Barbara Quinn, RSCJ
The rich Lenten journey has led us to the glorious feast of Easter celebrated the world over as bells sound and songs ring out and families and friends rejoice together. And yet, we cannot forget the multitudes of people and places in our world where such joy eludes them. How do we reconcile life unfolded in such stark contrast? I experienced a wonderful image several years ago that I believe offers some wisdom and hope in the face of this question.
I had the chance to travel to Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles, the much hailed replacement for the old cathedral that had been irreparably damaged in an earthquake. Admittedly, I was not eager to visit there because, while I had heard of its beauty, I was also aware that critical voices about its perceived opulence were hardly in short order. It is a massive structure situated in the heart of the city, overlooking a major highway, in full view of the countless travelers who pass through. As I entered the main body of the cathedral, I was immediately drawn to the exquisite tapestries designed by artist John Nava lining the north and south walls. They depict 135 saints and blessed over the ages and from around the world, including twentieth century holy ones like John XXIII and Mother Theresa. What was particularly striking, however, were the twelve untitled figures of “ordinary” people tucked in between them: indigenous women, little boys with sneakers, shoeless laborers. Nava’s desire was that people identify with them and see that “a saint could look like me.” All the figures direct our eyes to the light of the great alabaster window above the Eucharistic table where we celebrate again and again the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. What a wonderful and welcoming message they convey. There is room for each of us in the communion of saints, both the publically recognized and those of us hidden within the daily rhythms of life.
As I made my way towards the sanctuary area, I was startled once again at the seven tapestries cloaking the wall behind the altar. They present a schematic map of the streets of Los Angeles. Subtly overlaying the map is a circular “cosmati” pattern, a symbol of the divine. A quote from the Book of Revelation is sewn into the cloth that reveals the union of God and humans here and now as the New Jerusalem. The quote reds: “See, God’s dwelling is among mortals. God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people and God will be with them.”
What a marvelous Easter proclamation this is! Through the daily dyings and risings of our lives, the Risen One is there at every corner! There is nowhere we can go that the Crucified and Risen One is not already there waiting for us! There is no human condition that escapes God’s notice or need keep us from God’s love. What hope this offers, perhaps especially for those whose anguished lives make it difficult to believe that.
And so we pray the Exultet at the Easter Vigil:
On this night scripture says:
The night will be as clear as day: it will become my light, my joy
The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away,
Restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy,
It casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.
Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled
As we enter this Easter day and season, let us pray to realize more deeply the great mystery that we celebrate. God has come among us in the Risen One! God has taken on a human face and voice so that we can recognize and understand the gift of God’s love and wisdom offered to us every day to every person, no exceptions. We are graced with the incredible mystery that the vulnerabilities, fears, and failures that we would like to bury are, in fact, the locus of God’s revelation: God – Creator, Risen One, Spirit – loves us as we are. We rejoice at the unbelievable mystery that God desires to teach us God’s ways, transforming us through our life events into the image and likeness of God. We are called to be God’s chosen ones, God’s saints!
Mary Oliver, lovely poet, says it well in her poem, “The Veil”:
There are moments when the veil seems
almost to lift, and we understand what
the earth is meant to mean to us – the
trees in their docility, the hills in
their patience, the flowers and the
vines in their wild, sweet vitality.
Then the Word is within us, and the
Book is put away.
Let us go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives. Alleluia!