Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord from the dead this Easter will be an extra joy for all of us as we rejoice with our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. He has already touched our lives with joy and hope for the future. This is exactly the message of Easter.
In his very first Angelus address last Sunday, our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, spoke about God’s mercy. “Brothers and sisters, the face of God is that of a merciful father, an ever-patient one. Have you thought of God’s patience, the patience that he has for each of us? That’s his mercy. He’s always patient, patient with us; he understands us, approaches us, he never tires of forgiving us if we know to turn to him with a contrite heart. ‘Great is the mercy of God,’ says the Psalmist.”
In these last days of Lent, we begin again to the journey to Calvary and the tomb, and anticipate the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord. The pattern of Holy Week sums up our whole life, and at each moment points to the great, abundant patience and mercy of God.
On Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, we celebrate the triumphal entry of the king into Jerusalem. Jesus is indeed our king, and we should have no greater loyalty than to Him. His entry into Jerusalem is like the entry of His mercy into our hearts, breaking open the gates we too often try to close against Him, His loving commands, and His holy Church. But Palm Sunday is also a warning to us, against too much adherence to worldly things and powers. Those who loved Jesus as king when He entered Jerusalem, soon turned against Him when He proved to be a different king than they expected. When we are mired in the world, we tend to have a false vision of what kind of king Christ truly is, and we too can end up turning away from Him.
On Holy Thursday, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His Apostles, and instituted for us and for the whole world the great gift of the Holy Eucharist. We have no greater gift than this in this life. When we receive Him in this sacrament, we are united as closely to Him as possible in this life. We are joined in our whole person to Him, to His “body, blood, soul, and divinity.” We are, for an instant, lifted out of the limits of our humanity, and experience in some fleeting way the fullness of Christ’s love and mercy for us. This is a foretaste of Heaven, when we shall, if we persevere, be joined to Him fully and eternally. This is why we must prepare to receive Him at Holy Mass, and why, not only in our minds and hearts, but also in the very objects we devote to use in the Mass, only our very best is worthy of God’s overwhelming gift to us.
On Good Friday, Jesus willingly died for us. In the garden, Jesus expressed His perfect obedience to the Father’s will, and in so doing, showed us how to maintain our Eucharistic communion with Him, and thus with the Father. In His tortures and humiliation, and especially in His crucifixion, Jesus plumbed the depths of our terrible capacity for hatred, inhumanity, and degradation. Yet He prayed for them, “Father, forgive them.” This is why no sin is too great for God’s mercy to wipe away. No matter how far we have fallen, it is still always possible for the mercy of God to restore us, if only we are willing to ask for that forgiveness, and offer the “sacrifice of a contrite heart.”
Then, on Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead. The Resurrection changes everything. For the Apostles, the Resurrection transformed their hearts, changing fear into zeal, and ignorance into clear and compelling teaching. For the holy martyrs, the Resurrection makes it possible to follow Christ’s Passion literally, not just figuratively. For us, too, the Resurrection invites our total commitment to the Gospel. This is our faith: that we, too, can share in this new, abundant, and eternal life, beginning already in this life but fulfilled only in Heaven. When the lies of the devil and the powers of the world threaten to limit or distort our faith, or demand a higher allegiance than is right and just, it is Christ’s ultimate victory than keeps a true faith within us. From petty sins to great persecutions, it is the Resurrection that, still and always, breaks these chains and sets us free.
Holy Week reveals the pattern of our lives: of true and false kingship, of struggle between God and worldliness, of continual conversion, and of the promised final victory over sin and death. Each day, each of us follows this pattern on the way to Calvary alongside our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s great mercy keeps us going. He keeps us able to love no matter how much the world abuses our hearts. He keeps us able to have compassion on the suffering of others no matter how much we have endured. God’s mercy, most especially in the holy sacraments, keeps the flame of holy faith alive in us, a shining light amid the world’s darkness.
My dear brothers and sisters, ponder the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death in these coming days, so that we will be able to celebrate with greater joy the Resurrection of Easter. Please pray for Pope Francis, and for me, that I may by God’s grace help many souls attain their salvation. Pray for our priests, for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, for families, for those preparing for Holy Matrimony, and especially for those who join our Catholic Church this Easter Season. May God’s great mercy stir in our hearts, and move each of us to greater repentance and love of neighbor and make us joyful witnesses of hope. May the glory of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ light your way every day!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
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