A Catholic priest in Texas named Father Paul served as a prison chaplain, and one year on Easter Sunday he said Mass for the Catholic inmates there. One of the prisoners there—we’ll call him Kevin—had been incarcerated for sixteen years, but was scheduled to be released on parole a few days later. However, when Father Paul returned to the prison the following week, he was surprised to see Kevin still there. The parole board had postponed his release for at least another five years, without giving any reason. After Mass Father talked with the prisoner, who said, “As soon as I heard it I thought of killing all the members of the board. I couldn’t control my feelings. I was afraid I would end up doing something terrible. But then, Father, I remembered the message you gave on Easter Sunday. You said the message of Easter is that of hope. The apparent defeat of Jesus, and His death, remained only for three days. Afterwards He emerged victorious.”
Kevin, who had become a Catholic while in prison, explained he had forced himself to remember that he was committed to Jesus—which meant he had to place all his hope in the Lord. As he said to the chaplain, “The extension of my stay in the prison, though painful, may be for the good, so I am not unhappy now. I called my family and consoled them.” Father Paul was stunned by this expression of faith, and later wrote, “I felt challenged. How would I respond to situations like this? I prayed, ‘O God, please give me the grace to say always ‘Thy will be done’ as this prisoner did’” (Christopher News Notes #613). Kevin found hope in an apparently hopeless situation, in the process challenging Father Paul to deepen his own faith. Easter is God’s promise that when we surrender ourselves into His hands, as Jesus did, we too will become fully alive.
Sacred Scripture attests to God’s ongoing care for His people; He never abandons us in our sinfulness, but—if we allow it—He meets all our needs and fulfills or surpasses all our hopes.
This, of course, is a gradual and ongoing process. Mary Magdalene and Peter forgot their Master’s promise that He would rise on the third day, and so they were confused about the meaning of the empty tomb. The other unnamed disciple—most likely the apostle John—saw and believed, but still needed time to comprehend what the Resurrection meant. Even when the Lord works miracles on our behalf, He is careful not to overwhelm our free will; He never compels us, but always desires our genuine and wholehearted response to His love.
The night before He died, while enduring His agony in the garden, Jesus had prayed, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from Me—but not My will, but Yours be done.” If Our Lord had not surrendered Himself into His Father’s hands, He would never have been raised up in glory and exalted as Lord of all creation. In the same way, we cannot expect to reign with Him in the eternal joy of Heaven unless we try to submit to His will here and now on earth. Even in this world, the Lord has something wonderful and holy in mind for each one of us, a unique calling or mission that will allow us to become our best selves while making a true difference, a way of life that will one day allow us to face death without fear or regret. However, this great blessing will not happen unless we freely accept it; God’s plan for us will not take place unless we humbly choose to allow it. Our wholehearted response to Christ will make us more spiritually alive—and more happy and at peace—than ever before. This response must be lived out each weekend in our parishes, each week in our homes, and each week in the larger world. Easter is such a great and important feast that the Church celebrates it for fifty days, instead of limiting it to just Easter Sunday. In the same way, our response to the meaning of Easter must touch every aspect of our lives. A prisoner named Kevin realized that he was committed to accepting God’s will, no matter what it cost him, and doing so filled him with peace in a difficult and disappointing situation. In the same way, we must commit ourselves to following Jesus without counting the cost; this is the only way we can be sure of being an Easter people here on earth, and of one day being citizens and saints in the Kingdom of Heaven.