Monday, April 5, 2010

The challenge to celebrate Easter well

Alleluia! The Lord is risen! Our 40 days of Lenten observance ended on Holy Thursday, and after three days of intense prayer and liturgical ritual, we now enter into the prolonged celebration of Eastertide. Liturgically, we will be celebrating this till Pentecost, giving us seven weeks of living the life of the Risen Lord.

One doesn’t need to be astute to observe that between Christmas and Easter, the general sense (and this is not just among Christians) is that there appears to be a greater willingness to celebrate Christmas than Easter. Even the shopping malls have hardly a hint of Easter decorations, and you’d be hard pressed to find streets lit specially for the Easter season in the major cities of the world. I suppose that just looking at the commercial appeal alone, it may not be a good financial investment to spend so much on Easter just comparing on what Christmas can reap into the tills.

But I am not at all interested in the commercial viability of things in this reflection. As a priest, and someone who is placed in charge of nurturing souls, I am far more interested in forming hearts that pattern themselves after the heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And the challenge that many of my brother priests and I experience is that it is far more difficult to help our Catholics see that it really is the Lent-Easter period that gives us the raison d’ĂȘtre of our faith.

The fact is that most of us prefer not to face the hard task of looking at suffering with much depth of honesty. Christmas presents us with a tender infant wrapped in swaddling cloths. How threatening can that be? But the events unfolding from Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday are anything but comforting and tender. We only can face those days of heaviness with a certain degree of purposefulness if we have done our Lenten ‘homework’ well. And what our Lenten observances help us do, is to look into the deeper parts of our lives to see what are the things that we may have been avoiding that prevented us from truly being alive in Christ.

Only when we do that well, with diligence and raw honesty, will going into the depths of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday become truly life-giving to us, enabling us to come out of some of our tombs which had not one, but many stones covering their entrances.

But I am sure that many of us want that Easter Sunday experience of emerging from our empty tombs. But this is hardly possible if we haven’t made much attempts to die to ourselves before the Easter experience. Generally, parishioners coming for Easter Sunday Masses are far more than those who come to journey with the praying community in the Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday liturgies.

Last evening, after all the parishioners have left, when the church was darkened, and the sweet smell of incense was left hanging in the air in the church, I pondered if we could have done better as Church, to help the people become more alive in the life of the Risen Christ. There was a strange mix of Easter joy with the physical tiredness of the last three days of heaviness and busy-ness. Yet, I am sure we could have done more. Will we as Church ever reach that point when we are all truly living that rich aliveness in all aspects of our Christian lives? Where we are all in pursuit of divine justice, givers of unconditional love and forgiveness, lovers of God and mankind who will the good of the other, and who are not afraid to admit of our shortcomings that can only find balm in God’s mercy?

To be sure, living like this means we have reached heaven. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, because that is why Jesus rose from the dead. And I think that because the truth is that a meaningful celebration of Easter will always entail a willingness to face our inner demons and enter our tombs, a meaningful celebration of Easter will always be a great, but necessary challenge.

Once again, blessed Easter to all.


  1. hi fr luke,

    here's wishing you al blessed easter


  2. Hello Fr Luke, thank you for this reflection. This Lent, I had made some sort of resolutions ( like the sort i always try to make at the start of a new year ). I wanted to change several things in my life. Kinda like doing Lenten "homework", in the hope that this Holy week and Easter will be doubly meaningful for me. But alas! I failed. All that i set out to do, didn't quite turn out the way I had wanted them to. Hence, on Holy Thursday, when I sat there in church from 10+ to midnight, I found myself not knowing what I wanted to say to Jesus. I sat there just doing absolutely nothing. I just didn't know what I should reflect on, and I didn't pray, to say the least! On Good Friday, I went for service, like I was just going through motion. Attended Easter Vigil and ... actually wished the vigil mass hadn't been all that long. You said it right -- I felt like there were just many many stones covering the entrance and I was in the tomb. However, this evening, when you reminded all at mass, during the homily, about Easter being a season of HOPE, about turning back, returning to our Galilee, I was very very touched. I suddenly felt that Easter has finally begun for me. Thank you Fr Luke for the very enlightening homily. Is there any chance that you could share that homily?
    Wishing you a Hope-filled Easter, FrLuke!

  3. Dear Padre

    May God give us many more Lent-Easters to enter into and emerge from our tombs, so that as we die a little each Lent, we take a step closer to heaven each Easter, until the day we die completely.

    And I sometimes wonder if the Church has become too busy on these 3 days, "buzzing around" too much preparing for baptism and all, when there ought to be quiet contemplation? But I guess there is always work to be done.

    Blessed Easter to You, former of hearts and nuturing souls.

    Jack :D

  4. Fr, Wishing you a Joyful and Blessed Easter!
    On Holy Thursday night when I returned to church to spend some quiet time praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I was quite disturbed by visitors in our church because they were happily chatting loudly and nosily in and outside the church with kids running around! I just could not understand the purpose of church visiting.

  5. I really don't know where the 'tradition' or 'culture' of church visiting on Maundy Thursday night began, but I can only guess that it comes from an intention to go and visit the Lord in as many churches as possible. Perhaps it began in the days when transport wasn't as accessible as it is now, with people generally going only to one church for the entire year, and this was seen as the opportunity to see what the other churches are like. But that is only conjecture on my part.

    But the Lord's request to his disciples on that night of agony in the Garden of Gethsamane was not to go hopping from one place to another, but to stay awake with him. And here, I guess, is the real hard part of that night. To not make ourselves busy, to stay, and to keep vigil. Not to send up requests, not to flood heaven with petition after petition (making ourselves the centre of the universe), but to allow God to come to our centre instead. If we are really interested in doing as God requests of us, we know that that is the real hard task of discipleship. It's the church hopping that is easy, because it removes the necessary self-knowledge that this honest hour is meant to steer us towards.

    But having said that, we must be happy that at least people are trying to physically go inside the church. With God's grace, we will all be able to go inside ourselves too.

    Blessed Easter!

    Fr Luke

  6. Hi Fr. Luke,
    I am not especially "into" the practice of (multiple) church visits on Maundy Thursday. All that rushing about sort of makes me feel like a "Martha" rather than a "Mary". Mind you, there are times when we need to busy ourselves with the mundane; but on Holy Thursday itself I imagine we are called rather to keep watch in stillness and in silence. Especially in our digital age this is often easier said than done. God Bless,

  7. If I may also be allowed to add my 5 cents worth on the issue of church visitation.

    Yes, I wondered (and am still wondering) who and how this practice or tradition came about.

    In addition to Robbie's comment about being more of a Martha then a Mary, all the noise and hype that happens every Maundy Thursday evening in the churches of our Archdiocese, only serves to remind me of what Scriptures says: "My House shall be a House of Prayer."

    It is also recorded in the Gospel narrative where Jesus overturned the merchants' tables and scattered the moneychangers' coins rebuking them with these words: "Stop turning my Father's house into a marketplace."

    In our modern day context, we witness vendors of a different kind capitalising on the "once in a blue moon" opportunity of Maundy Thursday evening peddling ice cream, drinks and desserts.

    I am no hypocrite myself, in fact I am an unworthy sinner who doesn't deserve God's saving grace, and although I have no issues with such church visitation, it would be an act of basic consideration to respect the sanctity of God's house and the praying presence of our fellow brothers and sisters by observing silence, proper behaviour and decorum not only when visiting churches on Maundy Thursday evening, but whenever we gather together in prayer and worship on a weekday and/or weekend.

    If we need to be reminded of these very basics in life, perhaps it's a sad case of "kurang ajar" - a lack of proper upbringing.

    Happy Easter, Father Luke and all visitors and commentors to this blog.

    God's unworthy servant, Monsignor Emeritus.

  8. It was tough on Thursday. 10 minutes in the Garden of Gethsamane and the heart felt heavy, the mind wanted to get out. Fortunately the mass started and the choir sang like angels.
    There was a big crowd at the Cathedral of Good Shepherd, people spilled out into the compound. When the mass ended, I walked out to find well dressed people kneeling on the entrance stone steps praying, oblivious of the passing crowd.
    I must try to concentrate like them……

    Happy Easter Father Luke!

    Mary B

  9. i agree with you on that point about spending an hour with the Lord, that the most hard part is "To not make ourselves busy, to stay, and to keep vigil". i really found myself sitting there that night flooding heaven with petitions! until halfway, i suddenly thought of how Jesus was actually praying for courage for the next day and so i stopped petition-ing and tried to just stay still.
    but it was still kinda difficult to just stay still and keep quiet. there were so many things i wanted to say to God!

    so fr luke, any suggestions on how to keep still and listen to God during prayer instead of always being the one who's speaking?


  10. Happy Easter Fr. Luke! This is my first easter as a 1 yr old catholic! It's been a rough and extremely unforgettable journey with loads of lessons learnt and to remember. Good friday this year especially moved me in many sense.

    Take good care Fr.Luke and continue to INSPIRE!