By: Fr. Ryan Connors, Dean of Men
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola prescribe meditations on the central mysteries of Christ’s life. The proposed meditation for one event, while absent explicit scriptural reference, has long been presumed by popular piety. For late Holy Saturday night, the Basque spiritual master directs retreatants to meditate on the Lord’s first resurrection appearance. After Christ’s descent to the dead to proclaim the Gospel to the righteous who came before Him, pious tradition holds that the Lord appeared first to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The tradition of this proto-appearance extends back to the patristic period. St. Ambrose of Milan, depicted in our seminary chapel, considered even in the fourth century, the fittingness of the Lord’s first appearance to our Lady. Today, the Catholic world embraces Mary’s joy. We ponder how our Lady experienced the risen Christ. She helps us understand what has happened; what really has transpired at Easter.
Each year, the celebration of Easter addresses the same question: whether Jesus simply was or whether He also is. Without the resurrection Christ would remain a man from the past, a hero of history. But Christ risen from the dead means He is alive right now and able to transform your life today.
The resurrection of Christ—what Mary experienced that first Easter morning—means He isn’t somebody from the past, lost to history. Mary’s son has risen from the dead. The Church—His bride—is not an institution of a bygone age. Catholic priests do not serve as museum curators, custodians of a time long past. Because of the resurrection, the Church is the place where we meet the risen Lord.
Every Easter Catholics herald what Mary recognizes best of all: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and alive in His Church. Mary recognizes in her risen Son God come down from Heaven. She invites us to discover in Him the salvation promised to Abraham, prefigured in the Exodus, and foretold by the prophets.
Indeed, this is no ordinary news. Mary sees best of all what Easter alone ensures. Because of the resurrection, life has not so much been extended, but transformed and made new. Life in Christ means we are no longer under death’s awful curse. We are no longer ensnared by the chains of sin and death. Now, it is the bond of charity which ties us to the Church and promises everlasting life.
The news of the resurrection holds special meaning for the Catholic priest. He must know that Christ is not a man from the past unable to transform lives today. To be effective apostles of the new evangelization, priests must rejoice like Mary and behold the presence of the risen Christ.
Jesus is alive in His Church today and let us count the ways: Christ is risen and alive in the Word of God proclaimed anew in every age. Christ is risen and alive in the sacraments of His Church, the indispensable means by which we encounter Him. The words and ministrations of Catholic priests through the ages impress the force of the resurrection upon God’s holy people. The resurrection’s transforming power extends to every Baptism and Confirmation, to every Confession and Holy Anointing, to every ordination and sacramental marriage. And most of all, Christ risen from the dead comes to meet us at every Mass.
He is risen and alive in young men and women who hear the whisper of His call to lay down their lives as priests and religious. We discover His risen presence in families committed to living the unchangeable truth that love-making and life-making go together.
He is risen and alive in those who unite their suffering to His. All who share in His Cross receive today the promise of the resurrection. All who have endured sickness and suffering, inequity and injustice, trial and tragedy; that is to all, everybody who has known Good Friday receives now the earth-shattering news: love has proven stronger than even death.
He is risen and alive in every person who says: “Yes, I think that’s true, really true, worth giving my whole life for.” All who acknowledge the risen Christ experience what Mary did that first Easter morning. Jesus is who He said. He is who He claimed to be—the Son of God taken on a human face. Mary tells us: He is the Lord, God from God. And He has risen from the dead.
From all of us here at Saint John’s Seminary, blessed Easter to you all.