No One Is Truly Alone.

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord.

Lessons from the primary dominca, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, at the Vigil:

• Genesis 1: 1—2: 2.
 [or, Genesis 1: 1, 26-31.]

• Psalm 104: 1-2, 5-6, 10, 12-14, 24, 35.
 [or, Psalm 33: 4-7, 12-13, 20-22.]

• Genesis 22: 1-18.
 [or Genesis 22: 1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18.]
• Psalm 16: 5, 8-11.
• Exodus 14: 15—15: 1.
[Responsorial] Exodus 15: 1-6, 17-18.
• Isaiah 54: 5-14.
• Psalm 30: 2, 4-6, 11-13.
• Isaiah 55: 1-11.
[Responsorial] Isaiah 12: 2-6.
• Baruch 3: 9-15, 32—4: 4.
• Psalm 19: 8-11.
• Exekiel 36: 16-28.
[Responsorial when there are baptisms] Psalm 42: 3, 5; 43: 3-4.
 [or, when there are no baptisms, Isaiah 12: 2-6.]
 [or, Psalm 51: 12-15, 18-19.]

• Romans 6: 3-11.
• Psalm 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23.
• Mark 16:1-7.*

…and, at Mass during the day:

• Acts 10: 34, 37-43.
• Psalm 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23.
• Colossians 3: 1-4.
 [or, I Corinthians 5: 6-8.]
[Sequence] Victimæ paschali laudes…**
• John 20: 1-9.
 [or, Matthew 28: 1-10.]
 [or, in the afternoon or evening, Luke 24: 13-35.]

Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, at the Vigil:

• Genesis 1: 1-31; 2: 1-2.
• Exodus 14: 24, 31; 15: 1.
[Canticle] Exodus 15: 1-2.
• Isaiah 4: 2-6.
[Canticle] Isaiah 5: 1, 2, 7.
• Deuteronomy 31: 22-30.
[Canticle] Deuteronomy 32: 1-4.
• Colossians 3: 1-4.
• Psalm 117: 1; 116: 1-2.
• Matthew 28: 1-7.

…and, at Mass during the day:

• I Corinthians 5: 7-8.
• Psalm 117: 24, 1.
[Sequence] Victimæ paschali laudes…**
• Mark 16: 1-7.

7:02 AM 4/1/2018 — In a little over a month I will mark my thirty-first year as a priest, and it’s difficult for me not to think back to my first Easter Week as a priest, and how unusual it was because it was also the week in which I conducted my first funeral as a priest, for a young man who had committed suicide. At the time, the contrast for me was very striking given the fact that the oil of ordination was hardly dry on my hands, and I was particularly up beat about my life and what the future held, yet I had to minister to a family whose son had given up on life in despair, and provide the services to conduct his soul into the waiting arms of a loving Father. Back then, the depressing nature of the task at hand was offset by the internal elation of just having achieved a goal that was some eight years in the making since the day I entered the seminary; but, now, having lived the priesthood for the past thirty years, with all its ups and downs, its bright moments and its darkness, its joys and its sorrows, not always in equal proportions, with the elation of being a newly ordained priest long since worn off, and the years of worry and failure and disappointment and isolation having left deep scars, my approach to such a situation would probably be very different now than it was then.
     Having encountered the contrast of someone who considered himself so worthless that he felt he had no hope at all with the objective joy of the Resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, from the grave, it was then that I began to develop my obsession with the virtue of Hope, about which you will hear me preach many times. But that obsession has evolved over the years. Let’s face it: a lot of people—perhaps even most—turn to religion only when they have no where else to turn; or, as a nun who served in a parish where I was once pastor said, “Have you ever wondered where all the normal people are at?” Nine out of every ten people you meet in this job are people whose lives have been broken apart by one thing or another, and who look to you to somehow glue it all back together. After thirty years of hearing confessions, of encountering people in the most desperate moments of their lives, one comes to realize that Hope is not something that one can turn on or off like a light switch. The old pious tag lines that we all thought worked years ago, like “Offer it up” or “God understands” and other things we say when we’re hearing someone’s problems while our life is pretty much okay, don’t work when you’ve been through the wringer yourself too many times.
     Of course, what it boils down to is a crisis of faith, which we all encounter from time to time, and from which no one is immune, not even priests. Those of you who have yet to experience such a crisis of faith may not be able to relate to this, but I tend to think most of us can. How much of it is spiritual and how much is psychological I’m not qualified to say, but it’s probably a combination of both.
     So, why am I reflecting on such a depressing subject on Easter Sunday? Because we are now living in a culture and in a time in which life has never been cheaper. Our unborn children are disposable, for example, and for a variety of reasons: deformed or defective in conception, or perhaps conceived as the result of some crime or act of violence, or sometimes nothing more substantive than being unplanned or unexpected. The elderly are also becoming increasingly disposable, especially when caring for them requires an investment in time and money. Even we, ourselves, have become expendable in our own minds when we find out we're suffering from some terminal condition that promises suffering and pain, and in some cases even if that pain and suffering is only psychological. And, of course, all of these new attitudes require a complete rejection of the notion that life on this earth is only a prelude, and that how well we endure the hardships of this life has a lot to do with whether we are found worthy of the next life. In other words, it's a lack of faith. Pope Saint John Paul II called this new attitude the “culture of death.” It doesn't see itself that way; it believes it's focused on living life to the fullest, hence it's catch-phrase: “quality of life,” but life has little to do with it.
     There’s a very interesting scene toward the end of the Gospel of Saint John;—there are a lot of curious scenes that are recorded in John’s Gospel that aren’t in the other three, and a lot of them we don’t read about in Church—it’s after the Crucifixion, and Peter and a few of the other disciples are sitting on the beach around a fire. Now, because John reorders the events of our Lord's life to make theological points, we don't know for certain when this particular event occurred; he places it right after the crucifixion to make a specific point. Jesus, Who had just risen from the dead, walks up to them, but they don’t know who He is. And after a while Peter gets up and says, “I’m going fishing.” It’s a significant moment, because what was Peter before he met our Lord? He was a fisherman. Jesus had told him that he would become a fisher of men, but that was three years before; and, now Jesus was dead, or so Peter thought. When he gets up off the beach and says, “I’m going fishing,” what he’s really saying is, “It’s over. It was nice while it lasted, but it’s over. I’m going back to the way things were before I even met this Jesus.” Jesus, whom he doesn’t recognize, goes fishing with him, and what do you think happens? Jesus repeats the very same miracle He performed when first He met Peter: the miraculous catch of fish. And, of course, with that, Peter recognizes who He is, and realizes that he’s committed the sin of despair.
     The lesson wasn't lost on Peter, and it can't be lost on us. When we’ve reached the point where we cannot conceive of any way out of our problems—when there is just no solution that we can think of—all of a sudden Jesus provides one that we couldn’t have thought of because, to our way of thinking, it was impossible.
     That is what gives the Christian his hope: not that Jesus can somehow take the problems of this world and make them all go away; what gives the Christian his hope is the knowledge that this world will one day pass away and, if we have persevered—if we have been faithful to Him during our time here—then we, too, will enjoy an everlasting life where the problems of this world simply do not exist.
     Of course, we all believe this on an intellectual level, otherwise we wouldn’t be here, and we even feel guilty when we find ourselves doubting it. But internalizing it to the point that we’re able to so embrace the death and resurrection of Christ and so push through the barrier of the cancer, the destroyed marriage, the lost and wayward child, the personal debt, the loneliness and depression, to the point that our faith enables us to power through all of that and still approach life with the joy that our faith requires, is not something we can do alone, nor do we have to. And I don’t simply mean that we have our Blessed Lord to fall back on, which we do. We’re all in this together. None of us are truly alone, except when we choose to be. To put the question another way: Do I actually believe that Jesus Christ, Who is God having become a man, actually did die and actually did rise to pay the price for my sins and make heaven available to me again? And do I belong to a Church of people who are all in the same boat and share the very same struggle to find a way to reproduce that joy of living in my own life? That’s the perspective that we so often miss: as important as our own individual relationship to Christ is, we’re all in this together. When we’re sitting alone in our rooms shedding tears, internal or actual, over the difference between the life we always dreamed of and the life we have, there’s a plethora of others out there, sitting in their own rooms, doing the same thing, all of them thinking that they’re alone. Maybe it’s because they’re sitting in the wrong rooms. When Peter and John ran to the tomb because of what the women had told them, found it empty, and encountered our Risen Lord, the first thing they did was run back to the Cenacle, the room of the Last Supper, the “upper room” where they were last all together, and everyone was there except Judas. And it was there, when they were all together again, where they heard the joyful words, “We have seen the Lord!”
     Despair is a capital sin precisely because it proves that we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and have not joined ourselves in fellowship with the rest of those who do. If we believe that we are truly alone, that life truly offers no options, that there is no way out, then what we’re saying is, “It’s over. There is nothing left for me.” But how can that be? There is always something left for me at the end of this valley of tears, especially when I realize that the valley is populated with a lot of people just like me. The old Baltimore Catechism put it so simply that even a nine year old could understand it, and there’s a reason why it was the very first question in that catechism, because it was the most important. If we remember nothing else from Sunday school, remember this one question and we will all survive: “Why did God make me? God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, and so be happy with Him forever in the next.”

* At the Vigil in the ordinary form, all the lessons save the last are the same each year; only the Gospel lesson changes with the domincal cycle.

** "Christians! to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises. The Lamb the sheep redeemeth: Christ, Who only is sinless, reconcileth sinners to the Father. Death and life contended in that conflict stupendous: the Prince of Life, Who died, deathless reigneth. Speak, Mary, declaring what Thou sawest wayfaring: 'The tomb of Christ Who now liveth: and likewise the glory of the Risen. Bright Angels attesting, the shroud and napkin resting. Yea, Christ my Hope is arisen: to Galilee He goeth before you.' We know that Christ is risen, henceforth ever living: Have mercy, Victor King, pardon giving. Amen. Alleluia."