As I grow older, the image of the empty tomb takes on greater significance. Now I am not being morbid, but the truth is that I’m closer to the end of life’s journey than the beginning. I don’t envision my demise at any time soon, although God will have the last say in any time frame, nor am I planning my funeral. But, I am sure that the outline was in place the day I was installed as the Archbishop of Milwaukee. However, I do tend to reminisce a bit more as the years go by, and remember with fondness in prayer those special relationships that marked my pilgrimage through life. Each Easter season reminds us that there is more to life than our numbered days on earth. For those committed to Christ, His life is our destiny and the empty tomb is the affirmation.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that rarely acknowledges a world to come. If we do, it’s only as a transition to another life without any accountability. It seems for many that we all deserve an afterlife. Perhaps, it’s because we are so individualistic that we believe no one has a right to judge our actions and consider us wanting, even if the judge is God Himself.
I admit that I fear facing the Almighty as much as the next person does, but certainly, in another sense, it is comforting. Why comforting? Because, I know that nothing escapes God’s notice and all is made equal before God.
I’ve often heard it said that many people consider something is wrong only if they’re caught. Just think of how many people justify their actions only in the avoidance of civil punishment or public exposure. As a religious leader, I was once asked by an editorial board of a newspaper about the future truthfulness of my presentations to the public. I stated without hesitancy that my standard for accountability was not the evaluation before editors or newspaper reporters, but before God, who will judge me accordingly. I don’t know if they understood the nature of my response, but I meant that I was not going to hell for a lie.
I guess it’s not a very convincing statement if you don’t believe in hell, so the threat of going there is not so imposing and even less if you don’t believe in God. As believers, we have to prepare ourselves to stand before God. This means an assessment of our souls and a willingness to seek God’s forgiveness.
As we enter the Easter season, our thoughts turn to the transformation of the lives of those who encountered the risen Christ. It’s obvious that the disciples had to piece it together. Jesus dropped all sorts of hints. He says (John 11:25) to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” And again (John 5:24): “Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.”
The risen Jesus sought out the disciples, those who had abandoned Him. He is the true Shepherd that seeks the lost sheep. It was not to exact punishment, but rather to extend to them His “mercy”. This is a statement of our God, who desires all to know His love. St. John Paul II stated in an address he had prepared before his death and read at his funeral homily (April 3,2005): “As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the Risen Lord offers His love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy! Lord who reveals the Father’s love by your death and Resurrection, we believe in you and confidently repeat to you today: Jesus I trust in you, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world.”
Divine Mercy Sunday is a time that we turn our attention to God’s mercy. St. John Paul knew how sorely the world needed God’s mercy. The need for mercy has not changed. In the first years of his pontificate, Pope Francis’ initial movement was to establish an extraordinary year of mercy. This was a defining moment for his papacy.
Some of our parishes will provide the sacrament of reconciliation on Divine Mercy Sunday. Why is reconciliation such an important sacrament today? St. John Paul II explained: because evil has a reach and power in our day as never before. The power of the sacrament can transform a life and reinforce the path of holiness for those who use it frequently. So please do not deny yourself the grace of the sacrament — it is there for the asking. Imagine what the world would be like if people held themselves accountable before God for their actions.
The empty tomb will be our future, because if we accept God’s mercy, we will be walking with the Risen Christ and that mental picture is very comforting to me.