My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus:
“And if Christ has not been raised, then empty, too, is our preaching; empty, too, your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). In contemplating these words of St. Paul, the scholarly pontiff Benedict XVI of beloved memory writes: “With these words Saint Paul explains quite drastically what faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ means for the Christian message over all: it is its very foundation. The Christian faith stands or falls with the testimony that Christ has risen from the dead” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II, p. 241).
Now so very close to the great Solemnity of Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of Our Lord, we see the dawn of new hope even among the upheavals of our world. Hope was foreshadowed even as the darkness of Golgotha enveloped all creation when “the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after His Resurrection, they entered the holy city…” (Matthew 27:51-53).
Golgotha was hardly the end! For through Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, death was conquered. Now, we, too, after having lived a life worthy of God, at the end of our earthly journey, hope to see the heavens open and to enter through the portals of eternal life! “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of James, cf. Mark 16:1) came to see the tomb,” and they heard the words: “He is not here.” (Matthew 28:1-6). Neither the nails that fastened Him unto the cross, nor the tomb in which He was buried, could ever confine or restrict Jesus Christ. He was beyond the restrictions of this life and as He broke the walls limiting humanity, He broke our earthly confinement and opened for us the gates of heaven. No, He was not in the tomb!
Christ was Risen, and He then desired to dwell in the hearts of every woman, man and child, and in all the ages to follow would dwell with His people in Eucharistic communion. He is here: in the Eucharist, in the Holy Sacraments He instituted and in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy that flow from hearts united to Him in Holy Communion. “Instructing, advising, consoling, and comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2447).
When we understand the meaning of Easter, then we can become people of hope. Pope Benedict XVI asked the question “What does Easter mean?” and responded: “God has acted. History does not go on aimlessly. Justice, love, truth – these are realities, genuine reality. God loves us; He comes to meet us. The more we go along His path and live in His way, the less we need to fear justice and truth, the more our hearts will be full of Easter joy. Easter is not only a story to be told: it is a signpost on life’s way. It is not an account of a miracle that happened a very long time ago: it is the breakthrough that has determined the meaning of all of history” (Pope Benedict XVI, Seek That Which Is Above, pp. 77-79).
Great minds, among them theologians, have struggled to look beyond Calvary’s apparent desperation and defeat. Yet a criminal hanging beside Jesus, St. Dismas, was able to see the dawn of Easter amid the clouds of Good Friday. With the little strength remaining in his own weakened body, he turned to Jesus and said; “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). One could say a repentant sinner was the first to announce the glorious Resurrection.
Dismas saw in Christ no ordinary human; Jesus was going to a kingdom not created by humanity; Jesus could forgive; and yes, whether verbalized or not, Dismas understood eternity! Dismas’ extraordinary proclamation of faith received those heart-piercing words of Jesus: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). How very ironic, when all seemed lost and hopeless, when nature itself cried out in despair, “Alleluia” rang and rings out in the heart of a repentant sinner!
For a long time, I have had a special devotion to St. Dismas. He certainly was not among the privileged persons of his time. No doubt, he had a hard life, a life without meaning that turned him into a criminal. But in his final hours, he recognized Jesus when so many others did not. Jesus saw in Dismas a humble and contrite heart, and Dismas saw in Jesus his only hope. Dismas gives us great hope, the hope of Easter: it is never too late to come home to Jesus!
On this Easter Sunday, take to heart the words of Pope Francis: “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do” (homily, St. Peter’s Basilica, Easter Vigil, March 30, 2013).
My sisters and brothers, invoking the intercession of Our Mother Mary, and our diocesan patron, St. John Fisher, I wish you the peace and joy of Our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ. May He bless you and your families now and always. May Our Lord take upon His shoulders the crosses carried by the sick, the poor, the refugee and foreigner, the victims of violence, hatred and prejudices and bring them to a place of peace, hope and charity.
Praying, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” I remain, wishing you a blessed Easter,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester