Last October, I officiated at the wedding of my best friend’s eldest son. My friend died after a terrible car accident over 10 years ago. I was away studying for my doctorate when this happened, so I never really knew the details of the accident and how badly hurt he was.
I came home for the funeral. When we were cremating him, his eldest son started to hit the wall of the crematorium with both fists. I hugged him to prevent him from hurting himself.
We were both weeping as we hugged each other. The young man kept asking, “Why? Why did this happen? Why now when everything seemed so perfect? Why?”
At the end of my homily at his wedding Mass, I recalled that moment when he asked why and how we wept—because we then could not find words, no rhyme or reason for such a tragedy.
“Nic,” I said in my homily, “this is why! This is why. It was for this moment that your dad lived and died, that you may love someone and be a good husband and a good father as he always wanted himself and you, his children, to be.”
When we were planning for my friend’s wedding close to 30 years ago, I was then a seminarian. My best friend and I made a promise that we would help each other live out as best as we could our respective life missions, he as a husband and father and I as a priest.
Through the years, we accompanied each other in our respective journeys. It was colorful, to say the least, but we were there and kept our promise. We always considered each other as brothers.
At the moment of his death, I knew my best friend was living out his mission—at his best, with great love. As his son asked, “Why now when everything seemed so perfect?”
Everything was perfect because as Christ breathed his last on the Cross, he declared, “It is finished.” Mission accomplished. How could life not be perfect at that point?
In the pain and darkness of Good Friday and Black Saturday, the Resurrection shatters the pain and overcomes the darkness—quietly and unexpectedly.
When you look at all the Resurrection narratives, all the appearances of the Risen Christ were not in a grand or glorious fashion, the way they’re generally represented in various art forms. His appearances were quiet and unexpected; almost like in a moment of stillness, silence and solitude. Often there was an initial nonrecognition, and then the moment of recognition that becomes some sort of an epiphany.
It seems the moment of recognition is when the Risen Christ touches a personal chord in his friends. Then they recognize him and everything assumes a new meaning. Everything is renewed or, better still, comes to its authentic light.
“It is the Lord!” “Rabbouni!” “Were not our hearts burning within us…” “My Lord and my God!”
The Resurrection is also the resurrection of meaning and inspiration in our life. The Risen Christ inspires the sense of meaning and mission in us: “Were not our hearts burning within us…”
Today we celebrate this central mystery of our Christian faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. It gives meaning to everything. It assures us that what life is all about is the meaning we discover in the mission or purpose of our life.
The little book “Discovering Your Personal Vocation, The Search for Meaning through the Spiritual Exercises” by Fr. Herbert Alphonso, SJ, points out that our mission in life is to live out or witness to the quality of our relationship with God. If God to us is good, then we live out our life so others may see His goodness.
Eleven years ago, with great clarity, I saw that God to me was one who was lovingly, providentially present. And the work I do now is to help people experience this in their lives.
The Easter proclamations, the moments of recognition, say pretty much the same—who Christ is to his friends: “It is the Lord!” “Rabbouni!” “My Lord and my God!” It is life-
giving and inspiring; “Were not our hearts burning within us…”
It not only gives us a reason to live for, but an inspiration to live this meaning with great love, to dedicate our life to this with great love; and if we are so called and gifted, to die for it.
Easter is a special season to remember all this; to remember most especially the original inspiration of our life, when we see and know the mission we are called to live out, the mission that gives meaning to everything in our life and the mission that is the living out of the quality of our relationship with God.
The past months, I had journeyed back to the moments of my recognizing the Risen Christ in my life. The inspiration that made me realize I wanted to teach as my life mission, and the choice of the kind of teacher I was called to be: to love my students—others—into excellence, journeying with them to discover their own life missions.
I journeyed back to painful moments of loss, failure and betrayal. I recalled, in particular, moments of the pain of loving and losing loved ones the past years, and failing to love in return.
All these came back not as some sentimental journey down memory lane, but because there was a moment of inspiration—the recognition of the Risen Christ that renews and re-inspires the call to love others into excellence; a call I heard and responded to 34 years ago.
As I renew this inspiration in my life, I’ve realized that my experiences the past 15 to 20 years have led me to my own passion and cross; to my own agony in the garden, the moment of almost giving up on the mission and the dream.
As I told someone three weeks ago, little did I know that I was near being jaded in terms of loving others into excellence. At times, I simply went through the motions, without the passion and the loving. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, with a twist, it was doing “great” things with little love.
Then God sends us the grace—someone or something, an experience, a moment of encountering the Risen Christ again and again. And then we realize: “Were not our hearts burning within us…”
When this moment came, everything came back to me. And the experiences the past few months, the past few years, the past two decades all made sense again, renewed the sense that it was about the mission, the original inspiration to love others into excellence.
Even the mistakes and the pain all made sense, because I saw them for what they were. There were no excuses and rationalizations, no sugar-coating and subtle denials. It was a humble and trusting acceptance. It was healing.
To return to our original inspiration, we realize, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration; and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” (“Four Quartets: Little Gidding”)
This, I would like to think, is the grace of the Resurrection—realizing that through it all there was, is and will always be the Risen Christ, lovingly and providentially present.
“It is the Lord!” It is realizing that the original inspiration is Christ himself.
Equally important, perhaps, is to live life renewed and re-inspired: “Were not our hearts burning within us…”