Today we enter the Octave of Easter. The days of this coming week are celebrated as Solemnities which invite us to relive liturgically the experience of Easter.
This week will be especially significant for the 32 individuals who received the Sacraments of Initiation at St. Mary’s Cathedral Easter Vigil. That evening we heard the Gospel of Matthew proclaimed and how the women who were going forward to see the tomb as the first day of the week was dawning. They discovered that the stone had been rolled away, they entered the empty tomb and thus came to believe in the resurrection. This was the first way in which the faith and belief in Jesus’ resurrection was received. The empty tomb is the first step in their journey of faith.
Then the Angel instructed the women to go forward and to tell the disciples to return to Galilee where they will see him. It is through these post-resurrection appearances of the risen Lord that the women, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Peter by the shore of Galilee, Mary, Thomas and the apostles gathered in the upper room came to believe. This was the second way in which their faith in Jesus’ resurrection was confirmed.
Gradually as the disciples came together and shared these experiences of the risen Lord, they were drawn by the Holy Spirit to remember their first encounters with the earthly Jesus in Galilee. They began to recall what he had taught them, that he must first undergo his passion, a death on the Cross and be raised up on the third day. In rereading the Old Testament scriptures in light of the risen Lord they also both confirmed and strengthen their resurrection faith. This was the third way in which they came to believe and give witness to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
These pathways of experience allowed for the disciple’s hearts to be strengthened in the faith of the resurrection and how the Holy Spirit empowered them to pass this witness on to successive generations. Pope Francis in his Easter Vigil homily reflected on why it was so important for the disciples to return to Galilee.
First, it was necessary for them to leave the enclosure of the upper room. To let go of their fear, to emerge from hiding and a state of paralysis so as to embrace a new future in going forward.
Secondly, they were being led to retrace their steps, to return to where they first encountered Jesus in Galilee and where they received the personal call to follow him as his disciples. He noted that this signifies a return to “the grace of the beginnings, to regain the memory that regenerates hope, the ‘memory of the future’ bestowed on us by the Risen One.”
Each year during Holy Week I make it a pastoral priority to meet with those who will be baptized and confirmed at the Easter Vigil. It is an opportunity for me to listen to their Galilee experiences and how they had come to know the Lord personally. It is sometimes the circumstance of one’s life. For the young adult or university student it may be the simple search for meaning and purpose. In others it is the example of a person’s faith such as the witness of a spouse, friend or family member. It is when we recall in our lives this encounter with the Lord, the beginnings of the foundation of our faith and belief, that we respond like the first disciples to the Lord’s call to return to Galilee to celebrate the Risen Lord. This can strengthen each of us in moving forward in lives of faith and our belief in the resurrection.
The Gospels which we will hear proclaimed during this upcoming Easter Week recall the richness of these post-resurrection accounts of Jesus to the disciples in Galilee. This is the Easter experience which caused the disciples not to proclaim the tragedy of Jesus death but rather in sharing their resurrection faith in the promise of eternal life with a joy, hope and confidence given through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As we move forward together in this Easter season let us be remined of Pope Francis exhortation that, “this is what we are asked to do: to remember and keep going forward,” and, “rediscover the grace of God’s resurrection within (us)”. It is through the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter, and in receiving and believing the Word of God during this Easter season that our ‘resurrection faith’ can be strengthened.
Most Reverend William T. McGrattan
April 10, 2023