Celebrating Easter in a world that is more like Good Friday, and hearing the chants of Peace amidst the explosions of war, makes us wonder what lesson the Blessed Feast can offer in these tragic days.
The answer is to be found in two scenes in the life of Our Blessed Lord, that reveal the Diving Path to Victory. The first scene takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane when the Savior, in the full majesty of His Person, goes out to meet the devil in the guise of Judas, and the soldiers who came with swords and clubs to apprehend Him.
Reminding them that no one taketh His life away, but He lays it down of Himself, He now surrenders Himself into their hands with these words: “This is your hour and the power of darkness.”
The important word here is hour, for apparently Evil has its hour and uses it to turn out the lights of the world and deliver it over to the Stygian darkness of despair.
The second scene took place earlier in His Public Life when the Pharisees sought to get rid of Him by making Him fearful of Herod, whom they said intended to kill Him.
The supreme value of the story is in the answer He gave. In effect he said: “Go and say to that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out devils and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am to end my course. Nevertheless, I must go my way today and tomorrow and the next day, for it cannot be that a prophet perish outside Jerusalem’” (Luke 13:32, 33).
In other words, go tell that fox who has a mind to kill me, that he is helpless; he cannot kill me until I have done my work, and I have three days’ work to do.
This was figurative language: Two of these days are for works of wonder convincing men of His Divinity, but the third day will be the day of mystery and perfection. The important word here is day.
Setting the two scenes together there emerges this lesson: Evil has its hour, but God has His day. And that evil hour is part of God’s day, inseparable from it, one with it.
Unless the seed has its “hour” when it falls to the ground and dies, it will never have its “day” when it springs forth into life.
Without that hour of war with evil, there would never be this day of Peace; without the Cross there would never be the empty tomb; without Good Friday, there would never be an Easter Sunday; without the crown of thorns there would never be the halo of light.
And there is the answer to our Easter query: “How can we celebrate Easter in a world that is a Good Friday?” By seeing in this war the operation of God’s law, that without this hour of suffering and sacrifice we might never come to a day of peace and resurrection of our national life.
Peace is not a passive but an active condition; it is not something given, but something achieved. Our Lord never said, Blessed are the peaceful, but blessed are the peace makers.
Peace must be made, won in battle, as He won it. Good Friday was not a day of appeasement, therefore Easter will not be a day of false peace- God hates peace in those who are destined for war! Evil has its hour but God has His day.
It is highly significant that on the day of triumph He was recognized through some gesture connected with that hour; in no single instance did they perceive His glory except by looking through the windows of Calvary:
Mary Magdalen came to the knowledge of His Glory through the sepulcher where they laid Him in the hour of defeat.
Peter and John perceived the day of triumph through the winding sheets in which He was wrapped in the hour of His ignominious death.
The disciples on the way to Emmaus recognized the Conqueror in the newness of His day, at the breaking of Bread- which recalled the deliverance of His Body in the hour of darkness.
Thomas, the doubter, saw His Divinity through fingers put in hands and hands thrust in side- the relics of an hour’s battle with the power of evil in which the slain had the victory.
So much is the “hour” the part of His “day” that in the triumph of His resurrection-day He keeps the scars received in the hour of defeat.
And He keeps them for all eternity; even on the last day when He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead, He will bear them as pledges of His victory. He is Prince of Peace because He was Captain of wars and Lord of hosts.
Soldiers wear medals for bravery but He keeps the scars of the hour in which He fought for peace. The Via Crucis is the Via Pacis. The way of the Cross is the way of Peace.
To pass through the hour of evil is in itself no guarantee of a day of peace- we must pass through it with faith in His Resurrection.
The thief on the left passed through evil but it profited him nothing, for his sufferings were not borne in Christ. The thief on the right, on the contrary, passed through his hour in union with Christ, and therefore came to His Day: “This Day... Paradise. As St. Paul says: “this saying is true: if we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (2Timothy 2:11); but our death must be in Him
Apply this lesson that only those who pass through Calvary’s hour with Him shall ever come to the Day of Victory.
Look out upon Holland, Belgium, Frances, Germany, Finland, Italy, the Philippines, Greece, Russia, the Balkan States, Mexico, Spain! I speak not of those who suffer, but of those who do so in union with Him!
Like the Christ, these souls are having their hour- the hour of darkness, of famine, of persecution.
Above all the battle flags of the world, beyond the din of national slogans, the scheming of foxes, the debates of politics, and the selfish clashes of economic forces- there is one common bond uniting them all who are in Christ.
They have all been kissed by some Judas, smitten by some soldier, misjudged by some Caiphas, mocked by some Herod, and crucified under some Pilate, in this their hour of darkness; but if the Easter law hold true- and it does- to the extent their sufferings are one with His, there is the guarantee of their resurrection.
Not because of any new shuffling of politicians or any new theory in economics, will they come to greatness, for politics again will fail, economists again will blunder, foxes will be caught in their own traps; but because they have been signed with the sign of the Cross, sealed with the seal of salvation-because they have borne the Cross in Christ- they will rise with Christ!
This war is the sowing of the seed. Evil has its hour, but God will have His Day.
Apply this lesson now to our won country. If it be true that those who have already had their “hour” with the Christ will have their “day” with Him, then the inverse is true: We shall have our day of victory only on condition that we have our hour of darkness with Christ.
We want Victory with Justice in this war. But Easter teaches us that there can be no true Day of Victory unless we pass through the Hour of struggle against evil in union with the Savior. As Our Risen Lord told His disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Know you not that the Son of man must suffer in order to enter into His Glory.”
We have already begun to pass through that Hour of sacrifice, not so much because of our own choice, but because our enemies have forced us into it. Like the Savior on Calvary we are already being stripped, not of our garments, as He was, but of our rags of “self-righteousness.”
First of all, we are beginning to die to that false notion that there is no evil. Up to a few years ago, we denied there was a devil. Now we are pointing our fingers across the waters saying: “They are wrong; they are devils.”
But how can they be wrong, unless there is a right; and how can there be a devil unless there is a God? Our enemies have thus driven us into an Hour where we re-discover God.
We are also being stripped of the false rags of “self-expression.” Until a few years ago most all our educators denied the necessity of discipline and restraint. Now we are dying to that false concept and like Nicodemus beginning to see that unless nations, like men, are reborn they cannot enter into glory.
Finally, we are being stripped of the rags of progress. Up to this time, we believed the Progress is in an ever-mounting straight line, or in a spiral ever ascending; that we became better by the mere fact that we live; that blind cosmic forces of evolution were pushing us on to become supermen.
This war reveals to us just the contrary, viz. that no life becomes better unless it dies to its lower self.
This spring is not an ascending progress from last spring, but through the death of an old spring. So must all nations and civilizations die in their hour of darkness, before they may come to the day of their victory.
There will be an hour of humiliation- of that there is no doubt. Our choice as a nation is not between being humbled and not being humbled; it is rather, Who shall humble us, our enemies or ourselves.
Would we, as a defeated nation, be more moral and just and Christian than we would be as a victorious, revengeful nation? If the only way that we could be bettered would be by defeat, then we may expect it.
But it is not the only way. Instead of being humbled by enemies, we can humiliate ourselves by recognizing that only by and through God and His Redemption can we come to victory. We have not yet entered into the fullness of that idea, but only the beginning of it. We have yet to complete the lesson and to learn that man of and by himself cannot defeat the devil.. We already know the power of our enemy; we have not yet learned our hidden strength- that in Christ we can do all things. “Without me you can do nothing!”
Our choice is like that which Joshua presented to his people when he said to them: “Choose this day which pleases you; whom you would rather serve, whether the gods your fathers served I Mesopotamia or the Lord your God.” Our answer must be as that of Joshua. “But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” If an hour comes in our national life when labor will lift up its hands, as Christ lifted His in the carpenter shop, in service to the Father; if capital, like Joseph of Arimathea, will give of its possessions for the service of Christ; if women, like Magdalen, will bring their spices to anoint Him; if education, like Nicodemus, will come in the dark to find the truth which is His; if the soldiers, like the one at the foot of the Cross, share the wine of their life with Him; if we all begin to see Him wounded in the wounded, hidden in the lost, destitute in the destitute, if we all enter this work of sacrifice as He entered the garden, then we need never fear the outcome- we have already won, only the news has not yet leaded out. We shall have our day of victory in Him, because we have already had our hour of darkness. If there is any figure that adequately describes this lesson, it is that of the eagle. Eagles generally build their nests high in the mountains and most often over great crevices, canyons, and precipices. When finally the young are hatched, the mother eagles, in virtue of an instinct implanted in her by Almighty God, begins to stir up the nest and scatter the twigs that cradled the infancy of its young. It nudges one of the eaglets to the edge of the nest, where, catching the vision of the yawning depth below, it shrinks back again into the safety of its nest. But the mother bird, through the infallible urge of its Creator, finally succeeds in pushing the young over the edge of the nest. Down and down it falls, its feeble wings fluttering in vain to bear it up against what must seem to it catastrophe and death on the rocks below. But just before the eaglet crashes in the fearful depths, the mother bird swoops under it, catches it in her great wings, bears it aloft into the sky, and then, debarking its living cargo, allows the young one to flutter again and fall- but not to death. Again the mother bird saves here young from catastrophe, lifts it again unto the sky, and repeats the process until the eaglet at last has learned to fly. Moses must have seen some such scene as that for he makes use of it to explain God’s dealing with the nations. As the eagle stirs the nest of her young, so does God stir up the nations! Is not the war just like that, if we could but see it aright? Have we not been as the little eaglet, quite satisfied with the little nest we made in the world; were we not so smug, self-satisfied, and complacent that we forgot we had immortal souls, forgot that these souls have wings and were destined by God to carry us to higher realms beyond the earth? So God, like an eagle, had to stir up our national nests, toss us out of our smug earthliness, let us fall near to disaster before we realized we had need of Him for salvation. For unless we had that hour of darkness we could never have the day of light; for evil has its hour but God will have His day. And that is indeed an apt figure of America, for our symbol is not the lion going about seeking whom it may devour, not the fox that would sneak up on its prey to destroy, not the vulture that waits for life to become carrion, but, in the full consciousness of what God destined us to be, our Country chose as its symbol the eagle flying upward and upward, unto the sky beyond the “troubled gateways of the stars,” across the “margent of the world,” up beyond the hid battlements of eternity, up beyond the hour of darkness to the Day of Everlasting Victory in Christ Jesus Our Lord!
If our democracy is to succeed, it will do so only through an increased recognition of duty and self-discipline. We are too much concerned with our rights and not with our duties. We talk about getting our rights from God, but forget that they imply duties to God. Our democracy will survive only as long as we keep our God. When we abandon Him, democracy abandons us. We ought therefore, all of us- Jews, Protestants and Catholics- get down on our knees every day and thank God for the blessings of America!
--Fulton J. Sheen
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