Easter Message from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted

For most of you, it was the first time you experienced the holiest week of the year — not in your parish church, but in your own home. It could very well seem like our Lent has not ended, like we are still stuck in the desert.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard from many of you about the suffering that you and your family have experienced, such as:

  • Losing your jobs or reduction of working hours;
  • Feeling lonely or isolated, away from friends or just regular routines;
  • Parents feeling overwhelmed in trying to work from home, while managing a household and teaching your children;
  • Small business owners forced to close a business for which you have sacrificed so much, or faced with letting go of employees that have become like family;
  • Seniors in high school or college learning there will be no graduation ceremony;
  • Husbands and wives finding their frustrations and fears being taken out on each other; and
  • The elderly or widowed feeling alone.
The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.

Is it merely a coincidence that we are facing this Coronavirus Pandemic now? Or could something greater be taking place this Holy Week 2020? Could someone much greater be at work amid our fears and frustration?

The second sentence of the very first paragraph of the Catechism says, “At every time and in every place, God draws close to each human person.” Never does He abandon us. We may feel lost and alone, we may feel like He has forgotten us; but that is a lie proposed by the Evil One. The Lord never stops seeking us out. And where can we expect to find Him? In the Cross. In the mystery of pain and suffering.

St. Paul knew this mystery well; he wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:1-2), “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

In this time of anxiety and doubt, then, I encourage you to find hope in the Cross. Look not to what the world offers you but to what the Lord offers. Look to the One who made Himself one with us in weakness, to the One who (Mt 20:28), “did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Let your heart be lifted again by the song, “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of Bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?” For good reason, we say in faith, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you; for by your Cross, you have redeemed the world.”

The clergy of St. Juan Diego Church in Chandler process out of an empty church at the end of the Palm Sunday Vigil Mass April 4. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Our hope in the Cross allows us to find meaning in suffering and to unite it with Jesus who says, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt 16:24Mk 8:34Lk 9:23).

The Cross is our only hope. For those without faith, this makes no sense; it sounds like foolishness. But for us who believe, it is the power and the wisdom of God. On the Cross, sin and death were defeated. With St. Paul we can say, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).

Fr. Dan McBride elevates the Eucharist during the Palm Sunday Vigil Mass in an empty St. Juan Diego Church in Chandler April 4. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

A few years ago, I got to know well a wonderful man of God who was in and out of hospitals numerous times, but remarkably never allowed suffering to shake his hope. In his hospital room, he always placed a statue of St. Thérèse and a little crucifix with roses at Jesus’ feet. I asked him about these sacred images. He said, “Oh yes, I always bring those along.” He knew how to keep his life centered on Christ Crucified.

We have journeyed with Jesus to Calvary on Good Friday and then to His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. Be not afraid to embrace the cross in your life. Embraced and carried, this cross leads to resurrection. Seek peace in the Risen Lord; and even though we cannot be together at church or with loved ones, look beyond the suffering of the moment to the victory of truth and love that Christ Crucified promises.

If any of you do not have a crucifix in your home, I urge you to get one and to put in a place of prominence. Then, when misunderstandings arise, or sickness or sorrow, or some obstacle to faithful love, or when you are tempted to think God has forgotten you, the crucifix will remind you that the Lord is near, and that His love is stronger than whatever problems you face. The Cross of Christ is our great hope. Remember Jesus’ words, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32).

The clergy of St. Mary’s Parish in Chandler process out of an empty church at the end of the Palm Sunday Mass April 5. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)Los clérigos de la Parroquia Santa María, en Chandler, saliendo de una iglesia vacía al finalizar la Misa del Domingo de Ramos, el 5 de abril. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

You and I will never forget Holy Week 2020. The Easter Season, now begun, lasts 50 days, ending at Pentecost. The first disciples, recall, also felt fear and disorientation even after the Resurrection. On Easter morning, nearly 2,000 years ago, the first disciples of Jesus could be found sequestered in their homes, hiding behind closed doors. They were afraid for their lives and devastated by the death of their Teacher and Lord. For them, it seemed that all hope was lost. They were questioning all they had heard and seen during their three years with Jesus, even though Christ had just risen from the dead.

The Gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive at the tomb. She saw that it was empty; Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found. The Gospel account describes Mary Magdalene as RUNNING to tell Peter, and then Peter and another disciple RUNNING to the tomb; but they too did not find Jesus, only the burial cloths. The Gospel of John tells us, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9).

Today, you and I find ourselves — 2,000 years later — feeling somewhat like Peter and Mary Magdalene! We want to run to the Church and see Jesus. We want to run to our friends and family and tell them: The Church is OPEN! And, of course, Jesus is Risen! The stone has been rolled away!

As you are experiencing this Easter season in the Church that is your own home, listen to Jesus in the Sacred Scriptures, receive Him through a Spiritual Communion, unite yourself with His Holy Church throughout the world and give Him praise for the privilege of loving and serving Him in each member of your family, and as you safely and wisely can in your neighbor. May each of you experience the truth of that wondrous acclamation: “Dying He destroyed our death. Rising, He restored our life!”