Persons, places and things: Responding to the gift

Barb Arland-Fye

Three women who simply wanted to honor their dead. Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, followers of Jesus, went to his tomb three days after he was crucified, carrying spices and planning to anoint his body. Imagine their shock and despair at finding his body missing! They didn’t understand what it meant.
I feel their pain 2,000 years later, even though I know by faith that the empty tomb is the path to my salvation. But the brutality, the utterly dehumanizing treatment that Jesus endured to lead us to life everlasting with him still troubles me. How do I adequately give thanks for the depth of Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice?
This Holy Week finds me reflecting more deeply on the meaning of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.  I’ve been reading the works of Pope Benedict XVI and other theologians which underscore the message that we respond to this gratuitous gift from God through our own self-giving.
In his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI encourages Christians “to deepen their understanding of the relationship between the Eucharistic mystery, the liturgical action, and the new spiritual worship which derives from the Eucharist as the sacrament of charity.”  He noted that in his first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est, he frequently stressed the relationship of the sacrament of the Eucharist to love, “both of God and neighbor.”
The Holy Father said that “knowledge and study of the word of God enable us to better appreciate, celebrate and live the Eucharist” (Sacamentum Caritatis) and he illustrates how each part of the Mass reflects on our mission as Christians to give witness to our faith by living out the Gospel message.
The “supreme goal of the Eucharist (its ultimate grace) is the gift of charity between sisters and brothers and unity; charity and unity within today’s church, but also within the whole of humanity which is in the process of becoming the body of Christ,” observes theologian Louis-Marie Chauvet in his book “The Sacraments.”
Theologian Kevin Irwin says in “Models of the Eucharist” that “the taking and collecting of gifts for the Eucharist always implies the sharing of some of those gifts with the poor and needy.”  The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” reminds us that “the Eucharist commits us to the poor,” he noted.
Father John Rausch of Glenmary Home Missioners is doing just that in his ministry to the people in Appalachia.  U.S. Catholic magazine tells how Fr. Rausch has battled for years against mountaintop removal in the Appalachian Mountains (“Though the Mountains May Fall,” U.S. Catholic, April 2010). The article shows how our nation’s demand for cheap coal not only devastates the ecology of that region, but unravels the social fabric of the communities and imperils their health.
Fr. Rausch, who has become an expert on mountaintop removal issues, regularly leads mountaintop removal “witness tours” and public demonstrations. He told U.S. Catholic: “My job is to hear the cry of the poor. My job is to hear what people are going through. We’ve got to respond to the struggles of the people.”
I still feel the grief of the three women at Jesus’ tomb each time I read Mark’s Gospel, but I am deepening my understanding of the gift that empty tomb represents. I am called to respond in gratitude through my own self-giving.
Barb Arland-Fye

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