Easter is the most important day on the Christian calendar, the day that separates the Old Testament belief in a Messiah yet to come from the New Testament belief that the Messiah is already present in the person of the risen Jesus. Belief in the Resurrection marks the divergence of Christianity from Judaism, but the roots of both faiths in the Old Testament are inseparable. For Christians, perhaps the most important New Testament difference is Christ’s “new commandment” to “love one another as I have loved you” distinguished from the Old Testament “eye for an eye” idea of retributive justice.
Many Christians cling to the Old Testament when it comes to vengeance, which takes the ancient philosophical and moral idea of retributive justice and turns it into a kind of wanton destruction that denies the healing power of forgiveness.
If Easter is to have real meaning in our lives, we need to reconsider this urge for vengeance in light of the true meaning of the season — we are called to be people of forgiveness, charity and hope. That’s the real meaning of this season.
What would happen if all of the Christians started living by the real meaning of Easter? Just consider…
1. Civility might return to public discourse — people who live by real charity don’t go around calling people names just because they have a different point of view. People who claim that this is a “Christian” nation betray the essence of that claim when they use hateful names to characterize those with whom they disagree. Worse, some even arm themselves in a display of the individual power of threat and intimidation as a stance against working for the common good. By definition, people who call themselves Christian should be working for peaceful and collective solutions to social problems, not threatening violent separation.
2. “Pro-Life” embraces all phases of the human condition — defending the unborn while caring little for the conditions of the living undermines the entire moral teaching. A consistent ethic of life would mean that Christians would work equally hard to protect children, eradicate poverty and illiteracy, defeat violence, confront racism and other conditions that demean and destroy human dignity.
3. Promote peace — in too many parts of the world, the prevalence of war and destruction mocks the very idea of a New Testament. While understanding that military power is essential for self-defense, nations that claim some heritage in the Christian view of life should be working even harder to find peaceful solutions to the most serious security crises of our day — rogue states like North Korea and Iran, or rogue individuals known as terrorists. We can never give up on the hope for peaceful solutions.
Unfortunately, this Easter Season is marred by the stain of scandal in the Catholic Church. Good Friday was a Sad Friday at the Vatican as the Pope’s personal preacher made things so much worse by likening criticism of the Church’s handling of the child abuse scandal to anti-semitism. People everywhere are scratching their heads about that comment, and today’s New York Times reports that the Reverend Ramiero Cantalamessa is backing away from his remarks even as many cardinals and bishops rally to the Pope’s defense.
Many people, including very faithful Catholics, are viewing the hierarchy’s defensiveness as unhelpful and actually quite harmful. Many crave some sign that the Pope actually understands the current dilemma and is willing to move toward an effective response, which would include an open acknowledgement and plea for forgiveness of the utterly heinous nature of the crimes at the heart of the scandal — the abuse of children. The failure of the Church organization to deal effectively with this appalling situation over a long period of time in numerous places involving thousands of priests and children is not “petty gossip” as some Church leaders have characterized it. The failure is a bureaucratic tragedy of vast proportions; the original crimes are so shameful that no explanation is adequate.
A Church that demans confession as a sacramental matter cannot escape confession itself. So much good could come from a real confession of the grievous nature of these scandalous acts and the grave harm that came from allowing the culture of abuse to persist without any effective action for decades.
Confession, forgiveness, penance, redemption.
Surely, in this season, the Church itself could model the pathway to Resurrection.
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