Easter A

To Galilee He goes before you

After the fall of South Viet Nam, thousands of homeless South Vietnamese fled west across war-torn Cambodia to Thailand, where they hoped to find escape to a land where they could finally discover peace.

In the late summer of 1983, Robert F. Baldwin, an American Catholic journalist met a group of 750 Vietnamese who had made this hard journey and were now living temporarily in a disease-ridden Thai refugee camp at Nong Samet. The 62 Catholics among them had a genuine leader. Joseph Phan-Dinh-Dai was a young seminarian. Each day “Brother Joseph” (as they called him) gathered them together to pray. They met with devout good will, because they realized that despite their trials, they had reason to be grateful to God.

They were particularly thankful for the “miracle” of Holy Week, 1983.

Flight from their homeland had not meant escape from war. As they moved across Cambodia, Communist troops invading from Viet Nam were fighting Cambodian troops. On March 30th the refugees were at a Cambodian refugee camp at Phnom Chat. Joseph was planning with them how they would observe Holy Week, just four days off. Suddenly heavy artillery started raking the area, though the bombs were still falling several miles away. A Red Cross official interceded with the Cambodian troops to let the refugees move to a safer place, but the Cambodians refused to let them go.

That night all was ominously silent. Then the bombs recommenced and shells began to fall very near the camp. The Cambodian soldier in charge now told them to run for their lives. They were on their own.

As the shelling continued, Joseph and his 140 fellow-Vietnamese decided to make for Red Hill. It was three kilometers away in Thailand – which was good, – but, the road was under heavy shellfire.

Now, the Catholics in the party had a crucifix with them that they treasured. It was a cheap wooden cross and the plastic body of Christ was missing an arm; but it had passed from one Viet refugee group to another since 1979 as a reminder of God’s presence.

At this point, Joseph picked up the cross and started off towards Red Hill, the 140 Vietnamese trudging along warily behind him. They moved under heavy fire, but they reached their destination and not one of them was injured.

“That was our Passover,” said Joseph to the journalist of the journey. “We comfort each other and try to carry the cross with Him, and we will be with Him at the resurrection.”

Truly, this little band of refugees had followed Him up to Calvary and had “conquered the power of death,” as today’s Mass puts it. Then He had gone before them into the Galilee of resurrection and of a new hope.

No wonder they thanked God at Nong Samet for this redemption. They had lived through it in their own flesh.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

(Editor’s note: This is one person’s version of the events, which Fr. McNamara learned of in the early 1980’s. He used it to illustrate a point about the Easter Gospel.)

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Q312: He is risen… isn’t he?

Yes indeed! Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again! This is the mystery of our faith. The Paschal mystery (life, death and resurrection of Jesus) calls us to at least three things: Faith, Renewal, and Mission.

Faith: do you really believe in the Resurrection of Jesus? This is the lynch pin, the foundation stone, the core of our Christian faith! If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain. But the many witnesses to subsequent appearances of Jesus give living testimony to the truth of this astounding fact. We believe without seeing that He IS risen! That is Faith! Alleluia!

Renewal: if we are already baptized, we renew the promises we made at our baptism, to reject Satan and all of his works. By this renewal, we are asking for the power of Jesus’ resurrection to be made real once again in our own lives, to “revive” us from our ways of sin and darkness. We refresh our souls with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and we gain strength for the journey by receiving Jesus in Holy Eucharist. We do all of this because we truly believe He is Risen! Alleluia!

Mission: the Easter Candle symbolizes Christ, the Light of the World. That light has been passed to us at our Baptism, and now we are commanded to carry on the mission of our Savior. We lead others to the Father through Jesus by teaching, loving, forgiving, and sharing our possessions. Christ is alive in and through the baptized – really, not symbolically – by the power of his Holy Spirit! Alleluia!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Our faith must always grow after baptism, and for this reason we renew our baptism promises annually at Easter (CCC #1254). The baptized share in the common priesthood of all believers and are called to spread the Good News that Jesus brought to all humanity (CCC #1268). Jesus appeared to his disciples not as a “ghost,” but in the same body (although now glorified) that bore the marks of his torture (CCC #645). He IS Risen! Alleluia!

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Q468: I find it very hard to believe that three people’s experience of an empty tomb, formerly occupied by the body of Jesus, would lead them to Faith.

Faith is a gift from God; and the Gospel tells us that one person saw the empty tomb and believed (John 20:8); this was “the disciple that Jesus loved.” But it isn’t the disappearance of the body – the empty tomb – that moved the other disciples to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. I’m sure that Mary Magdalene and Peter had more questions than ever before, when they saw that empty tomb. It was only when they and many other disciples actually saw the Risen Christ, that they were moved to true belief.

So initially their earliest preaching was in the form of “kerygma,” a simple proclamation of the essential elements of their belief. Those elements were the fact that they were indeed Witnesses – they had actually seen Jesus die, and also had seen the Risen Jesus; he is the long-awaited Messiah; in fact, this Messiah fulfilled the words of the prophets; and he calls us all to believe, repent, and receive forgiveness of our sins. One of the earliest examples of this early kerygma or basic preaching is found in the First Reading today (Acts 10:34a, 37-43). All of these elements of kerygma are found in that proclamation.

Christian faith in the resurrection has always been a stumbling block for non-believers. Greek and Roman philosophy (and other oriental religions) accepted some form of spirit life after death, but never did they expect to hear lots of people claiming to have witnessed a resurrected body (for an example of this, remember St. Paul’s experiences in Athens, Acts 17:32). To believe in the resurrection of Jesus means that we also believe in our own resurrection – just as Jesus promised us.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! In death, which is the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body (CCC #997). “How” this comes about exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith (CCC #1000).

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This is the Day the Lord has Made, Let Us Rejoice and be Glad

Easter is the pivotal day in the Christian calendar. The Paschal Mystery of the life death and resurrection of the Lord, is the heart of Christian faith. At first the disciples did not understand what had happened at the tomb; they reacted in various ways: with wonder, bewilderment, and even unbelief. Eventually they all came to be witnesses of the resurrection, but they had much to learn and appreciate about the Lord. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians, by baptism we participate in Christ’s life, death and resurrection and it can and should shape our lives and give us spiritual energy. We too have to be enlightened and strengthened by the Holy spirit to recognize the power of the risen Jesus in our lives. We are still on earth but we have to live with the new risen life that Christ shares with us. To the extent that we do this, people will sense and experience the meaning of the resurrection of the Lord.

Come, Holy Spirit, and help us to shape our lives so that we may truly be an Easter People. Help us to show more clearly the power of Jesus’ resurrection in our own life and in the lives of others.

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