Most years, Holy Saturday has been one of handling household responsibilities as I gently transition to prepare for the Easter Vigil Mass to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord. Today though, it seems appropriate to spend some time reflecting upon the disciples’ grief and fear after Jesus’ crucifixion.
God’s plan of the Resurrection had not yet been revealed to them. The disciples had to continue to live — even amidst the feeling their world had forever changed.
Do you remember the movie “The Ten Commandments?” My mom took me to see it in the movie theater. At one point, there was this animated cloud that came down from the sky to run along the ground. First born children who walked among those vapors died. I was a very young child — a firstborn child. I could not reconcile what my mom had shared with me about God loving everyone with the image of God on that movie screen. Namely, a God Who chose to kill the innocent, first born children instead of the stubborn adults who would not let the Israelites leave. I glanced over at my mother. Apparently, the woman who scolded me if I in any way mistreated my brothers was comfortable with those images of a God crushing children!
Driving home, my mind wrestled with the God I thought I knew versus the God depicted in the movie. I glanced at the evening sky. My child’s mind imagined the clouds I saw crossing the moon looked exactly like those in the movie! As first born, I too was doomed that night. How unfair! Many years later, you can share a laugh with me as my adult self looks back still amazed at what I saw and failed to see. Had I been alive in the time of Moses, I would not have mattered as a first born because I am a female. My mom and I did talk of my fears that night. Yet, I do remember still going to bed thinking I would die that night. And, even worse, I knew that if I died that Heaven awaited. That God Who killed those innocent children would be awaiting me.
I didn’t die that night, or the night after. Eventually, my fears lessened. I grew in my understanding that God is love. I knew I could see things only from my perspective. God had the bigger picture in mind. God did have a plan. I just could not always see it or feel it. Sometimes I had to accept things I could not understand. For anything where I longed to understand why and where that understanding was not granted, my mind began tabulating questions I would ask God on the Day of Judgment.
Many years later, I and a number of others visited with and read to a retired priest who had served the people of Fall River for more than 60 years. One day a Dominican nun visited. She was his niece. I returned to Father’s room to find her gone and Father crying. Father said, “I am old and dying. She still has much to give. She has terminal cancer. I had often asked God to spare her and take my life instead. Why did God not answer my prayer?” So many thoughts and emotions went through my mind. Just how does one suggest to a priest (who knows this already deep within) that God’s answer was no?
I honestly do not remember the whole conversation. Somewhere along the way, Father ceased crying. Though I knew his understanding of it all was deeper than mine, a part of me wished to share what had brought me some peace. Yet, when I shared my idea of asking God some questions, Father laughed. Father gently reminded me that none of those earthly questions would matter to me when I was in the presence of Our Lord. My heart would be filled by love not questions.
Father sent me over to a small picture hanging on his wall representing an image of a vision St. Dominic had shared. Dominic had inquired what would happen to all the Dominicans after his death. In the vision, Mary opened her wrap revealing all the Dominicans safely tucked under her protective cape. I noticed the image captured both female and male Dominicans. When Father’s niece passed, we agreed she was safely ensconced in Heaven beneath Mary’s protective cape.
As we face the challenges wrought by the realities of the Coronavirus, it is strikingly clear that we, like those disciples, are called to live some painful realities without knowing what the future will bring. Do we choose to walk guided by the fear generated from what we see, or do we walk with trusting hearts guided by faith?
This year, as we gather together as community, yet individually sheltered in place, await Easter morning, let us not forget that after the Resurrection, Jesus first visited the disciples by entering past the locked doors to reach them where they were. Jesus said, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:21). Then Jesus began to share what the gift of the Resurrection had brought to mankind. I believe Father was right. Questions are gone in the light of God’s love. I also feel that Mary’s protective cape is large enough to include each of God’s children. In the absence of fear and questions, all that remains is the opportunity for each of us to remain forever within the presence of God’s love.
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.