“In this night, the Church’s voice rings out: ‘Christ, my hope, 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!’.”
– Pope Francis, Easter 2020
The Resurrection speaks to us of new life. Christ the Lord has risen from the dead, never to die again. He offers us, too, the promise of new and eternal life. This si reflected in the Image of Divine Mercy, where it is this same Lord, living that new life now, Who comes toward us in the Image.
This particular year, the thought of new life can seem far off, even illusory. The world today is a different place to the one we were living in even a month ago – so very much has changed. Proof of this is seen in the Churches – on this day in every other year, the Churches are packed; but today, they are empty, with only the Priest standing there offering the Sacrifice of the Mass on this most sacred of days. The pews are deserted. Even at the Urbi Et Orbi earlier this morning at the Vatican, that emptiness was visible, as the Holy Father addressed a deserted Basilica. The very streets are deserted; everyone is in ‘lockdown’, fearful of an invisiable virus which is wreaking havoc throughout the world, leaving a trail of death, illness and isolation in it’s wake.
How, then, can we speak of a new life?
‘New’ life means something has changed for us. The ‘old’ life has gone, to be replaced by something else altogether. Our world view is different – seemingly the same as before, the reality is that everything is different.
Perhaps this is what it was like for the Apostles on that first Easter morning. At first, everything seemed dark; everything had changed. The Lord was gone from their midst and they were filled with fear and with desolation. And yet that same evening, He came and stood among them. And His first words to them were of hope – ‘Peace be with you!’. The Lord says those same words to us today.
They say that light shines most brightly in darkness. In these past weeks, there have been many shining lights – lights of caring and compassion shown toward others; the light of medical and nursing staff caring for the sick; the dedicated staff of care homes, staying with their residents no matter what; the compassion of those who reach out to the grieving; the friendliness and kind words of neighbours toward each other; all the little acts of generosity and goodness which people extend to those around them; and so much more besides. These are the first shoots and budding leaves of that new life. And much of this would not have taken place without the scourge of this pandemic. Truly, these are little lights shining in the darkness.
The Holy Father spoke earlier today of the ‘contagion of hope’ – far more infectious than any virus, this contagion is spreading out across the world. In the United Kingdom, you can hear that contagion – it rings out in the clapping on the streets of our nation every Thursday evening, as it does in so many other lands also, marking the thanks of the people for those caring for the sick and the dying. In years to come, when I look back upon these days, I will not remember the virus itself as much as I will recember those numerous acts of goodness and kindness I have repeatedly seen.
For the Church, too, there are budding leaves and new shoots of that same new life.
The Churches may be empty, and yet the people are gathered together as one – it’s just that we have had to find different ways to do this. But we have done it. Watching the Easter Vigil being livestreamed last night on my computer, I was aware that I was one of many doing the same thing – distance was irrelevant, for we were joined together in spirit. I read this morning that the figures for those taking part in such livestreamed services are huge – in many places, they exceed the numbers of people who actually go to Church. This tells me that the human heart longs for God; and it encourages me that in these days, the Lord is extending great graces to us, the effects of which will bear fruit in days still to come. Priests, too, have had to find new ways of exercising their ministry – many have done so very effectively and will, I think, have encouraged many souls to return to the practice of their Faith. This, too, is the grace of God at work, it is that new life of the Lord, risen now from the dead.
I have a small bonsai tree which I was recently very concerned about, as it was shedding most of it’s leaves and it looked increasingly unhealthy, as though it were approaching death. Seeing this, I have paid particular care to the tree and watered it carefuly and frequently, removing the dead leaves and hoping the tree will slowly respond to my care. I would have done none of this had I not seen the state of my little tree. Now, I see the tiniest little buds appearing all over the tree – new and healthy leaves are appearing and there are signs of new life. For me, this ittle tree says much about the present moment – for it, too, is filled with new life.
For all of you reading this page, I wish you the peace and the joy of Easter and of the Lord, now risen from the dead, Who offers us the contagious hope of His own new life.