A bishop elevates the Eucharist in front of a stained glass window. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano elevates the Eucharist during the liturgy at a June 19, 2022, Mass at Rochester’s Corpus Christi Church. (EMC file photo)

Roll back stones blinding us to Easter message 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus: 

In the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark proclaimed at the Easter Vigil, we heard these words: “They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’” This was the concern of Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome as they were going to the tomb where Jesus was buried in order that they might anoint Him (see Mark 16:1-7). The passion of Christ culminating in His crucifixion on Golgotha did not deter these women from still reverencing the Holy One, Whom they had followed faithfully and loved so deeply. 

“Who will roll back the stone?” To their amazement, they discover that the stone was removed from the tomb as recorded in the Holy Gospel according to St. John proclaimed on Easter Sunday (see John 20:1-9). As the Gospel unfolds we learn that the empty tomb was not emptiness and abandonment, despair and defeat, darkness and death, but rather revealed the radiant light of new life, eternal life, hope unbounded, the power of the Resurrection. Jesus had conquered death: “Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous; The Prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal” (sequence for Easter Sunday).

“Who will roll back the stone?” This is a question that can be applied to our own lives, to all peoples of every nation, race and culture. Who will roll back the stone that still locks ancient nations and civilizations, modern day societies and newly developed nations in wars and conflicts that prohibit the light of peace from shining through, the light that is Christ? 

“Who will roll back the stone?” Who will roll back the stone that isolates people from one another due to prejudices and the hostilities they fester, so that the peace and reconciliation of Christ cannot take root? 

“Who will roll back the stone?” Who will roll back the stone that prevents our children from knowing who Jesus is as they begin their own journeys of life? 

“Who will roll back the stone?” Who will roll back the stone that leaves women alone, unwanted and abandoned in troubled pregnancies, without any support in welcoming the child in the womb to enjoy the gift of Christ’s life? Who will roll back the stone that keeps fathers in these difficult situations from accepting their responsibilities? 

“Who will roll back the stone?” Who will roll back the stone that views old age and persons with disabilities as burdens to society, rather than seeing in every person the face of Christ? 

“Who will roll back the stone?” Who will roll back the stone that locks young people and adults in addictions that so diminish their dignity as the sons and daughters of God? 

Through His glorious Resurrection, Jesus Christ broke through all barriers and, He asks us to do the same as His disciples. Easter is the great feast of life, the life of the One risen from the tomb, the One who said: “I have come that you may have life and have this life to its full” (John 10:10). While contemporary society may sometimes believe it is rolling back the stone, it rather is cementing the stone that intrudes upon the rights of parents to be the first and best of teachers of their children in the ways of the Christian life; it may intentionally or unintentionally infringe upon the freedom of people to profess and live their religious beliefs; it may construct stones for a false freedom that allows death and destruction in a world without vigilance, without a sense of responsibility and a consciousness about how personal choices affect others, and without providing the proper care and protection for God’s people; it may construct the stones of injustice which diminish the rights of all people, particularly those suffering persecution and inhumane acts of terrorism, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

We need to roll back the stones of indifference that create an unwillingness to cooperate with one another to achieve the peace of Jesus, His message of Easter. In his 2016 World Day of Peace Message, Pope Francis wrote: “The first kind of indifference in human society is indifference to God, which then leads to indifference to one’s neighbor … This is one of the grave consequences of a false humanism and practical materialism allied to relativism and nihilism. We have come to think that we are the source and creator of ourselves, our lives and society. We feel self-sufficient, prepared not only to find a substitute for God but to do completely without Him. As a consequence, we feel that we owe nothing to anyone but ourselves …” Pope Francis also referred to St. Pope Paul VI, who noted: “… there is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute …” (Encyclical Populorum Progressio, 42). 

The temptation to think of ourselves first and Jesus later has been a constant challenge to humanity. The Church, founded by Christ but entrusted to the care of human beings, has had its moments of glory, moments of sadness, moments of great accomplishments and moments of defeat; in sum the Church has experienced Good Friday and Easter. What keeps the Church forever vibrant is that, despite human frailty, her cornerstone is Jesus Christ; and so it is that our Church, our Mother, breathes with the life of the Holy Spirit. Difficulties occur when, after century upon century of evangelization, we still do not comprehend or make the effort to understand the great salvific event and lose sight of Jesus! Let us remember that those first disciples knew despair and defeat, a lack of understanding in the days following the passion and death of Christ, but they clung to Jesus and did grow very strong in the faith, even to the point of martyrdom. If Jesus ever passes from our gaze, we must roll back the stones that blind us that we may see these courageous witnesses to Christianity who inspire us to imitate that same strong faith. 

In his encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Pope Francis wrote so movingly of Jesus’ death upon the cross: “Christ’s death discloses the utter reliability of God’s love above all in the light of his resurrection” (No. 17). It is this very love that has the power to transform the sadness and tears of Golgotha into the hope and joy that is eternal wrought by Christ’s glorious resurrection. Good Friday’s tragedy leads to the triumph of Easter. “As the risen one, Christ is the trustworthy witness, deserving of faith (see Rev 1:5; Heb 2:17), and a solid support for our faith” (ibid). He has rolled back the stone that would have blocked our way to eternity. Indeed, no cross could contain Him; no stone could hold Him bound; He is Christ the Savior. And so the poet writes:

Condemned, rejected. 

This stone, erected. 

Is set as a sign of victory 

And the cornerstone. 

Destroying sin, not nature, 

He creates a new creature, 

Stretching himself to reconcile 

Jew and Gentile. 

Glory to our head! 

And peace to every member. Amen. 

— Ecce Dies Celebris (Look! The Glorious Day) Sequence for Easter by Adam of St. Victor as presented in “Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry,” p. 536. 

I pray that the Risen Lord will bestow upon you and your families His joy and His peace. May you always find solace in knowing that Jesus lives among us and shares His very person with us, especially in the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist! The power of Christ accompanies all our human activities and brings to fragile humanity the hope of the Resurrection even when we experience our daily crosses, fears and anxieties. For this, we, too, cry out: Alleluia! 

Assuring you of my prayers throughout this holy season of Easter and asking a memento in your good prayers, I remain 

Devotedly yours in Christ, 

The Most Reverend 

Salvatore R. Matano 

Bishop of Rochester 

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