Jonathan, Jack, Kevin
“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
When I was in seminary my favorite liturgical celebration of the whole year was the Easter vigil. I love all the symbolism used during the Triduum but there is something special about the contrast of darkness and light during the Easter Vigil. Every year we would all gather outside the seminary in pitch black darkness. All the lights were turned off, which once led me to almost run headlong into a wall… We gather around the new fire to light the Easter candle, which represents Christ, the dayspring and the light of the world. At first there is just the Easter candle and, though big, it can only give off so much light. The priest sings “Lumen Christi” and it is like Christ has won a toehold in the pervasive darkness of our world. And no matter how much the darkness hates the light it has no power over it, for darkness is merely the absence of light.
Then the priest travels halfway to the chapel and sings “Lumen Christi” for the second time and all the people light their own small candles from the one Easter candle. It is remarkable to see how the light spreads and grows from that one source, infinitely able to be replicated without diminishing the original light. Now the danger of running into walls is lifted and we see not only by the light of Christ, represented in the Easter candle, but also by the light of Christ reflected in our brothers and sisters.
Last of all the priest approaches the altar and sings for the third and final time, “Lumen Christi!” And all the brilliant lights of the chapel are turned on at once and everything is truly ‘lit.’ At that moment I always think of the passage, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) The light of Christ blasts the darkness so far it can’t even hide in the corners or nooks and crannies.
Easter is the culmination of everything we believe as Christians and the virtue of Easter is hope. From the clutches of despair Christ resurrects and reverses death. The traditional symbol for the virtue of hope is an anchor, which I absolutely love. In fact, if you shake my hand you may notice a small anchor tied around my wrist with a cord. When you are out on the turbulent and choppy sea you cast an anchor to the bottom to fix onto something firm and unmoving so that you don’t get tossed about. Once we cast the anchor we can’t see where it lands or what it is attached to, but we trust that it is holding us in place. In the same way with hope we cast our hope on Christ, the firm and unmoving rock of our lives. We can’t always see that our hope is well placed, sometimes we can’t see Christ at all, but we hope that he is there and that he will take care of us.
Of course, that is easy to say, not so easy to do. Let’s try to understand hope a bit better so that we can seek to live it. Hope, like all virtues, lies in the middle between two vices. The two opposing ends of the spectrum in this case are presumption, thinking that everything is covered so we don’t have to worry, and despair, thinking that everything is lost and our hope is misplaced.
Hope, as a natural virtue, cannot reach beyond death. For without hope in the resurrection and eternal life, there is nothing after death. Thus human hope is characterized by youth, and despair by old age. But as we have seen in the Easter vigil when Christ conquers darkness and despair by his resurrection the Christian’s hope does not end at death. The Christian can cast his anchor beyond the bounds of death into heaven, into eternity.
When I discerned out of the seminary the virtue of hope was very important to me, that was why I got the anchor for my wrist, to remind me to hope in Christ and cast my anchor on him. From a human standpoint (natural hope) leaving the seminary could be a cause for despair. I was leaving something I had dedicated much of my life to. If my anchor was set on some human hope, something like stability, or a great career, or even family and friends, then ultimately my hope would fail. And it is not because any of those things are necessarily bad, they just aren’t God, the unshakeable rock.
Whenever we cast out our anchors, when we hope in something, we are looking for the reward it will bring. If we only cast our anchors into the shallows of this world, even if they are attached to things that appear pious, then that is the reward we will get, a shallow one. But when we cast our anchors into the depths, into God Himself, we catch the rewards of heaven, the rewards of eternity. God is never outdone in generosity. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38) Christ gave this advice in regards to our human interactions, imagine how much more God wants to give us.
“But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”