ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS about Holy Week and Easter is the way in which we are enabled to relate the narrative of Our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection to the whole of our lives. This is helped by the ritual and special nature of what we do in church at this time of year; it is also strengthened by the ways in which we try to support adults who convert to Catholicism at Easter. The liturgy and spirituality of Holy Week and Easter are very rich, offering us something new each year to make our own; we learn that the ways in which we try to identify ourselves with Jesus in the narrative of the gospels should never be a form of escapism, it can never be something inward-looking or individualistic. We are enabled too in Holy Week and Easter to deepen our understanding of what it means to be part of the Church, what it means to be a Catholic, what it means about being a Catholic that makes us distinct. In this parish we are fortunate because the worship we try to offer to God at this time of year is so well organised and rooted in the history and life of the parish community – the way we take seriously the liturgy of Holy Week speaks of the nature of our community here in Beckenham.
Being part of the Church at Easter means that we are conscious of being a worldwide community. At a very gloomy time in the history of this country, and at a very worrying time in the history of the world, when sinfulness is doing so much to make worse and more toxic divisions among people, rooted in fear and suspicion, Easter demands that we ‘re-charge’ our doctrine of hope and confidence in God’s love for us. We are helped in this process, if we make the effort, by the witness of saints and of men and women throughout the history of the Church whose lives are marked by heroic holiness. I wrote a few weeks ago about the witness of Blessed Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador in Central America from 1977 until he was shot saying Mass in March 1980, because he is due to be canonised by Pope Frances later this year. Men and women are made saints by the Church because they are important not only in their own community, but for all Christians in every age, place and culture. For all our problems we cannot experience the sufferings of poor people in El Salvador 40 years ago – but Romero’s message, like that of all God’s saints, is universal. At his last Easter day in March 1979 he said this, inspiring words for all of us, full of hope; he is speaking here of the challenges which face those who work for social justice;
‘Those who preach and inspire the various forms of earthly liberation do not have to be ideologues, much less atheists who are without Christ. The one who most inspires the liberation of our country and of humanity is the one and only true liberator, the risen Christ. Christ is the one who proclaims this morning the true victory over all the oppressive forces of the earth. This Christ who now reigns in the glory of the Father can challenge the might of Pontius Pilate and the Roman empire; he can defy the fanaticism of the spiritual leaders of Israel, the priests who have perverted the meaning of religion.
By his resurrection Christ offers all the liberators of earth this challenge: “You will not free people! The only liberation that endures is that which breaks the chains on the human heart, the chains of sin and selfishness.” Christ is the one who has left the grave empty and has broken through the bars of death and hell, and now he invites all men and women to die happily so that they also, at the hour of the universal resurrection, can defy the tombs of our cemeteries, saying, “Death, where is your victory?” Everything else dies, everything else is sin, everything else is hatred and violence, everything else is bloodshed and murder and kidnapping. None of that is liberation. All that is buried among the old things that Christ leaves behind us to give us the new, true life which only true Christians can experience. Let us hope that the fanatics of violence and terrorism, as well as those who think repression and force are going to fix the situation, learn that those are not the ways of the Lord. Rather the ways of the Lord are love and respect and obeying the law of the Lord; they are the humble ways of Christ. Christ is the one who grants true liberation to those who want to accept it. Christ is indeed the key to the revelation of God.’