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Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.

— St.Ambrose

Virtual Vigil: Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cathedral

Posted in Covid-19, Death/Resurrection, and Paschal Mystery

Thank you, Lord, today is Resurrection Sunday and truly you have Risen. Glory to your holy Resurrection, O Christ our God.

Bizarrely, I celebrated the Easter Vigil Mass standing in my apartment watching the bishop with three priests and cross-bearer process through an empty St. Michaels Cathedral in my hometown, Toronto. Seized in the COVID-19 grip, every Catholic Church in the world stood empty of any congregation for the Solemn Easter Vigil. We, your people who crave your Body and Blood, watched from a digital distance.

Yet, I experienced you uniquely and profoundly. Never in the Church’s history have you come to your people in this way. Never have you come to me in this way, the virtual Mass. You came because you have risen and are with us as only you can, seeing us suffer from the absence of the Sacraments, the perfect and most tangible way we can receive you in this life.

Toronto Archbishop, Thomas Cardinal Collins used Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Helena to stress how our faith is rooted in reality, with known and witnessed events. Helena, a Christian, was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I. In the novel she listened to a professor speaking in the court on religion and philosophy with ideas “kind of floating around up there with beautiful words spinning out again and again, very beautiful at first, but you wonder what’s there,” Cardinal Collins said with a smile. Helena asked the professor, “Professor. When and where did this happen, and how do you know?”

Jumping off from Helena’s question, Cardinal Collins described a religion that can be “floating out their, beautiful to hear, wonderful to soothe, a nice gooey concoction, a theological meringue, but which has no substance to it.”

Later in his homily, he said that that the Christian symbol is not a “happy face, it’s a cross with Christ nailed to it.” From that cross, our Saviour was buried in a tomb, rose three days later and appeared to hundreds of people who talked to him, and spoke of life-changing encounters with the risen Lord.

God intervenes in our history, too the bishop said, highlighting details in the Old Testament readings: The angel stopped Abraham from sacrificing his beloved son, Isaac and because of his obedience to God he will be showered with blessings, his offspring “as numerous as the stars”. In Exodus, the Israelites, through God’s miraculous power, fled from Egyptian slavery entering “the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and their left.”

“The Resurrection is a hard, tangible, sublime, majestic event of God entering into history, acting in history, but taking us beyond this world, for we are meant to go where Jesus has gone before us… It’s the Resurrection of the body that we profess. We are to be as Christ is now. Our body’s matter, our physical tangibility matters. That’s one of the reasons we can’t worship as we should digitally or virtually. For good reasons we are worshipping this way out of charity toward our neighbour, but it’s just not the same.”

The Archbishop shared his obvious sorrow felt from celebrating Mass without us, then linked his thoughts to the current Pandemic saying we encounter the Lord all the time in the way he plans for us.

We all have a short time between two dates, he said, a beginning date and end date when we “lift-off” from this world. “Until we see him face to face at the moment of our death whenever that may be, and we are called to think seriously these days about that, and I hope it smartens us all up. Until that day when we meet the Lord face to face, it’s in the Holy Eucharist that we encounter him most profoundly.”

As I ‘celebrated’ Mass with him, you came to me Lord, with such joy. I knew you were intervening in many others’, those who know you, love you, and in those who have turned away from you, for your love seeks and pursues us. Who of us has not wandered from you, even a little, who has not strayed, or perhaps even abandoned you like your chosen rock, Peter, our first shepherd?

And so, I’ve been able to look back on my anger at the bishops when they first closed the doors. Through prayer you have soothed, healed and transformed my heart to accept their decision day to day. How great a grace it is to share with my Shepherds the sorrow of the situation.

This is your trait, walking unseen into our trials and tragedies, just as you walked into your disciples’ lives on the Emmaus road as they left Jerusalem going the wrong way, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along.”

Closing his homily with emotion dripping from all syllables, Cardinal Collins poured his love for Christ toward the cameras. He focussed that love on the Lord living in the Holy Eucharist calling us to be with him, waiting for us to soon consume him, our risen Lord.

“The one who celebrates the Eucharist through his priests is the risen Lord and that’s who we receive in Holy Communion. This is where we encounter the risen Lord most profoundly, and from there he sends us out into this incarnate world of our own history that we might love our neighbour [showing] the authenticity of our love for God.”

“Religion is not theoretical, kind of spaced out and gnostic, or gooey with sweet words. It is incarnate, and God touches us and walks with us in every step of the way in our own particular history and calls us by name from the moment of our Baptism…”Christ is Risen, Truly he is risen and he is now ruling this universe.

He told us that you Lord reach out to us even though we aren’t able to be with you present in the Holy Eucharist. Yes, that is truly what you’ve been doing entering not just my heart, but in some way every heart in this virus-burdened world. For it is through this cross that we are finding new life.

We celebrated your rising from death to glory at the Vigil. Truly you have risen and are searching for all of us who have in some way had our life altered, whether by an inconvenience, which is probably a small number, or altered radically through a major loss, or tragically through the death of a person close to us.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.

And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.