After two Easters with either delayed or scaled-back sacraments of initiation, thousands of new Catholics…
Six Catholics reflect on the meaning of Easter
For many, this Lent has felt like more than 40 days. In a way, the Church and the world have experienced a long Lent since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago. Other trials have come our way: from political tensions in our nation, to inflating prices on anything from groceries to gas, to an unexpected war instigated by Russia against neighboring Ukraine. Yet, despite these trials on our doorstep and the world over, we must recognize and celebrate the joy that is the Easter season. Christ is risen! There is much hope to be gained in this celebration year after year.
To honor this most holy of all days and most joyous of all seasons, we offer six reflections from Catholics about what Easter means to them this year. We pray it brings you hope and consolation, and that you, too, are able to experience the abundant fruits of Christ’s resurrection.
‘God is not finished yet’
By Louis Damani Jones
“Christ is risen; truly he is risen!” “Christos anesti; alithos anesti!“
All across the world, in many languages and in diverse cultural garb, Christians will express the deepest, most fundamental reality of the Christian life — Christ is present, Christ is alive. People in the midst of grinding poverty, familial conflict and even the disastrous consequences of war will give witness with their lips to the fact that God has seen our suffering. Jesus united himself to our humanity, entering into our human experience, with the sole purpose of transfiguring defeat into the glorious and triumphant victory of the sunlight of God’s presence.
For many, these past years have seemed to be a continuous Lent devoid of the consolation of the Easter season. We have all tasted the harsh winds of what could rather accurately be described as the cultural deserts of disease, political turmoil, economic pain and global conflict. In times such as these, the joy of the Resurrection can seem detached from our suffering. However, Christ himself rose in the midst of chaos and from the depths of pain. The defeat of death came at the precise moment that death seemed to have obscured God’s face.
For me, this recollection of the centrality of the Resurrection during the Easter season is a necessary reminder that Jesus Christ’s supersubstantial life pours in and through the ordinary lives of us, his people, with whom he has united himself for eternity. When we baptize our children, we should see Jesus’ resurrection as he or she rises from the font. When we are married, we should see Jesus’ resurrection in the eyes of our spouse. When we fall short and return to the confessional, perhaps years later than we should, in our hearts we should see Jesus’ resurrection once again. We should also strive to see the Resurrection in the death of our loved ones, in the turbulence of world of events and in the grips of uncertainty. In his homily for Easter Sunday on March 26, 1967, St. Josemaría Escrivá spoke of God’s dynamic call, telling us that God is reaching out to us “through the suffering and happiness of the people we live with … the things that make up our family life … through the great problems, conflicts and challenges of each period of history.”
These are supernatural tasks that require from us the faith, hope and love that can only come as gifts from God. Luckily, this is precisely the Good News. We have been given the invitation to “become partakers of the divine nature” (NASB 2 Pt 1:4), experience “the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom 6:5) and have “the life of Jesus … revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:10).
Jesus’ resurrection speaks directly to what he has assured us is our own destiny. Indeed, we must strive to see Christ’s resurrection all over our lives, but that must also come with the knowledge that the grace we may experience in this life is but a shadow of the restoration, renewal and fullness that God has for us when our sojourn through this imperfect world is complete.
This Easter season, I thank God for the opportunity to remember that he is not finished yet.
Louis Damani Jones is a fellow at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University.
Clinging to hope
By Stephanie Weinert
Fear, sorrow, hope and healing. Holy Week holds all of this for the Christian.
I’m a different person than I was a year ago during Holy Week and Easter. God, in his mercy, offered me a cross and a crown in 2021 that forever changed the way I will walk the Gospel story and this most glorious liturgical season.
In April 2021, my toddler son, Beckett, who had been born with a surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome, a heart defect, and lung disease, began a health decline that led to his death on May 11th. Although Beckett fought hard and courageously to live, and my husband and I fought just as hard right alongside him, my perfect little son went home to be with Jesus at 18 months and 16 days old.
Through the depths of Beckett’s suffering, death and entrance into heaven, the Lord granted me deeper insight into his own suffering, death and glorification. I walk these most holy days with new eyes and a reshaped heart. The picking up of my own cross has granted me closer access to God’s. It is hard. But it is also a gift.
Holy Thursday: When Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to watch and pray, I feel his heartbeat in a new way. It is not surprising that his sweat turned to blood during those adrenaline-filled hours of pondering, surrender and acceptance of his portion. To ache, to worry, to fear the impending pain and sorrow: it is fully human, and he allowed himself to experience those terrifying, debilitating feelings so that I could identify with him in my panicked state of fear. My “Garden” was a cribside in PICU Room 11, soothing a terrified toddler brow, whispering words of comfort, singing lullabies with a smile while my heart pounded with fear and dread. The fear and the fight forward are often not separate experiences. That is why we watch and pray.
Good Friday: I see her, watching him, standing close, feeling every whip lash, thorn pierce and nail pounding through flesh. Mary’s participation in her son’s suffering was not passive. When the Gospel tells us that a sword would pierce her heart, too, that is not some pretty theological analogy. The depths of her sorrow watching her innocent son die was a crucifixion of the heart that would forever mark her life, even after the Resurrection. Now that I have stood at the foot of my own son’s cross, now that I have felt his final breath on my chest and held his lifeless body, I enter into Good Friday through the eyes of a mother — so thankful that in his final excruciating breaths, he gave her to me. I need her.
Holy Saturday: Since my Beckett’s death, Holy Saturday has taken on profound new meaning in my heart. Holy Saturday often feels like the “glossed over” day of the Triduum. There is sometimes a temptation to skip from the cross to the empty tomb and forget that Holy Saturday is not the day of joyful preparation but instead the day of patient waiting and unwavering hope.
The virtue of hope is the key. It’s the bridge between the cross and the Resurrection. Because hope does not disappoint, as St. Paul tells us (cf. Rom 5:5), it becomes the lifeline for a heart pierced by sorrow too intense for words, and it prepares us for the glory that comes in the morning.
I feel like I’ve been in a permanent state of Holy Saturday since last May. My heart is broken, confused and hurting. But at the same time, I know I have seen the Lord. I know his words are true and that he can be trusted. I know he is working, even when nothing makes sense and I cannot see the path forward. I know he is the King of Glory, even when it feels like the enemy has won. It is that Holy Saturday story that keeps me going, one step and then another step of faith. I know that in the morning, the son rises. I know that in the morning, he makes all things new. I know that in the morning, the king sits on his throne, and he will gather his children to himself.
I rejoice in the Resurrection because I know the road of sorrow, pain and waiting. I don’t want to rush the hard, because they are the experiences that help me see the good and the glorious.
Easter will come. It is here. And he is good.
Stephanie Weinert is a Catholic wife, mother, author, speaker and the founder of mother & home, an online community for Catholic mothers.
Lazarus’ first Easter
By Jason R. Shanks
“‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, ‘Untie him and let him go'” (Jn 11:43-44).
Having been in the tomb for four days, long enough for decay to have begun and there to be an “odor,” Lazarus would be resurrected and have a new lease on life. The sadness that preceded this miracle must have been followed by astonishment, gratefulness and, of course, joy.
For four days, Lazarus was dead. He was bound and put in a tomb with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. And then his friend Jesus, after the intercession of his sisters, raised him from the dead. What must he have said to Jesus upon exiting the tomb? Did his eyes need time to adjust? Did he know where he was or how long he had been dead? Did he think he was dreaming?
After he was unbound, I imagine the interaction between Jesus and Lazarus must have been profound and exuberant. And he, Lazarus, in his very life, was now a walking miracle, and every breath was a testimony to the power of God found in the person of Jesus.
Shortly after, Jesus would return to Bethany near Jerusalem, where Lazarus resided, for Passover. It is here where Mary, his sister, would anoint the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume. And why not? He had raised her brother from the dead. Certainly, Jesus was checking on his friend he had just raised and for whom he wept at his passing; and perhaps, knowing what was to come, he wanted one last visit. I also suspect he was again drawing attention to Lazarus as a foreshadowing of what was to come on Easter Sunday. The same tears shed for Lazarus would soon be shed for Jesus, but they should not lose hope — remember Lazarus exiting the tomb.
The miracle of Lazarus was a prefiguration of the rising of Christ himself, as well as the resurrection of the body for all of us at the end of time. It had an impact on many. John writes that many came to this Passover not only to see Jesus but to see Lazarus; clearly, word had spread, and people wanted to see for themselves, to see and be next to a miracle. Many came to believe in Jesus because of Lazarus, and so the chief priests plotted also, in addition to Jesus, to kill Lazarus (cf. Jn 12:9-11).
The next day after an evening staying in Bethany, Jesus would enter Jerusalem, and the beginning of his passion and death would begin. Scripture is silent on what happens next with Lazarus. He is not mentioned on Good Friday, nor in the Upper Room hiding with the apostles. We do not read of a resurrected Christ appearing to him or him present at Jesus’ ascension. Scripture does not say more on Lazarus’ whereabouts.
What, then, would become of Lazarus? Perhaps, knowing of the plot to kill him, and seeing Jesus taken in the darkness of night with the apostles nowhere to be found, he would go into hiding. Perhaps he would be concerned for his sisters and want to protect his family. He likely didn’t want to take his new gift of life for granted. And at Jesus’ death, like Jesus did for him, he, too, would have wept remembering their last time together. But his weeping would have been different than others, for he would have remembered what Jesus did for him; how could he not? He would have suspected what was to come; he had lived it — but not in the glorified way of Christ. Experiencing the miracle of his own resurrection, certainly he would have been praying for the same for his friend, his teacher and Lord, Jesus.
And then, Easter morning came, and he would have heard the news. Jesus was not there; he was not in the tomb. He rose, and he didn’t need to be unbound; his burial cloth was still wrapped and laying inside. This would have triggered memories of Lazarus’ exit from the tomb, his burial and the memory of being unbound, only to see his friend as his eyes adjusted. Lazarus would not need to go to the tomb where Jesus’ lay to verify the story; he would have known it to be true. And he would have known where Jesus had been between Good Friday and Easter Sunday: to Hades, where he also had been for four days — a sign of hope to those there.
In what ways is Lazarus like us and our experience of the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord? Seems like we might have more in common with Lazarus on this side of the Resurrection than the experiences of the apostles on Easter morning. Do we have to die, almost die and be brought back to life to relate, to understand, to appreciate the salvation won for us and the victory achieved? Every time we experience the Eucharist, we experience the memorial of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. The miracle of the Eucharist makes present for us Good Friday through Easter Sunday. And like Lazarus, we can be unbound, made alive, made free and rejoice in he who made it possible.
Jason Shanks is president of the OSV Institute for Catholic Innovation.
A new approach to death
By Valerie Delgado
Easter has not always had as much meaning to me as it does now. When I was younger, I loved the way the world celebrated Easter. I loved the stuffed bunnies, opening Easter eggs, trying out all of the flavors of jelly beans and unwrapping all the bunny-shaped chocolates. Easter was simply a cute holiday to me. But as I grew older and closer in my relationship with the Lord, my heart changed. Easter became a season of great joy and gratitude to God the Father for sending down his only son to save me from my sins and bring me hope of heaven.
For the past couple of years, Easter has been one of my favorite seasons to celebrate in the Church. Why? Because Jesus is alive! He did so much more than just die for us; he went the extra step that only Jesus could take and rose from the dead for us. Satan has no power over Jesus, or over us, thanks to the Resurrection. The devil fought savagely to overthrow the kingdom of heaven and probably thought he had won on Good Friday. But instead of the cross and the tomb being a symbol of Jesus’ defeat, they became huge symbols of his triumph. Sin and death were conquered that day once and for all. And that is worth all the celebration in the world.
Now, my Easter seasons are filled with so much more celebration than just jelly beans and bunny-shaped chocolates. I start my Easter preparations during Holy Saturday. I tidy my house, I plan a fun Easter breakfast or lunch, I dye a couple of eggs red to symbolize the blood of Christ outpoured on Good Friday (as the hard shell signifies his sealed tomb). Then I end my night by attending a beautiful Easter Vigil. As the paschal candle enters into the dark church, I reflect on how Jesus always breaks through the darkness. And then I get to witness new Christians be initiated into the Church. If you have never been to an Easter Vigil, I encourage you to go. It is truly one of the most beautiful Masses I have ever attended.
This year, I am extra excited for Easter. The past two years have felt like a ridiculously long Lenten season. This Easter, I am celebrating the season that proclaims the victory of life. What if we lived this season of Easter as if death no longer existed? I don’t mean living naively, as though to ignore the reality of death. I mean, what if we viewed death on earth not as an end to life but a new beginning, the start of an eternity in the presence of God? I am choosing this season of Easter to bring all of my hardships to the Father and seeing my sufferings be made new.
Love wins; death is no more — let us live in that truth! As St. John Chrysostom said: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.”
Valerie Delgado is a Catholic artist. You can find and purchase her work at paxbeloved.com.
‘Love is always more’
By Bishop David Bonnar
There used to be a one-slide cartoon in the local newspaper when I was growing up entitled “Love Is.” Each day, there was a different sketch seeking to describe the richness of love. The takeaway for me was that love is so pregnant with meaning that it cannot be contained by words or a drawing. Love is always more than we can ever fathom or comprehend.
The same argument could be made about Easter and the glorious celebration of the Resurrection. Easter is a mystery that is more than we can ever imagine. In fact, Easter evokes for the believer a speechless awe and wonder that often defies words. The Easter Gospel from John 20:1-9 captures the silence of awe at the empty tomb when speaking about the other disciple who “saw and believed.” There are no words. It is just a growing faith that seeks understanding. “For they did not understand the Scriptures that he had to rise from the dead.”
The celebration of Easter is so rich that it cannot be confined to a day. Easter is celebrated as on octave stretching across a week and continues to be embraced as a season. It is the ultimate victory celebration and the greatest surprise party. Every Sunday throughout the year is an experience of Easter promising hope and peace for the world and reminding us of this beautiful surprise. The Sunday observance, which reminds us of Christ’s victory over death, helps us persevere through the sufferings and deaths of our week. Many years ago, I don’t recall where, I remember reading these words: “Sunday is to the week what Easter is to the year.”
Easter is “eye-opening.” The two disciples on the road to Emmaus encounter a stranger (cf. Lk 24:13-35). They invite him into their abode to eat. In the breaking of the bread, Luke tells us that their “eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Easter can be just as eye opening for us. Having walked with Jesus through his suffering and death, we come to see that we are never alone. Jesus accompanies us on our various roads of defeat and disillusionment. The empty tomb opens the eyes of our hearts to a newfound hope. As a child, I remember mom taking my siblings and I shopping before Easter so that we had something “new” to wear on Easter. But this newness is best illustrated in the Easter fire, water and those brought into the Faith. We come to wear this newness in our hearts when, with the whole faith community, we renew our baptismal promises and renounce sin.
The darkness of the pandemic that we have faced over the last two years coupled with the unjust invasion of Ukraine causing in both instances so much suffering and death makes our celebration of Easter all the more important. May the risen Lord open our eyes to his presence so that we might behold Easter hope and peace. May Jesus help us to behold and celebrate the great surprise of his resurrection, which is always more than we can ever describe or understand. Happy Easter!
Bishop David J. Bonnar is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, and editor of The Priest magazine, published by OSV.
‘God will fulfill the desires of our heart’
By Katie Prejean McGrady
I have two young daughters, ages 4 and 1, who graciously acquiesce to my near constant requests to dress them in matching outfits. Pajamas. Play outfits. Dresses for Sunday Mass. They rarely complain. They are, in fact, often delighted by my desire to put them in matching monogrammed clothing.
I purchased the matching Easter dresses they’ll wear this year on a random whim in the summer of 2016, when a friend opened a small boutique and I found them on her clearance rack, only $10 each. A soft blue floral print with Peter Pan collars. Size 6 and 18 months.
I wasn’t even pregnant with my oldest when I bought those dresses. We were newly married, open to life to be sure, but no babies had come just yet. But I bought the dresses anyway. They were only $20, two matching dresses for two little girls that didn’t yet exist. That I didn’t even know would ever exist.
But I hoped they someday would — hoped the dresses would someday be worn, hoped I wasn’t wasting that $20. Hoped that maybe those two dresses, in those two sizes, would one day fit two little girls at precisely the right time.
Hope is a funny thing. It pops up when we least expect it. But when it’s there, flooding our hearts and delighting our minds, we grasp for and cling to it, because it produces a joy unlike anything else. Hope rooted in a promise, singing a song of goodness, is unmatched by anything else. It is life changing, even life giving.
Mary Magdalene walked to a tomb on Easter morning with hope, believing, even in her grief, that what Jesus said was perhaps actually true. Peter and John ran to the tomb, filled with hope, that what Mary had told them was right. And we enter into Easter, maybe with dresses bought long ago, filled with hope that God will fulfill the desires of our heart, bring to pass that which is in accord with his perfect will, and provide for us all that he has long promised.
I’m entering this Easter with no small measure of hope. It’s quite a large measure, in fact. Almost to the point of worry, that perhaps my hope is too much, my expectations too high, and I’ll be met with only disappointment.
But hope, especially at a time when the promise of Resurrection is fulfilled and known, cannot ever be too much. Hope, when rooted in God’s goodness, only ever delights and satisfies the heart that beats with love for a good and gracious God. Hope, in a world so divided and noisy and plagued by hatred, can perhaps heal, comfort and sing the song of God’s goodness to those who need it most.
I’m hoping for a hope-filled, life-giving Easter, longing to know nothing but the delight of Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus in the garden and Peter and John running to, and finding, an empty tomb.