After fifteen years as a penniless Catholic Worker, I have it on good authority that we Catholics are very confused about the Nature of Easter – with me more than most. Clearly we are called to celebrate Resurrection. But are we not also called to recreate it? Let me explain, if not the answer, at least the source of my confusion.
For fifteen years I have been explaining the Catholic Worker. At first, we explained it in reference to what it was not: We’re not a shelter, not a government salve, we’re not do-gooders or bleeding-heart liberals by any measure. We don’t believe in government, and not because of any Johnny come lately tools who dislike taxes but love Corporations. No, we’re the old-fashioned kind of anti-Government people – the kind hanged by the Pinkerton’s after the Haymarket Riots. The kind they called Bolsheviks. We too have that terrible air of superiority that comes from seeing ourselves as “principled.”
So, this Easter, I thought it might be helpful, given that I’m already regarded as hopelessly arrogant, to illuminate just what the holiday meant before we festooned it with Rabbits and Easter Egg Hunts. I’d like to engage in a little bit of Resurrection by telling you what Easter means, before it’s too late.
In order to do this, I’m going to return to an exercise I invented in front of a classroom full of Catholic computer nerds: “If you were going to write a program to do Christianity,” I asked, “how would it start?” You’d have to define your terms, of course, just like you need to specify what daily means, on top of what bread means, but after all the definitions were loaded, and all the Psalms and Proverbs and the entire contents of both the Old and New Testaments were safely locked into Read Only Memory, what would the first instruction be? After a silent and conflicted pause that says volumes about the state of Catholic education, I said:
How about starting with the Greatest Commandment?
And then it occurred to me. How about it; how about starting that way in reality? These young nerds were Confirmed, and therefore fully mature Catholics. They were scarcely older than the BVM Herself when she decided to improve humanity, so why cut them, or you, any slack?
This Easter, how about starting with the Greatest Commandment?
Take some time, this year, after finally declining meat every Friday for Lent, and after doing your Easter Duty, to discover what occupied virtually every Theologian for the first 300 years of our Church: The Greatest Commandment. Discover for yourself whether it’s a suggestion, or an aside, or just maybe, a Commandment from the Lord Christ Himself. Then discover what it means. Read or better, listen to the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, Chapter 10. And then, like the computer program imagined, define Biblically the terms used therein, especially Mercy.
Maybe even discover the Catholic definition of Mercy. It’s neither pity, nor forbearance, nor empathy, nor any emotion. It’s work. Work done on behalf of neighbors who need Mercy.
And, with Forgiveness, it is the thread that will knit the World together and Resurrect us, tearing us from the maw of Death and delivering us into the Arms of Christ. It’s Resurrection.
Let’s all start to practice it this Easter.