Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him” (Jn 20:2). We don’t know…

“You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power … This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible to ... the witnesses chosen by God in advance. He commissioned us to preach and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:34 ff.). You know…

What happened between “We don’t know” and “You all know”? Both Mary of Magdala and Peter had met, had encountered, the risen Christ. From ignorance to knowledge, from confusion to certitude, from skepticism to belief: this is the journey of those who have encountered Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection was not a return to normal biological life as one who would eventually have to die again; nor is Jesus risen from the dead a ghost — someone who still belongs to the realm of the dead. Nor is an encounter with the Risen Lord a purely mystical experience, in which the human spirit is drawn out of itself for a moment and rests in a sense of God’s presence before returning to our usual sense of things. Christ’s resurrection is a historical event that bursts open the limitations of human history and invites us into a new life, continuous with the life we now live but transcending its limitations: a life of perfect freedom founded on infinite love. Jesus’ resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint within it: We live in a country that did not exist when Jesus rose, speaking languages unknown to his first disciples, yet gathered each Sunday into an action that he left in order to be with us until he returns in glory.

How do we meet the risen Christ? How do we come to the inner conviction that he is alive? We get a glimpse of his influence each time we experience a joy beyond our own creation, a love that embraces everyone and everything, a profound conviction that all is gift, freely given and inviting us to a self-surrender possible only as an act of fruitful love in serving others, especially in serving the poor, in marriage, in consecrated life and deaconate and ordained priesthood.

Most of all, we experience the risen Christ at every Mass when we approach the altar of the Lord and remember Jesus’ promise: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:54). The communion we receive and live, the eucharistic bread and wine are the body and blood of the risen Christ. There is no other. After overcoming the last limitation to human freedom, death itself, Jesus could be wherever he wants to be. He passes through closed doors; he is here and not here; he is perfectly free — and he wants to be with us. Receiving the Eucharist, we take into our still limited and mortal bodies the seeds of immortality, the risen body of Christ. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

The Eucharist makes us witnesses to the world of Christ’s resurrection. We are to speak of him to those who have never met him and who do not know who Christ truly is. We are to speak of him especially to those who have lost heart because they feel trapped in their sins. Before we speak of Christ, however, we must first listen to Christ. On Divine Mercy Sunday, we hear him say to the apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:21).

G.K. Chesterton, the English essayist and literary figure of the middle decades of the last century, once remarked that he became a Catholic to receive forgiveness for his sins. Christ died so that our sins would be forgiven; as soon as he rose from the dead, Christ gave the power to forgive sins to the apostles and to the church in the sacrament of penance. Forgiveness brings new life. It’s what is often felt after a good confession, when we know we have a fresh start in life because we have experienced the Lord’s mercy.

Pope John Paul II, whose beatification was on Divine Mercy Sunday this year, wrote that mercy is “love that is eager to forgive.” Divine love is merciful. The Gospel seems without power at times because some people, conscious of their sinfulness, don’t really believe that forgiveness is possible. They are trapped. Perhaps we will believe more profoundly in God’s forgiveness only when we find ourselves able to forgive those who have sinned against us. Eagerness to forgive is the hallmark of the church’s Easter Season. God bless you.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago