World-famous and full of wonders is the Vatican Museum in Rome. One long corridor leaves a particularly lasting impression upon the visitor. Along one side you see a row of epitaphs or writings on tombs, together with emblems of the heathens and their idols. On the other side you see Christian memorials. The heathen part is cold and cheerless; the Christian part is full of hope and happiness. The heathen side is dark and joyless; the Christian, bright and cheery. The heathen relics make death the end of all; the Christian relics make death the beginning.
Along that lengthy corridor one sees clearly the contrast between faith and no faith, the striking contrast between those who believe in Easter and those who do not. Face to face those two worlds stand, One brings despair; the other brings hope. On the one side is death; on the other life. Look one way and you see destruction, represented, for instance, by lions seizing on horses. Look the other way and you see the Good Shepherd carrying home the lamb. On one side the stone is still there; on the other, the stone is rolled away.
That corridor echoes the contrast between Christianity and paganism through the centuries. We find an example in the catacombs, where we read inscriptions like this: "Alexander is not dead, but lives above the stars."
At the same time the Roman people were reading Cicero's hopeless letters to Sulpicius on bereavement.
In a word, the difference between faith and no faith is the difference between bright hope and black despair, the difference between shining joy and gloomy fate. One source of our Christian joy is the resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate today. That is why, with deepest conviction and sincerity, I wish everyone of you a Happy Easter. The Catholic Church is happy today for several reasons, reasons which make us individually happy also:
1. Because of her intense love of Jesus, the Church is happy that Christ has risen from the grave. No bride loves her bridegroom, no mother loves her child, as the Church loves Christ, her Spouse and Redeemer. We Catholics love Christ for His own sake; because He is so loving and lovable in Himself. We love Him because He has been good to us. He has done everything for His Church, His spouse. That is why we are happy beyond words as we behold this loving Savior come forth from the tomb this Easter morning.
2. The Church is happy because of the graces she received from the resurrection of Christ. That resurrection introduced the Church to the world. Without Easter there would be no Catholic Church. She would have been helpless. No one would have believed the apostles, for they preached the resurrection as the cornerstone of the new faith. The fact that Christ rose from the grave led men to believe in Him.
3. Another reason for the Easter joy of the Church is that she is now assured she will continue to the end of time. Our Lord promised that the powers of evil and error would never prevail against His Church. His resurrection proved Christ was God and that He would keep this promise. Never will His Church be destroyed. We Catholics share that joyful confidence today, when our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering in many lands. The enemies of Mother Church may oppress us; they can never suppress us. He who rose from the grave will be with us to the end.
4. The Church is particularly happy on Easter day, because the resurrection proves the truth of Catholic faith and Catholic teaching. Our faith has come directly from Christ, the Son of God. Not only are we sure that we received the faith pure and clear as it came from the lips of Christ, but we are also sure that His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, will keep that faith pure and clear to the end of time. He who conquered death and the grave, will also conquer error and mistakes in faith and morals. Mother Church is the official teacher of truth. She has the God-given right and the God-given duty of instructing all nations in what is true and what is right. Her motherly hand must lead all to their heavenly home.
5. The Church is glad today because the words of the angel, "He is risen," confirm her power for the salvation of all men. Christ appointed the Church as His representative on earth. To her He gave the power to announce His teaching, to offer the Holy Sacrifice, to confer the sacraments. To her Christ gave everything needed to purify and sanctify man. To her He said:
"Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven." St. Matthew, 18:18.Not often enough and not deeply enough do we think of the God-given powers of the Catholic Church. World leaders have power over the bodies of men, and just for a time. Mother Church has power over the souls of men, and for all eternity. At times the world may seem to triumph. In certain places at certain periods the material may temporarily triumph over the spiritual.
But, on Easter morning the spiritual wins a decisive victory. Christ conquers death and the grave and the merely material. His spirit overcomes the physical; He rises, up from a grave, up to the heights of Easter happiness. With Mother Church we have every reason to rejoice on this glorious day.
Yes, that corridor in the Vatican museum, with blind fate on one side, and bright faith on the other, stretches through the world, right down into our own town. The family living next door or across the street, may not have that faith. Oh, what they are missing.
Thanks to the risen Savior, you and I are on the bright side, the happy side. You and I stand in the camp of those who know that Christ has risen from the grave. In that certainty we are happy; in that certainty I can wish everyone of you a truly Happy Easter. Amen.
Adapted from Lent and His Last Words
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1953)