Painting of the Resurrected Christ with His apostles in the Cenacle. Shutterstock

Modeling the Easter Jesus

An Easter priest exudes joy, hope and peace

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Bonnar (new)One of my favorite theological professors was the Australian Jesuit Father Gerald O’Collins. For many years Father O’Collins taught fundamental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. As a theologian, he authored many books, including “The Easter Jesus” (Longman & Todd). Every Easter I am reminded of this book, the title of which serves as a fitting caption to the apparitions of the risen Lord.

Our faith calls us to encounter the Easter Jesus and go forth and be an Easter people. St. Augustine is believed to have said, “We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.” Pope St. John Paul II reiterated this same message in a 1986 visit to Australia. In our respective faith communities, we lead the “Alleluia” chorus announcing again and again the good news of the empty tomb. What a privilege it is for us, as priests, to model the Easter Jesus and in our life and ministry inspire Easter people and shepherd Easter parishes. But this mission can only be realized to the extent that we seek to become Easter priests, even amid suffering and death.

Many years ago, I encountered an image of Jesus in which he was smiling. It was called the “Smiling Jesus.” Looking back, it might have been more aptly entitled, “The Easter Jesus.” What do our faces reveal about us? I was taught that of the things we wear as human beings nothing is more important than our expression. Do we reflect the Easter Jesus on our faces?

But to be an Easter priest transcends what is on the face and involves a certain depth contained in the heart. To be an Easter priest demands that one exude three realities that are synonymous with the Easter event. The first reality in this regard is gaudium — that is, joy. In the first sentence of Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis writes, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (No. 1). The Easter priest lives off the joy of encountering Jesus every day and knowing that he is loved by him. That divine love, experienced in many ways, gives a skip to the priest’s step and an extra beat to his heart, so much so that others aim to know that same joy. The Easter priest knows and shares the joy of being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

The second reality integral to the identity of the Easter priest is spes — that is, hope. The hope embraced by the Easter priest is not false or contrived but real and rooted in the person of Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” This hope, renewed in prayer, necessitates trust and patience in a God who is ever faithful. Even in moments of darkness and doubt, the Easter priest beholds the words from the Book of Lamentations, “The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, / his compassion is not spent; / They are renewed each morning— / great is your faithfulness!” (3:22-23).

The third marking of the Easter priest is pax — that is, peace. During many of his first encounters following the Resurrection, the risen Lord offers the greeting, “Peace be with you.” This greeting is not just a matter of comforting words but a reassuring presence that has conquered sin and death. So much of our priesthood is received not as words but by our presence to those in need. How blessed and humbled we are to be this presence of the risen Lord to others in our life and ministry as priests. And to think that God uses us in our humanness through the grace of ordination and the power of the Holy Spirit to nourish, feed and restore God’s people with the holy Eucharist, the great sacrament of peace.

For many priests, the celebration of Easter, which goes beyond the day and octave to a whole season, may signal an end to a long and arduous journey of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that even with its glorious surprise engenders fatigue and hoarse voices that make it difficult to sing our Alleluia song. And yet, in our sorrow and sadness, our fatigue and frustration, we behold the Easter Jesus inviting us to renew once again our resolve to keep singing by being an Easter priest whose honor it is to teach, lead and sanctify an Easter people. Happy Easter!

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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