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The Easter joy of May’s revenge upon November

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Archbishop’s Column

Archbishop Leonard P. Blair

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For those of us Christians who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the meaning of Easter that we will soon be celebrating is reflected in nature. After a dark, cold and often dreary winter, Easter comes in spring. The earth is about to be garlanded with new life, the song of birds, balmy breezes and lengthening daylight. Jesus used an agricultural image that evokes the cycle of the seasons: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

Christ is that grain of wheat laid to rest in the cold earth who springs forth to fullness and newness of life. His resurrection is the springtime of a new creation for you and me, and the whole human race. It is a springtime that takes us into eternity’s perfect day where we need not fear the heat or ever grow weary. As the Book of Revelation says so beautifully about the heavenly Jerusalem, there will be “no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23).

At Easter, we give thanks for what the Eternal Father has done for us in raising his Son Jesus from the dead and sending the Holy Spirit to make us sharers in divine life. Christ’s rising — body and soul — is not for him alone: He is the firstborn from the dead, the first of many brethren.

At Easter, we renew our faith that, through the door of baptism, we too have entered into an eternal springtime with Christ; we have become his brethren in newness of life by water and the Holy Spirit. We renew our faith that this gift of the Holy Spirit has been perfected and strengthened in us through the sacrament of confirmation. And above all, we renew our faith that the risen flesh and blood of Christ is our very food and drink in yet another sacrament, the Most Holy Eucharist.

At the same time, we know, as St. Paul teaches, that on our earthly pilgrimage “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). What we celebrate in the Easter Gospel and in the Easter sacraments will only be fully revealed and made perfect when we pass from this world. In the meantime, Jesus says that to be his disciples we must take up our cross each day and follow in his footsteps. The dying and rising of the paschal mystery are one inseparable mystery, like two sides of the same golden coin. For the Christian, every sorrow, every trial, every defeat can be transformed by Christ into victory through faith, hope and love. Our inevitable crosses, lovingly accepted, can be carried with Easter joy.

This Easter 2019, our own personal crosses are overshadowed by the collective sorrows of a sinful world: the grief inflicted by international terrorism and war; the deprivation and poverty of so many people; the sufferings caused by illness, accident and natural disasters; and the pall that is cast over our Church by the grave sin and crime of clerical sexual abuse.

Any or all of these realities, not to mention our own personal sufferings, can make us question the power of Easter. They can rob us of Easter joy, weary us and dampen our faith, hope and love. The dramatic ups and downs of life may exasperate us and make us wonder: Will life’s winter ever give way to spring? Is there any hope of a resurrection on this way of the cross?

Speaking to the Church of his time, well over a century ago, the great English Cardinal, Blessed John Henry Newman, soon to be canonized, gave some timeless advice using the imagery of the changing seasons: “We mourn over the blossoms of May because they are to wither, but we know, withal, that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of the solemn circle which never stops — which is in our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair.”

In our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair. What a perfect motto for those who believe that Christ’s dying and rising constitute one inseparable mystery. Indeed, it is the mystery revealed by God himself to show our path in this world to the world to come. It is what Easter is all about.

Soon we will celebrate the springtime of Christ’s resurrection and the joy that no one can ever take from us. In anticipation, I wish each and every one of you, and all your loved ones, a very Happy Easter. Never doubt that this world’s winter, and even the winter of the Church, will inevitably give way to God’s eternal summer day.

In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “the church, embracing sinners in her bosom, is at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, and incessantly pursues the path of penance and renewal” (Lumen Gentium, 8). The council says “incessantly pursues” because the need is always painfully obvious among her members and it is always a struggle.On the eve of the Third Christian Millennium, Pope St. John Paul II solemnly and very publicly acknowledged that certain words and actions of Church leaders and Church members over the centuries had been hurtful and wrong. He expressed sorrow and asked humanity for forgiveness. “The Church,” he said, “asks forgiveness for the historical sins of all of her children … Recalling all those times in history … when … instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal.”

Inspired by the example of this sainted pope, I am keenly aware of how his words apply to our own situation here and now. As archbishop of Hartford, I ask forgiveness of God, of the wider community and of our own Catholic people, and especially of all the victims of sexual abuse and their families. I ask it for all that Church leadership “has done or failed to do” contrary to discipleship in the Lord Jesus Christ when it comes to the protection of our most precious treasure, that is, our children.

I offer this heartfelt apology not so much as the head of an institution but as the spiritual father of a family, the wounded family of faith that is the Archdiocese of Hartford. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians in today’s second reading, if one part of that family suffers, all the parts suffer with it; just as when one part is honored, all the parts share the joy.

My dear brothers and sisters, sin and sorrow for sin is not the end of the Christian Gospel. Jesus says, “Repent and believe, because the Kingdom of God is near.” Mercy is always near; forgiveness is near; resurrection is near to those who know their need for God and for one another in Christ.

Those who have been sexually abused are indeed victims, victims who have nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about. They did nothing wrong and it was an adult who took sinful advantage of their trust.

But among them there are also those who prefer to be known as survivors. Faith tells us that this is not an impossible outcome. Nothing is beyond Christ’s healing power.

The archdiocese is pledged to offer victims the help of a support group and professional counseling services, but the deepest wounds and the deepest healing are always spiritual. So we turn to the Sacrifice of the Mass, our adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, our pleas for divine mercy and our prayers to Mary, Our Mother and Mother of the Church.

This is the necessary spiritual accompaniment for all we are trying to do to bring healing to those who have been so wounded by the sin and crime of sexual abuse by the Church’s clergy.

At the end of today’s Gospel, we are told that every eye in the synagogue of Nazareth was fixed on Jesus. And so it must be with us. During adoration after this Mass, we have an opportunity to prolong our prayerful gaze at Him in the Blessed Sacrament. We ask Him to restore joy to the wounded and freedom to those who feel bound to what they have suffered; to restore sight to those who cannot see a way forward; and, above all, to let the oppressed go free. Please join me in this entreaty.

And may God bless us all in overcoming evil with firm faith that where human possibilities are bleak or exhausted, the possibilities of God begin.