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COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: Easter Faith Emanates from the Empty Tomb

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Father David Bonnar Back in the day, men from the United States who studied for the priesthood in Rome used to travel across the ocean by boat. What now takes roughly eight hours by plane from the East Coast back then took days.

When I was a seminarian in Rome many years ago, I remember an older priest sharing with us young men a poignant story about his journey home on the boat to begin his priesthood. It happened that one evening he went onto the deck and looked into the dark sky. He was not just looking at the sky, however, as he was also gazing into his future as a priest and how that might unfold. But as his eyes peered into the night sky, all he could see was the darkness, except for a few shimmering stars that were mere tiny pinpoints of light. In that moment, he came to see that life’s journey, most especially his priestly journey, is all about walking or sailing by faith and not by sight.

On Holy Saturday evening, we resumed our livestreaming of the Mass after having been quarantined for two weeks. Father Ben and I celebrated “the mother of all liturgies” in what was once the original church of one of our two parishes. The main church sits above it. For many years, we used both churches on Sunday, even having Masses at the same time. While it is no longer used on Sundays, we still have Masses on Christmas and Easter in this space, which also serves as the church hall.

The sanctuary looked magnificent as we were able to obtain some flowers. The celebration was further enhanced by music. Our music director played the organ and his assistant sang. We also had the presence of our director of worship who proclaimed the readings.

As the five of us prayed together, mindful of the camera and the community joining us in this greatest of prayers, each of us was struck by what was behind the camera — namely, a long, empty space covered in darkness except for the glimmer of the exit lights in the far stairways. What we saw was really a metaphor of our future right now within the world and the Church. There is a real sense of the unknown that can only be embraced with Easter faith.

Easter faith emanates from the empty tomb. It trusts that suffering and death do not have the last word, because they are eclipsed by the victory of life and the good news that Jesus is risen. Alleluia!

I was reminded of an Easter card I had opened earlier that day, which illustrated the empty tomb. From that tomb, there was a dazzling and majestic image of light shining out into the world. For 2,000 years, that light has been a beacon of hope, a cause for joy and a source of peace. And to think that that first Easter moment happened with just a handful of people. It just goes to show that only a handful of voices can make a difference. Although we may be struggling to see our future, thank God we hear the echo of these voices today announcing the Good News.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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