It’s Holy Saturday. Jesus is dead; a boulder is in front of the tomb, and it is sealed. He is gone. So now what? What next?
On Holy Saturday, my thoughts are with the apostles. Although Jesus foretold of his death, I’m not sure that they actually believed him or that they imagined it would consist of the sacrifice on the Cross. But Holy Saturday is when the reality hits them. Just imagine the millions of questions that they must have had. I imagine that they were similar to the ones above. “Now what? What next?” Imagining the disciples left with these unsolved questions, I start to realize that I too have had some questions when the going got tough or when I faced challenges, like on a recent mission trip.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of accompanying 18 students from The Catholic University of America and two other staff members to the island nation of Jamaica for an alternative spring break cultural immersion trip. While in Jamaica, we visited several sites run by organizations like the Missionaries of Charity, the Missionaries of the Poor, and the St. Patrick’s Foundation. The most impactful day for me was the one I spent at Bethlehem House. Bethlehem House is a home for children with severe mental and physical disabilities. Of the eighty children who live there, only about twenty receive the occasional visit from their families. The rest of the children likely never see their families again. Most of them will also never be able to live on their own without significant medical assistance. The missionary in charge of the home asked if I would work with the older children, telling me that these children get the fewest visitors either by family members or by outside groups. “They need your love more than anyone else here,” he told me as he dropped me off in the room. It was just me, a caretaker (who only spoke Patois, a native language of Jamaica that is a mix of Scots and Creole) and the children.
For the first hour, I didn’t know what to do. I was dumbfounded, heartbroken, and depressed by their situation. I could barely even crack a smile, let alone laugh. I didn’t understand the joy that others had talked about working with this group of children. I was aimlessly walking around the room, wondering, “What next?”. As one hour turned into two, one of the children woke up from a nap. He shouted from across the room “Hey! Hey you!” I looked at him and he said, “Come here and pick me up!” Still dumbfounded, I walked over to his crib and picked him up. He quickly told me that his name was Ashanti. Ashanti was one of the few children who was able to have a full conversation. He had such severe scoliosis that he was paralyzed from the waist down and had a lump in his back. Ashanti also had an enlarged, misshapen head. After about five minutes of walking around and talking with me, he grabbed my beard and declared that I was his best friend. He smiled and let out the most infectious laugh I have ever heard! In that moment, I knew that I was not looking just at Ashanti’s face, but at the very face of Jesus laughing and expressing joy. I learned more about love in those five minutes then I had learned in years. The rest of my day at Bethlehem House was full of joy, even in the midst of such extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
In reflecting about that day, I think about the apostles on Holy Saturday who had locked themselves away in the Upper Room, unsure of what was next. They wondered and waited. But Easter did come, and their joy returned. The face of Jesus did appear again, just as it had for me in my experience with Ashanti. After Easter and with that joy, the apostles went out into the world proclaiming the Gospel. We too are called to encounter Christ in the joy of Easter and spread the Gospel message. More often than not, our days are like Holy Saturday. We experience days when all seems lost and hope seems foolish. But we must resist that temptation, resist the idea that hope will not return, that joy is lost forever. We know that Easter is coming and will always come. Joy will have its triumph. And it can be shared and experienced by all those we encounter. So on this Holy Saturday, let us be like the apostles and go out into this world after experiencing the joy that awaits us on Easter Sunday!
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Hope lives! It might seem to be a strange phrase at first, but if we replace the word “hope” with “Jesus” or “Christ,” then it immediately makes sense to a believer in the Resurrection. The 50-day Easter season is a celebration not simply of an event that happened in the past, but is also a season filled with the hope that comes from belief in the Risen One, Jesus Christ.
What is this hope? It is the hope that all believers in Christ have that they will rise with him. It is the hope of salvation that comes through him. It is the hope that no matter the suffering, pain, challenge, and difficulty that is encountered in life, our lives as Christians belong to Christ. Our lives are meant to serve him, rather than self-serve—to do his mission, rather than our own. None of this is easy; it requires hope in the One who lives! As Pope Francis tells us, “He who hopes, hopes one day to hear these words: come to me my brother, come to me my sister, for the whole of eternity.”
The way to the hope of the Resurrection is the way of the Cross. Only through the painful experience of Good Friday do we come to Easter joy and hope. Most of us want to avoid pain as much as we can. However, I have learned the most and deepened my faith, trust, and hope, as well as become more loving and compassionate, as a result of painful, cross-like experiences. Some will say that suffering is meant to test us or is sent by God. Instead, I prefer to believe as my mother does, and say, “Stuff happens.”
Indeed, it does. Suffering happens as a consequence of personal sin, the sins of others, and also the action of evil. What do we do when these things happen? Do we curl up into a fetal position in the corner of a room and wait for life to end? No, as I learned well during my years at a Pallottine shrine dedicated to the patron saint of hopeless cases, St. Jude. The pilgrims who came there taught me by their lives and their joy that even in our suffering, in our experiences of the Cross, we strengthen our belief that hope lives. Christ calls us to continue moving forward in life and in love, sharing what we have found in him with all those we encounter.
As the Father raised the Son on that first Easter, God still provides for us today. He saves us from our sins and gives us hope. We are called to see with the eyes of faith in Christ, feel the love of Christ, and be filled in our hearts with the hope of Christ – a hope that lives now and forever.
Question for Reflection: How can you spread the hope of the Easter season to your friends, family, or community?