sunday. It is interesting how our society is so obsessed with the concept to “social justice” today, but what about the justice that we owe to God, who gives us everything? Out of justice, we owe Him our worship. Why do we never hear of that? In fact, our worship of God is the first duty in justice we owe to Him. Priests themselves will be judged by God one day. Like Jesus Himself, who irritated those who did not like His teaching because He would not back down from the truth, the priest’s duty is to irritate the consciences of those who have turned away from God. The salvation of souls calls for nothing less. Rather than confirming people in their sins, the priest should work to convert Catholics to an ever deepening friendship with Jesus every day.
While the disciples were leaving Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus, Jesus came up beside them and revealed who He was and what His plan was for them. Jesus actively searched them out and gave them a renewed hope. Is He calling us today to renew our hope in Him as He walks beside us each day calling us to join His very life? What will our response be?
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler
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