Archbishop’s Column: The rebirth of hope

“Christ my hope is arisen!” This line from the sequence sang at Easter Sunday Mass captures the heart of what happens in our redemption – the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit breaks through the bonds of death and sin to restore not only our life but our hope.

The entire sequence is worth deeply reflecting on and praying with, but the section recalling Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus is particularly powerful:

Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he goes before you.
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!

Jesus, in his wisdom first appeared after his Resurrection to Mary Magdalene, the woman out of whom he had driven seven demons. When she first spoke to Jesus, she thought he was a gardener and lamented that his body was no longer in the tomb. But Jesus broke through her sorrow by saying her name, “Mary.” Mary reacted by embracing Jesus, until he told her, “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:11-18).

With his ascension to the Father, Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the Church, bringing all believers into the full embrace of the Trinity. Before his death and resurrection, this reconciliation was impossible – the offense of our sins against God’s infinite goodness could not be overcome without Jesus’ infinite sacrifice.

Jesus speaks each of our names and calls us to receive the hope of his resurrection. This hope is different than being optimistic that things will turn out well. When we speak about the hope of the resurrection, we go beyond mere human optimism to speak of a grace that supernaturally sustains us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes hope as “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit (emphasis added).”

Just last week, Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged what over 100,000 people and numerous experts have: that the systematic killing and brutal persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East is genocide. These brothers and sisters in the faith – many of them lay people – can rely on supernatural hope, since it is linked with the happiness of heaven.

I frequently speak about the Second Vatican Council’s charge to the laity to be “leaven in society.” Yeast, or leaven, is what transforms bread dough, quietly expanding it until it is airy and no longer flat. If the yeast is dead, though, the dough will remain dense and inedible.    

To be active, living leaven, all of us need the gift of supernatural hope. I urge you to seek reconciliation with God in this Year of Mercy and ask the Holy Spirit to stir into flame the gift of hope born from Jesus’ resurrection, which every Christian receives at Baptism.

There are many ways that you can serve as leaven in our society. One apostolate that is an important part of bringing hope and life to the archdiocese is the Prayer in the Square gathering that happens every First Saturday at locations in Ft. Collins, Greeley, Highlands Ranch, and Stapleton. Their intentions include the unborn, the dying, persecuted Christians throughout the world, immigrants and the poor. The Prayer in the Square gatherings bear public witness to the power of prayer and to the Lord who strengthens us.

I encourage you to participate each First Saturday in this witness to prayer at a location nearby you and I invite you to join me at the next event on Saturday April 2, the anniversary of the death of Pope St. John Paul II. We will begin with Mass at the Cathedral at 9:00 a.m., followed by a Rosary and Chaplet of Mercy at the State Capitol, to pray in reparation for all sins against the dignity of human life and asking the Lord to build a culture of life.

May the Holy Trinity fill you with the joy and hope of the Resurrection, so that you may be leaven in our world! May you have a blessed Easter Season!

COMING UP: From the wilderness to the Promised Land: Learn your faith in the SJV Lay Division

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One of the famous episodes in the Old Testament is the wandering of Israel in the wilderness. The descendants of Abraham, whom God promised land to come to his descendants, wander for 40 years before they enter that land. A time of great miracles, to be certain – the manna in the wilderness, the rock that gushed forth water. But also a time of hardship and death – many battles that were lost, plagues that come up on the people. All of which is why the wilderness is associated with a time of great testing in the Scriptures.

We may seem like we are in our own wilderness today, aimlessly wandering without a sense of where life is going. Know that we, too, at the Lay Division of the Seminary, particularly our Biblical and Catechetical School instructors, intimately felt this great testing this past academic year. For the first time ever, we had classes online, by sheer force of circumstance in a world of coronavirus restrictions. In many ways, we felt our own desert wondering – unable to see students in person, unable to have normal interactions with students, lecturing to a little dot on a computer screen, seeing black screens with everybody muted, with no idea if students were smiling, laughing, crying, sleeping, or whatever else may be! This was, in many respects, wandering in the wilderness institutionally. Thankfully, the one thing that we can say for certain is that all of our lives fall under God’s infinitely wise, lovingly providential hand. It’s not merely cliché to say that God will bring good out of evil, but a true statement. And so we trust. God knows, and God takes care of all those who are faithful. And God works all things for good for those who trust in Him.

This upcoming academic year will be the start of a slow reintegration of our classes into parishes. However, we will still keep an online presence, with half of our classes returning to in-person locations throughout the Archdiocese of Denver and half remaining online. Certainly one of the positives about teaching classes online, and perhaps the good that God will bring for us institutionally out of our wilderness of this past year, is that it allows for expansion to reach potential students who otherwise aren’t capable of attending our in-person classes. Given that, taking a class with us will never be easier! It doesn’t matter what part of Colorado you live in — you can take a class online with us!

If you’ve never heard of who we are, then let me briefly introduce our institution: we are the Lay Division at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver. This makes our seminary unique: not just the formation of future clerics, but also a division dedicated to the formation of the laity. Our mission is to put people in contact and communion with Jesus, who alone leads us to the heart of the Father in the Spirit. We do this through various offerings which study God’s call to each and every person to have a personal relationship with him in the Church that he established with the Precious Blood of Jesus. Our two flagship programs are the Denver Catholic Biblical School, a four year study of the Sacred Scriptures, and the Denver Catholic Catechetical School, a two year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We also offer various other programs of study – year long “Enrichment Courses” in different topics of the faith, short courses throughout the year, lecture series throughout the liturgical seasons, and day-long workshops. Wherever you’re at in your faith, we have something for everybody!

Classes for this upcoming year begin on Monday, Sept. 13. Visit sjvlaydivision.org to see all of the options for classes, locations/online times, information sessions, and to register. Make the choice to study with us to learn your faith and come to know and love Jesus Christ!