The Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Year: A(I). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: White.
|Other saints: St Bernadette Soubirous (1844 - 1879)|
Hexham & Newcastle, France
She was born in 1844 to a destitute family in Lourdes, in France. On 11 February 1858 she went down to the river Gave with her sister and a friend, to look for firewood and bones. There she received the first of a series of visions of the Mother of God which led to Lourdes becoming a place of pilgrimage and healing. In 1866 she became a nun at Nevers, where she died on 16 April 1879.
It is a rule of the Church that saints are to be celebrated for what they are and what they do – to serve as examples of heroic virtue for us all – and not merely for what happens to them. There is no way that we can all go off and have visions of Our Lady, and the world would be a madhouse if we tried. So what of Bernadette? What heroic virtue has she that we should imitate? There are two: suffering, and humility.
Bernadette was seriously ill with asthma all her life and she died young; but she never let illness be an excuse for anything – how many times do we, feeling a little unwell, use that as an excuse for being bad-tempered or simply not doing what we ought?
To move away from Bernadette for a moment: imagine that you are a poor working-class boy with little education who happens to be good at kicking a ball about. Within a few years you find yourself earning more, annually, than your father earned in his entire lifetime. You receive attention, adulation, status – all that you could possibly desire. People emulate you. They hang on your every word. How would you feel? How would you act?
Next, imagine that you are a poor girl – not even working-class, because your father hardly ever has any work – poor in a way that we can hardly conceive of – unintelligent and uneducated, and suddenly something happens to you. Overnight you are famous. People come in crowds to see you (sometimes the police have to control them). Everyone treats you with respect and admiration. They hang on your every word and ask you, over and over, questions about even the tiniest detail of your experience. They press coins into your family’s hands. You shut yourself up in a convent far from home, but even there you are constantly visited by bishops and other eminent persons who just want a quick look at you.
Wouldn’t that turn your head? Just a little? Wouldn’t you think that there must be something about you that made you worth seeing? However tiny that something was?
Here is Bernadette’s response, in conversation with one of the nuns:
“What do you do with a broom?”
“Why, sweep with it, of course.”
“Put it back in its place.”
“Yes. And so for me. Our Lady used me. They have put me in my corner. I am happy there, and stay there.”
Saint Bernadette Soubirous is patron saint of the sick, and rightly so. But if there is to be a patron saint of celebrities and footballers, Bernadette would be a wise choice for that task too.
(Note: St Bernadette’s feast is celebrated on 16 April by most of the world but on 18 February in France. Some people called “Bernadette” celebrate their name-day on 11 February, which is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the date of the first vision).
The other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground… but did not go in.
It is possible – and wise theologians have done it – to read into this passage a typological statement about Peter, as founder of the Church; and indeed there is nothing wrong in this. But at the more literal and more human level there is also material for reflection.
We all see the events from Good Friday to Easter Sunday morning in a distorted perspective. We can’t not, because we know what happened at Easter. Imbued with the story of Jesus’ rising on the third day, we inevitably think in terms of his being dead and buried for three days. That is an anachronistic viewpoint. Viewed through the eyes of anyone who lived through those days, Jesus was dead and buried for ever, until something new and unimaginable happened.
The situation on Holy Saturday, as far as the disciples knew, was not that Jesus going to rise tomorrow but that that he was dead and would never rise again. This Gospel moment on Easter Sunday has to be understood in the same sense. What was in John’s mind as he ran? He knew that the most perfect and Godlike man had been humiliated and destroyed in the worst way imaginable, because he had seen it happen. Now he was embarking on the journey of mourning by enacting his grief and paying his respects. And as he approached the tomb, he saw that something had happened.
Stop there for a moment, remembering to forget the Resurrection, and think what that ‘something’ could have been. What could possibly have happened, except something bad? Primitive societies show extreme respect for their enemies’ dead. If their enemies cannot retrieve those bodies then they bury them themselves, according to their own rites or according to as close an approximation to the enemy’s rite as they can manage. But the Jews and the Romans were not primitive but civilised. They had no superstitious taboos about death. So if the tomb was disturbed, it could only be that Jesus’ executioners had decided that death was not enough for him – that the one they had humiliated and spat on in life had to be desecrated in death also.
That is what John ran towards, and then stopped because he could not bear to see it. It was Peter, the impulsive, the unthinking, who went on and, looking in, found the world turned upside down.
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||(1 Corinthians 15:3-5) ©|
Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; he was buried; and he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures. He appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Ephesians 2:4-6 ©|
God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Romans 6:4 ©|
When we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.
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