Column: From the Pastor
Normally each Easter, the Resurrection Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom replaces my regular column, with his paraphrase of Saint Paul’s “Death, where is thy sting? Grave where is thy victory?” (Corinthians 15:55). But these are not normal times. Their abnormality includes my own difficulty in not preaching the Three Hours on Good Friday for the first time in fifty years. But this sudden breakdown of the life we were accustomed to living has a power of its own, like the tension of Holy Saturday between Friday and Sunday.
This jolt is a reminder that the Resurrection of Christ was the most unusual thing that ever happened.
Perhaps it takes a cancellation of Easter-egg hunts and an absence of chocolate bunnies, to renew the shock of an end to sorrow. The Magdalene recognized Jesus only after she wept: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” It must have been very quiet in the garden by the empty tomb, when the Voice called to her by name.
The whole world has now become silent enough for us to hear that Voice. And when the Master told the Magdalene not to touch him, he was not setting an example for “social distancing.” He was telling her not to cling to him, because he had more to do over forty days, before he entered eternity, making himself available everywhere, cancelling all emptiness.
In 590, Rome was reeling from what evidently was Bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, which pandemic over several decades had killed an estimated one hundred million people in a population much smaller than now. Pope Pelagius II was one of its victims. His successor, Pope Gregory I, had been Pelaguis’ ambassador or “apocrisiarius” to Constantinople where he learned the custom of their penitential processions.
On April 25, Pope Gregory I organized a procession of seven groups representing the different regions of Rome, and prayed the prototype of our prayer, the “Regina Coeli”: “Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia: For he whom thou hast deserved to bear, alleluia, Hath risen, as he promised, alleluia.” He said he heard it from angels. Then he had a vision of Saint Michael the Archangel sheathing his sword, and the pestilence ended.
Divine Providence arranged long ago that our church’s patron (in NY) should be Saint Michael the Archangel. Our parish has the honor of pastoral responsibility for the emergency hospital with a capacity for over three thousand patients at the Javits Center.
In every country people are responding in different ways to the specter of desolation that has haunted each generation in various ways.
On Palm Sunday, Queen Elizabeth spoke words as maternal as they were monarchical: “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
Those with memories long enough will recognize that the Queen was evoking the World War II song: “We’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”
Her words were broadcast from the same castle where, nearly eighty years before, as a girl herself, she sent her first radio message to all the children who had been sent away from vulnerable cities and towns to a variety of locations in England and other countries to escape the bombings: “We know, everyone of us, that in the end all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace. And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.”
There are wars made by men, but there are also wars of pestilence that are not invented, but are even deadlier for having been inflicted.
Yet there never is a day without the supernatural combat that engages each soul: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
In that battle, the Risen Lord clothes us with the mantle of victory, if we are willing to bear the weight of its glory. That is why Pope Gregory, after the people had prayed the “Queen of Heaven” prayer in that procession, chanted a new line as Saint Michael appeared: “Pray for us to God. Alleluia.”
In hard times people have consoled each other with the promise: “We’ll meet again.” Because of the cruelties of circumstance, not all did meet again, not in this world. But the joy of Easter is this: Just as the disciples met again the Lord they thought they had lost, so may we meet Him on what our limited language calls “some sunny day.” He is the Living Word who made all things, so he says in speech not limited by mortal intelligence: “A little while, and you will no longer behold me; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16).
Fr. George W. Rutler, S.T.D., is a brilliant scholar, author, convert, former pastor of Our Saviour in Midtown Manhattan, the closest Catholic parish near the site of 9-11, and now pastor of St Michael’s parish in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. A donation of any amount may be made to the parish at: www.StMichaelNYC.com.
View Articles Father Rutler was ordained to the diaconate in Rome by His Eminence William Cardinal Baum in 1980 and received priestly ordination in St. Patrick's... MORE »