While this Lent may have felt as though it began a little over a year ago at the height of the pandemic, the promise of Easter resonates more profoundly for Catholics this year.
Before March 2020, Easter Sundays were a time of great celebration and social gathering. Most Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses were typically standing-room only and were followed by fellowship with friends and family on the way out of church, a potluck feast in the parish hall or an egg hunt for children in the courtyard. A global public health crisis instantly changed all of this and much more.
It was only in recent weeks that COVID-19 vaccinations became available to more people and churches, schools and businesses were allowed to re-open at reduced capacity.
“We believe that Christ conquered death with his resurrection,” said Monsignor Stephen Doktorczyk, vicar general for the Diocese of Orange. “But there’s a saying that there would be no Easter Sunday without first a Good Friday.”
Monsignor Doktorczyk explained that the losses experienced in the last year can help people “become more appreciative for the health, friendships and jobs we have.” Emphasizing that God is ultimately in control, he hopes that people have used this time to grow deeper in their relationship with God.
“I think that in conjunction with what this Easter event means in general and put it in light of our ‘special circumstances,’ maybe it should be even more glorious of an occasion,” he said.
Father Angelos Sebastian, pastor at St. Kilian Parish in Mission Viejo, points to the Gospel of Matthew 16:21-28 as an example of what Jesus expects of his followers. In this passage Jesus tells Peter and his disciples that he will have to suffer, die on the cross and rise from death to bring new life to the children of God. Peter immediately reacts in disbelief and tells Jesus that he shouldn’t have to experience suffering and death. But Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Father Sebastian thinks that Peter’s reaction happens to a lot of us.
“We often fail to understand the ways of God when suffering comes,” he said. “When inconveniences or illnesses happen, we think that’s the end and begin to question, ‘Where are you God? Aren’t you supposed to be here to help me when I am suffering? Is suffering part of this deal?’ We keep questioning God. But Jesus’ way is different. God’s way is different. God shows us through the cross that we all have to go through this phase of passion and suffering. Which we’ve been experiencing this past year. The most beautiful part of our faith journey is what is to come. That is what Easter is showing us. Easter is a great feast of hope. The most beautiful thing of life is what Jesus promises. New life with God. Resurrection with Jesus.”
He encourages people to be prepared to carry the cross in order to become disciples of Jesus.
“The Christian way is directly opposed to the ways of the world,” he explains. “But you have to deny yourself to follow Jesus. That’s what leads people to share in the glory of the resurrection. So in order to experience the glory of the resurrection, we have to also be willing to share the suffering of Christ. The people who understand the ways of the Lord are able to understand why their suffering is happening. They don’t question God, but rather they say, ‘God give me the grace to embrace it as you want me to.’”
Monsignor Doktorczyk wants the faithful to also focus on Jesus as man and God. It’s the key to fully understanding the meaning of the resurrection and how it’s important to our Catholic faith.
“Jesus was not limited by the torture and physical death,” he explains. “The empty tomb gives us much certitude that the resurrection really did occur and should give us certitude that Jesus is not just a nice man or one prophet among many or just a wonderful teacher…the resurrection shows that he was fully man and fully God because this is not an event that happened to anyone else. Only Christ. That should give us certitude if we need it. The resurrection is a proof that he was God.”
The stress of a pandemic weighs heavily on many Catholic families, but Father Sebastian wants the faithful to remember that it’s not the end.
“If you believe in Jesus Christ then we are to believe that we are the resurrection people. We are the Easter people,” said Father Sebastian. “So Good Friday and suffering is not the end of the story. It’s only the beginning. There’s so much more beauty in Christian life.”