Early in my priestly ministry I was asked to be the chaplain of a county jail in addition to my other parish duties. I accepted the new post with a bit of trepidation. In providing Bible study for the prisoners, we focused on the passion narratives of the gospels since we were in the midst of the Lenten season and heading into Easter. My trepidation turned to amazement as I saw the looks on the faces of the prisoners and heard their astonished comments while discussing the scriptures. In reflecting on what our Lord experienced, the prisoners listened intently and opened their hearts to the fact that Jesus Christ himself was arrested, like they were, and he had to appear before a magistrate, like they did. Jesus was sentenced and, like many of the prisoners, had his name and reputation brought forth before the community. It was gratifying to see a sense of hope unfold in the lives of those who were imprisoned, especially as they saw how many aspects of Christ’s life could be applied to our own experiences. They recognized that they were not alone in their experience.
When I assist at the Glory Hole here in Juneau, I am mindful that Christ has something in common with those stepping forward for their meals — he was born homeless. Jesus, son of Mary, was born in a stable and laid in a manger. I am also mindful of immigrants today who face the fears and trepidations they experience, mindful that Mary and Joseph took the child Jesus and fled one country to enter another in order to seek security and safety.
I think of school children who are bullied and experience the painful cruelty of others, even to the point of total despair. Similarly, Jesus was spat upon, ridiculed and mocked before everyone in the community.
In sharing similarities in our lives with that of Jesus, a woman came up to me after Mass and said that Jesus never had to lose a child. She and her husband had experienced the tragedy of loosing their son in a tragic death. Our conversation included the pain she and her family continue to experience. In reflecting on this further, I am mindful of how we can feel the pain of others, especially the sufferings of our loved ones. Knowing how close I am to my own mother, I am sure that Christ knew and felt the pain that his Blessed Mother was experiencing as she watched her only son die a criminal’s death by way of crucifixion. A powerful exchange of words and love occurred as Christ hung upon the cross. He look down at his Blessed Mother standing next to the beloved disciple and said, “Woman, behold your son.” And to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” From my perspective, I believe that he felt the fullness of her sorrow, pain and grief as he looked into her eyes while she in turn watched her son dying such an excruciating death.
Beyond these historical realities, I do believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It takes the gift of faith to comprehend this mystery of Christ’s resurrection. It is difficult to explain this gift of salvation to those who do not believe in the resurrection. There are things in life that we cannot always explain or scientifically examine. Take love for example, it cannot be measured or bottled. Nevertheless, we can see expressions of love around us and the wonderful effects love has on others. The same is true with the existence of God. It is not always easy to convince some people of God’s existence — but that is why we call it faith. With the eyes of faith, I can see God’s presence in the beauty of Southeast Alaska, the miracle of life from a mother’s womb and in countless other manifestations of God’s love for us.
Jesus of Nazareth lived through some situations very similar to ours. Yet we recognize that there is a part of life that he and others have experienced that we have yet to experience — they have gone before us in death. I do not believe death is the end. Today we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. With this great act of love being the foundation of my faith, I can look to the future with hope. The mystery of Easter is not always easy to explain to some people, but a life filled with hope is something I am willing to share.
• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.