After living through more than 12 months of a pandemic, this Easter season arrived with greater meaning than in most years. Like three worlds colliding, divinity, nature, and humanity are interconnected in deep and profound ways. The world has gone through the dark, barren season of Lent and the death of Christ on the cross so that we could prepare for the joy of Easter and all its hope, renewal, and salvation. At the same time, COVID-19 vaccines are giving new hope against the darkness and death of the pandemic, while spring is blooming with color and new life.
HNP friars in various parts of the country shared their thoughts and reflections on the significance of this year’s Easter season – echoing the passion, discovering new freedom, and overcoming doubts and fears.
Jason Damon, OFM – Chicago, Illinois
Jason, a native of South Wales, New York, is a student friar who is living at St. Joseph Friary, the interprovincial post-novitiate formation house, and studying at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. The 2016 graduate of St. Bonaventure University in Western New York professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 2018.
I had a professor at St. Bonaventure University who would refer to spring in Western New York as being the slow death of winter. Warm, sunny days alternate with snowy, cloudy ones for months. The fact that it snowed on my graduation (which was on Pentecost!) only confirmed that sentiment.
Spring was never a season I appreciated very much, given its unstable temperament and insufferable muddiness. It wasn’t until I spent my novitiate in California that I appreciated the seasonal change inherent in living in the Northeast (and now, the Midwest). There is a reflection in the natural world of the cycles of life and death that we see in our own lives, individually and communally. Living in a place where that change wasn’t pronounced in the same way as I had seen all my life has helped me to view spring through a different lens. More than anything, I think I appreciate the relentlessness of new life that we see during this season: flowers blooming in defiance of the occasional snow flurry, baby animals emerging in the cold early morning, birds chirping in spite of the see-sawing temperatures. Spring abounds with life anew after a long, dark winter.
As Christian people, I think we’re very good at noting those aspects of our lives that are echoes of the Passion. Suffering is something we know all too well, and our tradition does a wonderful job of equipping us with the language and images to reflect on it deeply. But I wonder if we do the same with the Resurrection.
Sometimes, new life is a lot harder to hold up than pain and sorrow, especially when our world continues to appear so dark. Do we have the creativity, vision, and hope to point out signs of the Resurrection to our brothers and to the world at a time when that message desperately needs to be told?
Richard Husted, OFM — Butler, New Jersey
Richard, a native of Caldwell, New Jersey, professed his first vows in 1960. Throughout his more than six decades of Franciscan life, he has been stationed in Lafayette and East Rutherford, New Jersey, Allegany and Olean, New York, and Washington, D.C.
As I reflected on the significance of this year’s Easter season, I thought about a poem that I adapted a few years ago. I used it in my homily during a Mass for friars on Easter Sunday because it incorporates many relevant themes of 2021 – including coming from darkness to light and celebrating the feast of life.
Underneath in darkness was death
an oppressive silence, an overwhelming emptiness,
a world devoid of meaning or purpose.
Then suddenly, like an unexpected song,
life cast into that void, a seed risking everything
that gain might come, burying its seed of life in death.
And then… Alleluia, life sprouted from the seed
Alleluia, life echoed back the call
Alleluia, life struggled against the void.
Cell by cell, the seed grew
sound after sound, the melody was sounded,
Step by step, the journey began
Up toward the light, back toward resurrection.
Death, you see, is never all at once.
In fact, it always was, is still all around us,
overwhelming in all its forms.
But death is not what we’re going to,
Death is what we’re growing from.
Slavery and selfishness, Violence and oppression:
The ideal that never flowers, The song that is not sung,
The wound that refuses to be healed,
The wonder undiscovered, The love that is withheld.
Everything that should be and has not been.
Everything that should be done and has not yet been tried,
Every wrong instead of right, Every negative partakes of death.
Therefore…Every emptiness that seeks to be filled,
Every darkness that struggles toward the light
Every silence that begins the melody
Proves that resurrection is never all at once.
We rise up like the seed sprouting from dark earth
We begin the song with one solitary voice that starts the chorus
We break the shell to discover the new freedom we never dreamed of.
Celebrate the feast of life
He is risen.
We are rising.
Dominic Monti, OFM – Allegany, New York
Dominic is a distinguished professor of Franciscan studies at St. Bonaventure University. He grew up 20 miles away – in Bradford, Pennsylvania – and professed his first vows as a friar in 1965. He served as Provincial Vicar from 2005 until 2014.
Easter is always a special season at St. Bonaventure. Even though this year we had a relatively mild winter in terms of temperatures – due to Great Lakes weather patterns, we are in one of the gloomiest regions in the U.S – it is always amazing after months of gray to witness our old earth bloom forth new life. The gloomy mood of the last months was, of course, accentuated this year by the COVID pandemic. At this point, we are all anxious to draw an end to our year-long enforced isolation and resume our social contacts. The availability of vaccines holds the promise that 2021 will, at last, see an end to fear.
But of course, Easter is not simply a nature festival. The round of nature brings new life each year but it also deals out death. As we look out at the world around us, we see the Easter Sequence verified: “Death and life contended in that combat stupendous.” I needed to write the obituary letters of 15 friars who died in 2020 – too many of them among the half-million souls taken in the U.S. by COVID-19. We never know who among us might be next. Here at Bona’s, our vibrant president was snatched away after a two-month struggle with the virus. And in our society, discrimination and senseless mass murders continue to rob life from the innocent.
Easter proclaims a more profound reality: that we who believe in Christ “will never die at all,” even as bodily death claims us. This year, we heard Mark’s account of that Easter morning; the women at the tomb are greeted with: “You seek Jesus the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. . . He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” But their initial reaction (not read in the liturgy!) was not one of joy; rather, “They went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Easter calls us to overcome our doubts and fears. We are commanded to “go back to Galilee” – to return to our normal, everyday lives and see the signs that Jesus is indeed beckoning us all into his new creation, his kingdom of peace and justice.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office. In the last issue of the Provincial newsletter, Charles O’Connor, OFM, reflected on Lent as a season of grace.
- “St. Bonaventure President Dennis DePerro Dies of COVID-19” – March 18, 2021, HNP Today
- “Approaching Easter with Hope During Coronavirus Pandemic” – April 2, 2020, HNP Today
- “A New Dawn, a Fresh Start” – April 3, 2018, HNP Today
- “Easter Reflection: Going to the Father” – March 22, 2016, HNP Today