The right to hope

For my Easter column, I borrow the words of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, from his Good Friday meditation last week and from Pope Francis’ Easter Vigil homily last Saturday.

Reflecting on the meaning of the Crucifixion of Christ during this time of pandemic, Fr. Cantalamessa proclaimed that Christ’s cross has changed the meaning of pain and human suffering—indeed of every kind of suffering, physical and moral. Because of Christ, our suffering is no longer punishment nor is it a curse.  Our suffering was redeemed at its root when the Son of God took it upon himself. He points out:

“What is the surest proof that the drink someone offers you is not poisoned? It is if that person drinks from the same cup before you do. This is what God has done: on the cross he drank, in front of the whole world, the cup of pain down to its dregs. This is how he showed us it is not poisoned, but that there is a pearl at the bottom of this chalice.”

The pandemic has awakened us to the greatest danger human beings have always  been susceptible to: the belief in our own omnipotence, which is a delusion. And now, according to the retreat master of Popes,  “It took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us . . . God does this with us sometimes: he disrupts our projects and our calm to save us from the abyss we don’t see. But we need to be careful not to be deceived . . . God is our ally, not the ally of the virus!“

Among the positive fruits of the pandemic is the feeling of solidarity. as the virus knows no borders and has broken down all the barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth, and power. Cantalamessa continues: “We should not waste this opportunity. Let us not allow so much pain, so many deaths, and so much heroic engagement on the part of health workers to have been in vain. Returning to the way things were is the “recession” of which we should have the most fear.”

The papal retreat master then appeals to the youth:  “Say it with all your might, you young people, because it is above all your destiny that is at stake. Let us devote the unlimited resources committed to weapons to the goals that we now realize are most necessary and urgent: health, hygiene, food, the poverty fight, stewardship of creation. Let us leave to the next generation a world poorer in goods and money, if need be, but richer in its humanity.”

Pope Francis echoes these points in his Easter Vigil homily where he emphasized how in Easter night  we have acquired a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope.  He proclaims:

“It is a new and living hope that comes from God.  It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, with a passing smile. No.  It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own. . . .  Jesus’ hope is different.  He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.

The grave is the place where no one who enters ever leaves.  But Jesus emerged for us; he rose for us, to bring life where there was death, to begin a new story in the very place where a stone had been placed.  He, who rolled away the stone that sealed the entrance of the tomb, can also remove the stones in our hearts.  So, let us not give in to resignation; let us not place a stone before hope.”

There is a reason for this hope:  God’s faithfulness. According to Francis, “He did not abandon us; he visited us and entered into our situations of pain, anguish and death.  His light dispelled the darkness of the tomb: today he wants that light to penetrate even to the darkest corners of our lives.  Dear sister, dear brother, even if in your heart you have buried hope, do not give up: God is greater.  Darkness and death do not have the last word.  Be strong, for with God nothing is lost!”

And at the end of his homily, Pope Francis makes an appeal: “ Let us silence the cries of death, no more wars!  May we stop the production and trade of weapons, since we need bread, not guns.  Let the abortion and killing of innocent lives end.  May the hearts of those who have enough be open to filling the empty hands of those who do not have the bare necessities.”

I make mine the Pope’s final prayer: “Today, as pilgrims in search of hope, we cling to you, Risen Jesus.  We turn our backs on death and open our hearts to you, for you are Life itself.”

Even if tinged with sorrow and fear, I pray for a meaningful Easter for everyone!


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