Caravaggio: Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy (c. 1595) Wikimedia Commons

The light of Easter still burns bright

By  Francesco Armenti
  • April 11, 2020

During this time of isolation, it is very difficult to think, meditate and write about Easter. The churches are closed and we do not know at what point the COVID-19 infection will peak. 

We celebrate Easter locked up in our homes denied the religious celebrations of Holy Week, without the Eucharist.

Amid the fear as the virus spirals and facing the uncertainties and powerlessness with which we are struggling, is it possible to experience the glory, joy and outburst of love of the empty tomb?

The faith and conversion that was experienced 800 years ago by Francis of Assisi gives us rays of light and hope.

His rebirth began when he encountered a leper, a meeting described in the St. Francis biography Legend of the Three Companions:

“As he was praying fervently to the Lord one day, he heard the Lord say: ‘Francis, if you want to know My resolve, you must despise and hate all the material possessions that you loved and craved … and from the things you once hated, you will draw great sweetness and immense gentility.’ ”

Later, Francis was riding in the neighbourhood of Assisi and met the leper on the road. 

“He felt a powerful loathing for this oppressive community, but this time, going against his instinct, he dismounted and offered the leper some money, whilst kissing his hand. In return, Francis received the ‘kiss of peace,’ and got back on his horse and followed his path.”

Before his conversion, Francis was indifferent to God and man. He was amusing, boastful, ambitious, fun loving and inattentive to his parents and his family. But his encounter with the man infected by disease changed his life. 

Discovering the man’s pain awoke in Francis the pains of the passion of Christ. He felt embraced by the love of God, the beauty of giving oneself, the joy of living in fraternity and freedom, and the richness of family and of life itself. 

Does Francis’ life prior to his conversion not also reflect certain lifestyles so mainstream today? In today’s world God and man are marginalized, the poor and the victims of violence and injustice are increasing, the family is in upheaval regarding love and faith, human relationships are tainted by opportunism and individualism and the Church is infected with a spiritual worldliness.

COVID-19, however, is not a punishment from God but a clever trap of the evil one. When we realize the virus is not God’s punishment, we can see the light of victory over death. 

So Easter can and must be celebrated in the small churches of our homes, sacristies, convents, monasteries, dormitories, clubhouses and consecrated places.

At Easter we must proclaim our faith loudly and we must believe, in the words of St. Augustine, that “God is good to the point of not authorizing any evil to happen, and He is powerful to the point of being able to draw good from any evil.”

What is the good that, with the help of our Father, we can derive from the evil we are experiencing? Today more than ever, leaving the tomb means dying to our selfishness, to the idols of money, time, success and to the competition that causes us to abandon the most fragile and the poorest.

Easter is knowing how to go home to make it a home, going home to revive it with gifts of forgiveness, simplicity, authenticity, unity and the presence of loved ones. 

At Easter, the conversion of Francis of Assisi urges us to feel the human pain of the wounded flesh of Jesus, the true glory of the Lord. Jesus Himself, before His passion, asks the Father for glory. But what glory is it? 

Pope Francis explains it to us: 

“Glory in the Bible indicates the revelation of God; it is the hallmark of His saving presence among men. In fact, we discover that the glory of God is ‘all love’ — pure, foolish and unthinkable love, beyond all limits and measures.

“True glory is the glory of love, because it is the only one that gives life to the world. The glory of God, however, is paradoxical: no applause, no audience. At the centre is not the self, but the other. At Easter we see that the Father glorifies the Son while the Son glorifies the Father.”

Pope Francis reminds us that after the Last Supper Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray to the Father. “In His resolve, Jesus teaches us to embrace the Father because only through our prayers to Him, is there strength to go on in our suffering. In times of affliction, prayer brings relief, trust and comfort.”

Likewise, the Pope urges us to turn to the Father “and entrust ourselves to Him, like Jesus did, to entrust ourselves to His will, which is truly what is good for us.”

Even at a time of isolation when many are experiencing agony and being tested by their own Gethsemane, the light of Easter is not dimmed. 

(Deacon Armenti of Italy was invited to St. Filippo Neri Parish in Toronto to give Lenten retreats, which were subsequently impacted by the COVID-19 closures.)

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