Saturday, April 21, 2012

Return to normal?

Thank God Lent is over. Don’t you agree? I still find myself having to turn the stereo back on after I reflexively turn it off every time I get into my car. I have less trouble remembering to have dessert, unfortunately. The other little habits I cultivated during the penitential season – in prayer, diet, entertainment, and such -- are all quietly relinquishing the field to the status quo ante.

Why is this not cause for joy? Honestly, I rather liked the discipline and direction that were defining my days during Lent. Mind you, they were nothing to write home about, so to speak, but sufficient to show me that I am capable of some sacrifice and steadfastness for the Lord. I am disappointed that they fizzled so fast with the arrival of the Alleluia.

Easter, with its delight in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, is for me and for most of us a return to normal. Things are back as they should be, and we can return to our regularly scheduled program. Alleluia is a sigh of relief.

Stop now, and let’s think about that: Jesus was dead and is now raised. Is this normal? If this really is the norm that describes our daily life, what in our life shows that?

Stability is for most of us a highly desired good. Touched with nostalgia for good things in the past, we relish only the change that we ourselves choose for its apparent improvement. Thus, the pinnacle of Easter delight would be that things return to their proper state. Or would it?

Christ’s resurrection from the dead is quite literally an earth-rending change. The encounter with the risen Jesus changed first Mary Magdalene, then the Apostles and other disciples, then all the souls who heard it preached for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and once my seminary rector, recently addressed the College of Cardinals and the Holy Father about the reality of this change:

As John Paul II taught…, the Church does not ‘have a mission,’ as if ‘mission’ were one of many things the Church does. No, the Church is a mission, and each us of who names Jesus as Lord and Savior should measure ourselves by our mission-effectiveness. Over the 50 years since the convocation of the Council, we have seen the Church pass through the last stages of the Counter-Reformation and rediscover itself as a missionary enterprise. …In once-catechized lands, it has meant a re-evangelization that sets out from the shallow waters of institutional maintenance, and as John Paul II instructed us … puts out ‘into the deep’ for a catch. …The ambient public culture once transmitted the Gospel, but does so no more; … the proclamation of the Gospel—the deliberate invitation to enter into friendship with the Lord Jesus—must be at the very center of the Catholic life of all of our people.

But in all circumstances, the Second Vatican Council and the two great popes who have given it an authoritative interpretation are calling us to call our people to think of themselves as missionaries and evangelists.

The Resurrection of Jesus changes everything, including us. It makes us able, and obligated, to bring that change to lives who are saddled with the sad status quo ante. It makes us all missionaries, and evangelists. Thank God Lent is over!

Monsignor Smith


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