After the Friday afternoon text announcing they had gone to the hospital to begin delivery, after word Saturday afternoon that a c-section might be necessary, finally came the text: (name of newborn boy). 5/25/19 @ 1536hrs. 19" 6.7lbs. Mother and baby doing great.
It was great to be included in the young dad’s excitement at the arrival of his firstborn, and of course the conversation continued, with pictures. But after a few days I reflected on the information he had included: not only the date, but also the precise time at which the lad emerged. That date will be one of his favorite days of the year, his birthday – a day of gifts, perhaps a party when he’s young; and as he gets older, greetings and messages from friends he hasn’t seen in a while. Not a year will go by that he, and his parents, fail to observe its significance. Many happy returns of the day.
On Sunday evening as I prayed Vespers in the chapel, I pulled out a holy card from my prie-dieu and placed it on top. It had a picture of a young priest on it, with the date of his birth, and the date of his death: May 27, 1995. He was a seminarian when I met him; I served his Ordination at the Cathedral; and I looked him up at his first parish assignment to share with him my intentions of entering seminary. He was very supportive, and helpful; we exchanged letters throughout my first few years of seminary. He wrote to me about his cancer, and about its remission. Then right before I returned from Rome after two years away, the call came that he had died of it. Twenty-four years later, I still have the letters, and I still “keep” the day.
On Holy Saturday evening, after we have kindled a new fire and placed the flame atop the decorated Paschal Candle, we carry the Light of the Risen Christ into church and share it with all the baptized who are present to keep the Great Vigil of the Lord’s resurrection. The Exultet, the great Hymn of Blessing to the Easter Candle is sung: This is the night when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea. This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin. This is the night that even now throughout the world sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones. This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld. … O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human. How we calculate it is complicated - the first Sunday after the first Full Moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox – but every year, not only do we keep the day but from it we also determine other days: Ash Wednesday is 46 days before, Pentecost is forty-nine days after, and all the other days between we also keep.
On the fortieth day – any sequence of forty being significant in God’s revelation of His working in our world – the Risen Lord ascended into heaven. He left the Apostles scratching their heads in wonder and consternation, and once more they retreated in fear to the upper room, and locked the doors. But after nine full days of prayer – the first novena – the promised Spirit came upon them and taught them everything, reminding them of everything He had told them.
All that God has done for us has changed our world and our history, marking forever the progress of our days. It is good to be reminded of what we have already been told, even when we fail to keep the day. Men of Galilee, why do you gaze in wonder at the heavens? This Jesus whom you saw ascending into heaven will return as you saw him go, alleluia.