The Deacon and Easter
Deacon William T. Ditewig 0
And so we arrive at Easter, following the 40 days of Lent and then the chairos time of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Those special three days of the sacred Triduum hold a special place in deacons’ hearts, minds and ministry. Most of us, along with priests, catechists, musicians and so many others, work ourselves to a frazzle over those three days, and most clergy arrive at Easter Sunday exhausted — thrilled, but exhausted.
The darkness that enveloped us following Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper has exploded into the bright light of Easter. As we chant in the Exultet, “Be glad, let the earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness. … Let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.”
Arriving spent on the threshold of Easter seems appropriate and even helpful from a spiritual point of view. Into that exhausted emptiness, the power of Christ’s resurrection rushes in to fill us with new life and, through God’s grace, transforms us.
We celebrate Easter for an entire liturgical season, and, of course, the Church traditionally understands each Sunday Eucharist as a “little Easter.” This gives us rich opportunities to reflect and to respond to the impact Christ’s resurrection has on our lives and ministries for others. Let me suggest just a few Easter themes.
While we must always remember the Cross of Christ, we must not end with the cross. Years ago, one of our seminary professors had a favorite piece of advice. “Gentlemen, when you preach, you must never separate the Cross from the Resurrection! They always go together, Good Friday and Easter!”
The only exception he made was for the homilies to be given on Good Friday itself. On Good Friday, he said, we must experience Christ’s death as the first disciples did. There is wisdom in his insight to keep the link between the Cross and the empty tomb intact. We are disciples who now know that Christ has won the victory over sin and death. Do we act as if we actually believe that to be true?
In these days of political, ecclesial and societal polarization, it can seem as if some people, including some clergy, act as if the world is stuck in Good Friday. I agree with St. John XXIII who famously said at the opening of the Second Vatican Council: “In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.”
We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.
In short, do we act as Easter people, or do we slip into being “prophets of gloom, always forecasting disaster”? Christ has won the victory; we should behave accordingly, setting aside the shrouds of death and putting on the white robes of joy, which have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.
What does the Resurrection mean to each of us? What darkness and death exist in our lives, relationships and even our ministries that need the transforming power of resurrection and the constant mercy of God? How does Christ’s resurrection change the way I live today?
During the Easter season, we will hear of the impact the Resurrection had on our apostolic ancestors: the doubts of Thomas, the travels of Paul and Barnabas, and even the way the apostles chose to solve the emerging pastoral issues of their day. The so-called Council of Jerusalem modeled a synodal style of governance we have used over the millennia ever since. While we too have doubts and concerns, we have been ordained into a share of the apostolic ministry: going out to all nations and proclaiming the Good News of God. We will also hear of the Sanhedrin’s attempt to prevent the apostles from preaching in the name of Christ, and their courageous persistence in doing just that, regardless of the consequences. It’s a useful challenge to all of us to remain faithful in preaching God’s Word, and not our own.
Love for One Another
In this season, the Church will continue to grow, and we will hear Jesus remind us all that his followers will be known for their love for one another. Never has this message been more pertinent than today. For example, if someone looks at the language and behavior of Christians on social media, he might be hard-pressed to see the love. God is love, after all, and the one who abides in love abides in God. Easter is the perfect time for us all to examine our own behavior, especially when ministering to people with whom we disagree — even on significant issues. Such an examination of conscience is particularly important for the ordained.
Vatican II teaches that Christ established various offices in the Church, including deacons, “for the nurturing and constant growth of the People of God.” Are our actions as deacons serving to build up, or to tear down, the People of God? How does our behavior reflect the new life we experience in the Resurrection?
The Easter season is the perfect time for us all to reflect critically on what Christ’s resurrection is calling us to do and to be. Much like any spiritual retreat, we can make use of this wonderful gift of time not only to examine our past behaviors but to develop concrete actions for the future.
During the Triduum, we walked in the footsteps of Christ as “he humbled himself / becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). But Christ’s kenotic humility is but the first stage of salvation. Now, with Easter, the rising with Christ, as “God greatly exalted him / and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (2:9).
DEACON WILLIAM T. DITEWIG is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., currently serving in the Diocese of St. Petersburg in Florida. He is the former executive director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate at the USCCB and is a retired Navy commander.
Inspiration from the Easter Sunday Collect
O God, who on this day,
through your Only Begotten Son,
have conquered death
and unlocked for us the path to eternity,
grant, we pray, that we who keep the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection
may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.