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Lenten pilgrimage reaches its end

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Praised be Jesus Christ for His holy mysteries of salvation! In these most sacred days of the Triduum, the “Three Days” which encompass the Last Supper, the Passion and Death, and the Resurrection of our Lord, I invite you to contemplate with me a meditation on these great events of salvation history, and our own participation in them. The pilgrimage of Lent has reached its end in the tomb, and we have died with Christ in our fasting and sacrifices. But the tomb is not the end, for Christ is risen! And by his mercy, we too can rise with him, sharing fully in the new life and abundant grace he offers, if only we do not swerve aside from following his way.

Forty days ago we set out, like the chosen people into the desert, so hopeful in the gift of freedom. As the scriptures helped us see, we watched in awe as God’s mighty power cast down pursuing armies. The Lord wrote the law in our hearts. We received the sign on our foreheads to remind us of repentance. The road of Lent may have proved more difficult than expected. The pilgrimage has tested our faith in unpredictable ways, and our faith has not always measured up to those divine commandments. Perhaps we are intimidated by our own weakness, as we have struggled to follow our Lenten discipline. Perhaps we have grumbled against God, for the suffering of the fast. Perhaps we have succumbed in some way to the lure of a golden calf. Our faith always takes a beating in this life, and the journey of faith, in some way or other, is never the easy path.
But in recent days we have approached Jerusalem. In the comfort of God’s city, we have offered our sacrifices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We have heard the voices of prophets calling us back to the way, and we have repented. We have waited for the fulfillment of promises, and we have seen mighty works, the healing sacraments of confession and holy eucharist, being done in our midst. The way has been long, but our hearts have been refreshed here. We have received new strength to continue to follow what God has taught us.
And now, there is one who arrives as light in the darkness! We have turned out in joy to celebrate the arrival of our king, bearing palms before him and smoothing his way. Surely, this is the moment we have been awaiting, the king who will give us justice and peace! Yet, we are so soon disappointed. What he gives us does not look like our vision of justice, and it does not feel like peace. Instead of victory over our enemies or rivals, he gives us a heavy Cross to carry. Instead of ease and relaxation, he gives us a still harder journey to undertake. He has exalted neither himself nor us, and we do not know what to make of this.

It seems that, in spite of our faith, our desire to love God, our trust in His promises, somehow we have allowed ourselves to be corrupted. It is so easy to mistake our desires for God’s will for us. It is so easy to try to tell God what he must do for us, and so difficult to listen to that small, quiet voice in a clamorous world. And the world around us only seems to be getting worse, year by year. The worm of doubt approaches, seeks to enter our heart. Temptations snare our feet. So many do not follow him, or follow only half-heartedly and exteriorly. Can we truly be his disciples in this life? Would we not be more rewarded by compromising or compartmentalizing our faith and living according to the world’s expectations?

And now we see him hanging dead before us on the cross. Our fearful denials of knowing him have driven us from his side. Our voices have condemned him, called for his death. Our sins have crucified him. With the greatest sorrow, we see now our folly, our weakness, our sinfulness. Our hearts are bitter with the weight of our betrayals.

And then, all unexpected, comes the best of all good news: Jesus Christ is not dead, but alive! The morning of Easter dawns, the first day of the week, and the tomb is empty! Now everything is different, remade. The weakness of our faith becomes the victorious strength of the risen Christ. The bitterness of our hearts bursts into a new flame of joy. Our doubts and our sins are washed away in the freshness of this new day. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead; we are saved in His grace and power. We sing with irrepressible joy at the generous mercy of the Lord, and we are made totally new in the resurrection.

This is the journey of our soul through Lent to Easter. Each year, we live again the events of salvation history and of our personal salvation. We die again with him as we did in the waters of baptism, so that we can rise again with Him from the tomb. We suffer with him, because we are sinners, yet we are not cut off from His love and mercy, because he is the faithful good shepherd who calls us back to the fold. The joy of our Lord’s resurrection remains new for us, celebrated this day and for the whole seven weeks of the Easter season. And in our hearts, every day can write this journey again in miniature, if we give ourselves to him in faith and obedience.

And because we have this faith, this belief in his resurrection and its power to “put all things under his feet,” we strive every day, our whole life, to live more and more as his disciples. We follow the daily interior journey of conversion. We share our faith with joy and enthusiasm, so that the light may not be hidden under a basket. We die each day to self, because he died for us. The cross is never the end, but leads always to new life in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear friends, celebrate Easter together with great joy and festivity! Christ pours his grace into our hearts and fills us with his generous gifts. He is our merciful Savior. He has ransomed our lives from an impossible debt, so let us thank him each day, by living his new life devoutly. Let us be united with him in prayer for each other! May the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ fill you with faith, hope, and love, and may he pour out all his gifts upon you most abundantly!
A most blessed and happy Easter!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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