Fr Gheddo: Easter is the celebration of joy
Reflecting upon the mystery of Easter, a fact of history and faith, Fr Gheddo says that it leads life towards positive outcomes, even when it is hard and poverty-stricken. Marcello Candia and the Blessed Clemente Vismara are examples to follow.
Milan (AsiaNews) – Easter is the celebration of our faith. We are Christians, disciples of Christ, because He rose from death. "[I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain," said Saint Paul. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which changes in a positive way the history of humanity and of every man and which changes and improves our own small life. Let us see why and how.
There are three levels of understanding of Easter:
1) The phenomenological level. The Resurrection of Christ is an historical fact to the extent that it actually occurred in history and was witnessed by many people: the empty tomb, and the risen Jesus that pious women and the disciples saw and touched. The 2000 years of Christian and Church history are rooted in this extraordinary historical fact: the Son of God became man to save us from sin (the offence against God, i.e. selfishness) and death. The Resurrection is not a myth, a fairy tale, but an historical fact that cannot be denied. Otherwise, we might as well deny the existence of Julius Caesar and Buddha, Mohammed and many other historical figures, for whom there are fewer witnesses and documents than for Christ.
2) The level of faith. The Resurrection is also a mysterious, humanly inexplicable fact. It is a "mystery of faith" that requires faith, God’s gift, in order for it to be understood and believed. Today we worship the Risen Lord, and we ask God to increase our faith in Him, the only Saviour of man and the world. The classic example is that of the Apostle Saint Thomas, who was not present when Jesus appeared to the other Apostles, and did not believe he had risen. However, when he saw Jesus and touched the wounds on His hands and side, he believed that he had truly risen. From the undeniable historical fact, he went straight to faith in Christ the Son of God, "My Lord and my God!"
The Venerable Dr Marcello Candia, a lay missionary among the lepers of the Amazon, often said, "Lord, increase my faith." I told him that he had a lot of faith, but he replied, "Remember Piero, that faith is never enough!" Today the modern secularised world makes us "live as if God did not exist." But God exists and died on the Cross in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, who opened the gates of Heaven.
How many people live without knowing why they live! Their life is almost exclusively material, without a light from high above to enlighten it, without the hope of reaching the goal of eternal life with God! The existential pessimism so prevalent today among us Italians, more than 90 per cent of whom are baptised, is educationally harmful for young people and comes precisely from the fact that the risen Christ, who is a beacon of hope and an invitation to rise with Him, is no longer meaningful. The faith children receive neither enlightens nor warms life. Even if some devotions survive, they now no longer bring serenity and the joy of living.
3) The third level of understanding of Easter is that of love and imitation of Christ. It is not enough to believe in Him intellectually. What does it mean to believe in the risen Christ? It means to live Christ’s life, to know and love Christ, to set off seriously and joyfully on the path of imitating Christ, and to bear witness more and more to him in our lives. The gift of faith I received was not given to me just to experience it for myself and my family, but was also given because in Italy’s and the world’s miseries, we are the light and salt for people, the yeast for the society in which we live.
Easter gives meaning and indicates a goal in our lives. If Jesus rose from the dead, I will rise again with Him. This is the real novelty of Christianity. The resurrection from the dead to live an eternal life with God is a truth that no other religion has revealed; only Christ has and even promised to us.
The level of faith is comforting; it makes our life real and happy. But how hard it is! We must live the life of Christ, fall in love with Christ, imitate Christ by getting rid of sin, and correct our faults and bad habits. The Jubilee of Mercy of God calls us to convert. We must all convert ourselves. We priests too are sinners called to convert. It is a journey that lasts a lifetime, that keeps us young at heart, and gives us the enthusiasm to live in Christ and with Christ, doing good. Love covers the multitude of our sins.
Last thought. According to a popular saying, "I am happy like an Easter (clam)"* when I am moved by great joy. The Risen Christ is a source of joy and hope, and gives us an optimistic outlook on our life and on the world we live in. It makes us see the world around us through God’s eyes. No through our eyes but through God’s eyes.
The Blessed Clemente Vismara, who was a missionary in Burma for 65 years, led a hard a painful life, among the poor and lepers, famine and pestilence, guerrillas and dictatorship. He endured hunger and thirst, and put up with repugnant foods (mice, worms, etc.). In the first eight years of his mission, he slept in a shed made of mud and straw, and when it rained, used an umbrella to avoid getting wet. And yet, he managed to set up two Christian centres for more than 300 orphans and disabled people.
Despite this, Clemente Vismara was called "the priest who always smiles.” He was always happy. In a letter, he wrote, "We are living here the life of the poor of Christ, but we feel a heavenly joy and our worries for tomorrow are relatively light, because the work is not ours but belongs to the Lord Jesus who sent us here." In another letter, he wrote, "We have never lacked in heart-felt joy and peace. We lead the life of cheerful missionaries, who enjoy in sacrifice, anticipating the reward that will be given to those who abandoned their father and mother to follow Jesus."
His nephew Guido, the son of his sister Stella Vismara, once wrote to him saying that the world was foul. In his replay, the Blessed said, “Dear Guido, even though I live in a pagan world, uglier than the Christian one in which you live, I tell you that the world is beautiful and that life is more beautiful still. Otherwise, what is faith?"
* ‘Contento come una Pasqua’ is rendered in English as ‘Happy like a clam’.