Easter, hope and light

Easter, hope and light

In some ways, now is a terrible time to be a Catholic.

I involuntarily wince every time another Catholic scandal — another revelation of sin and evil in the Church — hits the headlines.

It hurts me, because I’m embarrassed. But it hurts me more because I love Jesus Christ. And I can only imagine that these scandals — from the lapses to the outrages — hurt him very much.

Our Lord founded the Church — by that I mean, he commissioned us, his disciples down the ages — to proclaim the Good News. To attract people to him.

Sometimes I think we’re not doing a very job of it. When I read those shameful headlines, I often think of Mahatma Gandhi’s words:

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

We all know people who are so disheartened by the Church’s dysfunction, that they are leaving. But then there are also people who — despite everything! — are coming into the Catholic Church.

Four young men — ranging in age from 12 to 28 — became Catholic during Hamilton’s Easter Vigil last night. They are accompanied by more than a million others, all over the world, who are receiving the sacraments this Easter.

So in other ways, now is a wonderful time to be a Catholic! Jesus Christ is risen! Light has overcome darkness. Life has vanquished death.

If the headlines I mentioned evoke the betrayal of Holy Thursday and the darkness of Good Friday, then the reception of our new Catholics evokes the dazzling light of Easter Sunday.

A new dawn. New life.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that the Church celebrates so many baptisms at Easter. The two are closely related. As Archbishop Coleridge so memorably puts it, “Baptism is Easter with your name on it.”

(If you’ve got six minutes, watch his Easter message.)

Given this link between Easter and baptism, and the phenomenon of so many adults coming into the Catholic Church at Easter, it’s a good time for all of us to ask, “Why am I a Catholic?”

The bloggers at Patheos’ Catholic channel have answered just that. There are as many answers as there are posts! That speaks to the catholicity of Catholicism I think.

Our faith is sometimes painted as narrow and authoritarian. Sometimes, we’re even tempted to view the faith that way ourselves. But we should reject that!

In the words of James Joyce, “Catholic means, ‘here comes everybody.’” Our faith is too big for any one person to get a handle on it. The Catholic faith is as large as the heart and mind of God, which is eternal.

When we live the Catholic faith sincerely, when we “become like Christ,” as Gandhi put it, then our own hearts and minds are enlarged, so that we can bring to others the hope and the light that Easter brings to us.

St Damien of Molokai

St Damien of Molokai

Today was the feast of one of the most awesome priests in the communion of saints. (In my humble opinion.)

On this day in 1873, Father Damien de Veuster landed at the Kalaupapa Leper Colony on the island of Molokai. For the next 16 years, Fr Damien was priest, nurse, sheriff, teacher and father to the lepers of Molokai.

He contracted leprosy himself only ten years into this mission, and he didn’t live to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. But he was not forgotten. His heroic life of sacrifice has inspired generation after generation, and like St Francis, his appeal is universal.

By way of example:

  • Six months after the missionary’s death, the celebrity author Robert Louis Stephenson exalted Fr Damien in an open letter to Rev Charles McEwan Hyde. Rev Hyde, a Congregationalist minister in Hawaii, was one of Fr Damien’s critics, and had dismissed him in his own open letter to Rev Gage, his Presbyterian counterpart in Hawaii. Stephenson, a Presbyterian himself, was scathing:

    If that world at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall be named a Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage.

    Ouch. Harsh, but true. Stephenson’s tract is an amazing piece of literature well worth reading.

  • Half a century later, Mahatma Gandhi invoked Fr Damien as an inspiration:

    The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism.

  • Pope Benedict canonised Fr Damien in 2009, but he is also venerated as a saint in the Anglican Communion and by some Lutheran congregations.

His ecumenical and inter-faith appeal notwithstanding, Fr Damien was “Catholic to his bootstraps.” His first priority upon landing at Kalaupapa was to reserve the Blessed Sacrament, knowing that he would need Christ’s sacramental presence to sustain him in the rest of his work.

Were it not for the constant presence of our Divine Master in our humble chapel, I would not have found it possible to persevere in sharing the lot of the afflicted of Molokai . . . Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be unbearable. But, having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content.

Amen.