For the past several months, I have been immersed in the work of restorative justice. About a year and half ago, Archbishop Hebda asked The Basilica of Saint Mary to be one of three pilot parishes to take up the work of restorative justice in the wake of the clergy abuse crisis in our Archdiocese. Since then, the abuse crisis and attendant cover-up has become a global crisis for the Catholic Church. During this time, I have learned much about the pain of abuse from victim-survivors and have seen first-hand, the healing power of restorative justice. With restorative justice very much on my mind and heart these days, I was struck by how much the theme of restoration can be seen both in the readings and prayers for Christmas and for Easter.
On Christmas Day, we hear these words in the opening prayer: “O God who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Now, as we celebrate Easter, the theme of restoration is once again front and center. In the Easter Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, we hear these words: “For he is the true Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world; by dying he has destroyed our death, and by rising, restored our life.” The Epistle (Romans 6:3-11) at the Easter Vigil also speaks powerfully of our restoration in the risen Christ:
“We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
The reason we recognize the theme of restoration so prominently manifested on the Feasts of Christmas and Easter is because the work of restoration is central to the mission of Christ. We believe by faith that God’s incarnate love in Christ culminated in the paschal mystery of Christ – his dying and rising. Through the death and resurrection of Christ all of humanity is “wonderfully restored” and indeed reconciled to love of the Father. The reality of restoration in Christ is why the emotion of joy accompanies our Easter celebration. Again from the Easter Preface we hear: “Therefore overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise…” Using these words, I often tell Catholics at Mass that when someone asks them how they are doing during the Easter season, they should respond: “I am overcome with paschal joy!” I am only half joking and maintain that this is a perfect opportunity for evangelization.
The real joy of Easter is borne of faith and the truth that God has kept his promise – we have not been left in sin and death, but raised to new life. This promise of new life also awaits the Church as we continue to bear the weight of our own self-inflicted wounds. The same characteristics that mark the paschal mystery of Christ must also mark the Church’s path to new life: humility; suffering; service and obedience to God’s will. This is the lonely path that Christ walked and the path – the way – that he sets before anyone who would dare to follow him. As people of faith, we know that the truth of the empty tomb of Christ provides an enduring power and meaning that gives us hope in our present circumstances – no matter how challenging they may be.
Finally, a familiar and hope-filled image has accompanied me through my work in restorative justice, last Easter, and again this Easter. It is the image of Christ on Holy Saturday. He has descended into the netherworld – the pit of destruction – to lift up and bring to life all those who have died. This is the powerful image on the cover of your Easter worship aid and bulletin. It is taken from an ancient icon and is meant as a source of hope for all believers.
The outstretched hand of the risen Christ awaits all of this Easter. We all experience suffering and challenges. We all have our crosses that we bear. Our present world appears to suffer greatly from a lack of meaning and compassion – realities that are co-extensive. Christ’s promise of new life is not an abstraction – but an ancient promise that still holds power in our present lives and world. This truth is a source of joy and hope for Christians. On this Easter day – in this place – the hand of the risen Christ is outstretched to us – seeking to wonderfully restore us to new life.