My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,
I’m not much of an athlete. As a kid, I played little-league baseball, CYO basketball, summer softball, and I even captained a winter indoor-floor-hockey team one year. I dabbled in golf while I was a caddy in high school, and I’ve been known to tear up the course in mini-golf. I learned how to ski and swim at a young age and have always enjoyed fishing, canoeing, and even waterskiing. Sadly, however, even after a deep dive into my memory, I can’t remember ever winning a championship in any sport. I’ve never been part of a team that won it all!
But I certainly have cheered for a few championship teams, like the Mets in 1986 or the Giants in 2011. When a team wins a championship like the World Series or the Super Bowl, the celebration is huge and long-lasting. We don’t just pump our fist once in the air, say quietly, “We won!” and then head for the parking lot. No! Non-stop jumping, shouting, and hugging ensue as fireworks and music fill the air. Then come trophies, Gatorade dunks, speeches, champagne, and raucous “We are #1!” chants. Next, there are television appearances and a ticker-tape parade, followed by advertising offers, commercials, branded products that saturate the market, and invites to speak at all kinds of events. In short, everyone wants to keep the moment and the memory alive: “We won, and we’re not gonna let anyone forget it!”
On the cover of the May issue of Magnificat that accompanies this letter, we see the Risen Jesus as He ascends into Heaven, carrying a staff with a white pennant emblazoned with a red cross. That’s a Resurrection victory banner, not unlike a trophy or championship ring. The artist is proclaiming:
“Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! He is victorious over death! He won! We won!”
Now, I’m not saying that Christ’s Resurrection victory is equivalent to a sports championship. NO! Christ’s Resurrection is a divine victory played out on the field of humanity that has supernatural and infinite consequences. Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection make it possible for us to break the bonds of human sin and death and share in Christ’s bodily Resurrection so that we may one day be joined with the Father in Heaven.
We can see the epic importance of the Resurrection in our liturgy. During the penitential season of Lent, we stopped saying “Alleluia” and didn’t recite the Gloria during Mass. The only color we saw in church was purple, as flowers and decorations had mostly been removed. But beginning with the first proclamation of the Resurrection victory during the Easter Vigil, the Church goes crazy with joy: Candles are lit as all the lights are turned on. Bells and choruses of Alleluias ring out at full blast. Tulips, daffodils, and Easter banners brighten churches with a blaze of color. The celebration continues throughout the Octave, where each day is like another Easter. In fact, the Easter Season actually lasts for fifty days—until Pentecost on May 31—as the readings, white vestments, and Alleluias keep proclaiming the glorious victory of Christ’s Resurrection. Moreover, every Sunday throughout the year is meant to be a mini-Easter that keeps the victory celebration going.
Okay, I hear you. Much of what I just described didn’t happen that way in most of the world this year. It’s been tough to truly celebrate Easter this year. Things just didn’t feel very victorious, as we were unable to actually attend Mass or share Easter dinner with our extended family like usual. I propose two lessons that might help us understand and celebrate Easter 2020.
First, no victory—not even Christ’s victorious Resurrection—makes all pain and suffering go away. After the Mets won in ’86 or the Giants in ’11, all the injured players on their teams were still hurting. All the fans that had problems before the game still had them after the game. Yes, their victories may have brought great pleasure and even fame and financial benefits for some, but they didn’t remove all evil from the world. And Christ’s Resurrection doesn’t do that either, at least not in the short term. Just think, for example, of the Apostles: most of them died a martyr’s death, defending their belief in the Resurrection! Indeed, Christ’s victory doesn’t promise freedom from suffering. By becoming one of us, suffering and dying for us, and then rising again to new life, Christ makes it possible for us to unite our lives to His—suffering and death included—so that we too might rise again with him. Hardship and loss can lead to transformation and hope in light of the triumph of Christ’s Resurrection. As the Opening Prayer for Easter Sunday puts it, He “conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity” that we might “rise up in the light of life.”
Second, in these most unusual times, I propose we make an effort to create, notice, and celebrate any and all Alleluia moments. What’s an Alleluia moment? It’s any victory—big or small—that we are able to win as we try to live Christian lives amid the pandemic and its aftermath. An Alleluia moment might be staying awake through an online class or staying focused during a virtual Sunday Mass. It might be exercising patience with a family member whom we’ve never spent so much time with in the same house before. It might be saying “Alleluia” in thanksgiving for a good thing, like a phone call from a friend, an online family gathering, or an unexpected compliment. Finally, Alleluia moments could be times when we live the unavoidable challenges of these days in a meaningful way. As some might remember from reading Viktor Frankl, we are always free to choose our attitude toward suffering, and to bear our burdens responsibly, so that we don’t add to the suffering of others. Alleluia moments celebrate the acts and words of service and kindness we do for others or that are done for us.
Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi Message for Easter says all this beautifully. He gives a new and timely twist to the Easter Proclamation, “Jesus Christ is risen!”
This is a different “contagion,” a message transmitted from heart to heart – for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope: “Christ, my hope, is risen!” This is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the Resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not “by-pass” suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Whether you were a three-season athlete who is still racking up athletic championships today, or, like me, are still dreaming of that first elusive victory, each of us can do our part to spread a “contagion of hope” right now. May Christ’s Resurrection victory fill our hearts with joy as we unite our sufferings to His, and—by His grace and power—fill the days ahead with a ticker-tape parade of Alleluia moments.
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers, Fortes in Unitate!
Fr. Peter Heiskell, S.M.