The following is an Easter message given by Archbishop Allen Vigneron. It was printed in The Michigan Catholic newspaper on April 18, 2014. A video message by Archbishop Vigneron may be seen here.
“If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith….” “But now Christ has been raised from the dead….” St. Paul (1 Cor 15: 14, 20)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Christ is truly risen. Mary Magdalene and the other Holy Women, Peter and the other Apostles, hundreds of disciples in Jerusalem, and then Paul, in due time, saw Jesus alive. They testified that this was no mirage, no fruit of wishful thinking. They saw him who had been crucified now alive in glory, and they willingly laid down their lives in witness to this truth. I know no better way to offer Easter greetings to you than to borrow St. Paul’s words: Christ has been raised from the dead, and so your faith is not empty, not in vain! It was precisely in order to proclaim this Good News that St. Peter’s successor, the Bishop of Rome, sent me here to be the Archbishop of Detroit. Indeed, Christ is risen; he has appeared to Peter. Along with reaffirming the bedrock truth of our confession about Jesus’s Resurrection, I would like to offer some reflections about its meaning and its implications.
“God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” St. Peter (Acts 2: 32, 36)
Jesus’s rising is certainly a personal triumph. On the cross, even as his life’s blood drained away, he confidently entrusted his life into God the Father’s hands. And the Father “did not leave his soul in hell or suffer his faithful one to undergo corruption.” No, “God raised this Jesus,” as St. Peter proclaimed on the morning of the first Pentecost. But this vindication is not only personal to Jesus; it is cosmic in scope and implication. In raising Jesus on high, the Father, “bestowed on him the name that is above every name,” and that name is “Lord,” “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2: 9-10). In raising Jesus, the Father has made him Our Lord. This title for the risen Jesus is not a mere superlative honorific — not a kind of “pious hype.” “Lord” is his title to our total allegiance. In confessing that Jesus is risen, we recognize that he has absolute rule over every aspect of our personal lives and over our world: over my person, my body, my health, my plans and aspirations, over my family, my citizenship, my work and my rest, over my life and my death. Jesus’s word and will, his heart and his mind, are the measure for every choice we make and every conviction we hold: about what we count as true or false, good or bad, success or failure. The risen Lord measures all that is, including my existence as an American in the 21st century. Every part of me that does not fit his measure must be transformed, otherwise it will ultimately perish, for only Jesus the Lord is true and imperishable life. I have two special invitations to make about witnessing to the Lordship of the risen Jesus. First, to parents: Consider how you can best share with your children your conviction that Jesus is truly risen, that this reality shapes your whole life, and that you could wish for them nothing better than that Jesus also be their Lord — that his Lordship is not oppressive but liberating and empowering, and it guarantees that your family circle will remain unbroken, come what may. Second, to husbands and wives: Consider how in all the decisions you make, both the big ones and the small ones — about what to do tomorrow and what to do for the decade ahead — you take the mind and heart of the Lord Jesus into account. How do you let him shape the future you are charting for each other and for your family? Now risen to new life, Jesus alone can infuse that future with real vitality and preserve it from the blight of sin and death.
“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.” The Lord Jesus (Lk 17: 33)
In saying that “whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it,” Jesus pronounced what I like to call the “Law of the Paschal Offering,” the foundational principle that only what is deposited into God’s keeping with total abandonment is safe. In rising from the dead Jesus has demonstrated the validity of this “Law” and has become the guarantee of its truth for all of us. Christ is totally victorious over all the forces of death, and only what is placed into his hands for safe keeping is really safe. Everything outside of his protective embrace will disintegrate. This “Law of Paschal Offering” explains why we disciples of Jesus must join in celebrating the Holy Eucharist every Sunday. If we do not constantly “deposit,” as it were, all the riches of who we are and what we have into the hands of the living Christ, so that in this great Sacrament he can offer them along with his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity to the Father, then they will be lost, gone, wasted. What we do not offer to the Living God will die; and the way God has established for us to make that offering is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To participate in the Mass is the way to be a wise steward over the great treasures we have received in love from the hand of the Father.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” The Lord Jesus (Jn 12: 24)
Jesus’s pronouncement that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit,” could be considered a sort of corollary to what I referred to above as “The Law of Paschal Offering.” Not only is all that is abandoned into God’s hands preserved, but in its being offered with abandon it becomes abundantly fruitful. Jesus is not only the illustration of this corollary; he is also its cause. It is by our dying with him that our dying to self bears much fruit. The upcoming canonization of two great popes, Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II, on Mercy Sunday is a powerful illustration of the truth Jesus teaches us. In our own lifetime so many of us have seen — some of us experiencing up close — the great, good fruit that was born in the lives of these disciples because they lived in full communion of mind and heart with the dying and rising of Jesus. The “secret” to their success is no real secret at all. It is Jesus the risen Lord. The canonization of the two popes, so beloved for how wisely and lovingly they shepherded us, is a call for all of us to live out our vocations in life in the power of the same Spirit, the life-giving Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. Living every aspect of our lives as an oblation made together with Jesus will produce results beyond what worldly calculation could ever imagine. Even pain and death themselves will be transformed into something beneficial when we live through them united with Jesus in love. All of us want a better future for ourselves and for those we hold dear. The only sure way to secure what we long for is following Jesus along the way of the cross to the glory of Easter.
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to every creature.” The Lord Jesus (Mk 16: 15)
The Good News is that Jesus is risen. He was dead; he died a shameful death on the cross; but he is risen, vindicated, exalted in glory. And he give us eternal life. Since the first Easter Sunday the disciples have shared this news with one another; and after the first Pentecost Sunday they proclaimed this news far and wide, to the very ends of the earth. Now, even 20 centuries later, this news that Jesus is risen is no less good, no less welcome. Pain and death, sin and blight are still with us. And Jesus abides as our risen Lord, the only remedy for our afflictions. May you have great joy this Easter in embracing anew the Good News; and may your joy be increased a hundred-fold in sharing this Good News by your words and your witness with your families, your friends, your neighbors and everyone you meet.
With prayers and best wishes,
The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron Archbishop of Detroit