The Church Is Alive

Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

Remember that pointed question posed by the angel that first Easter morning?

The Gospel tells us that the women who were close to Jesus went to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the dead body of the Lord. To their shock, upon arrival at the cemetery, they found the stone rolled away from the door to the grave, but no corpse. That’s when the heavenly messengers arrived to ask that pivotal question, "Why are you looking for the living among the dead?"

Jesus is not dead! He’s alive! "He has risen as He said!"

He lives in His Church! And during this Easter Season, we do well to look for the Church among the living, not the dead.

To be sure, we are tempted at times to consider the Church a graveyard: closing parishes and schools, declining numbers of priests, sisters, brothers; lifelong, life-giving, faithful marriage under attack; unrelenting stories in the news about clergy sexual abuse of minors; actual persecution of Catholics in Iraq, Pakistan and India; cutbacks in dedicated personnel working for the Church; people leaving the Church, or no longer going to Sunday Mass; dissent from the clear teachings of the Church in faith and morals…

…you get my point? Are you depressed yet? Did you enjoy that visit to the cemetery? Is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, a corpse?

Sometimes we’re tempted to think so, and there are certainly those who would dance on the grave!

But the great faith of Easter thunders out, "He is alive and still with us!" And He is with us in His Church. So, what do you say we stop looking for the living among the dead?

Let’s take the pulse here and check some vital signs, and I think you’ll agree that it’s morning in the Church, not night; it’s spring, not winter; it’s Easter, not Good Friday.

For instance, the Easter Vigil, I had the honor of welcoming 10 into the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, first Eucharist, and the profession of faith. Each of our 400 parishes had the same exhilaration, with thousands joining the Church in our archdiocese alone, millions throughout the world. These people of faith aren’t hooking up with a cadaver but with a vibrant, hopeful, meaningful living organism.

These millions—mostly adults—confessed joyfully their faith in "all that the Catholic Church teaches." What attracted them is a Church that teaches with clarity and credibility, not a Church unaware of its divine mandate to teach the truth with love.

This explosion of sacramental life will continue through the spring:

• thousands of our beloved children will receive our Lord for the first time in Holy Communion;

• scores of our young teenagers will reach Christian maturity in the sacrament of confirmation;

• Soon I’ll ordain 10 young men priests, and 13 men permanent deacons;

• 6,616 of our high school seniors are soon to graduate from one of our 55 excellent Catholic high schools;

• promising young couples are putting the final touches on their wedding, eager to seal their vocation with a sacrament of the Church;

• hundreds of our young people prepare to give a week of the summer in a "service project" helping others in the name of Jesus;

• The latest annual outside audit of dioceses in the United States demonstrates that children are safer in the Catholic Church than anywhere else, as nobody, nowhere is doing more to confront the plague of sexual abuse of minors—found sadly in every family, religion, organization, profession, job and public school—than the Catholic Church in the United States;

• our priests report that more people than before seemed to return to the sacrament of penance this Lent, especially in parishes where there were increased hours offered, with encouragement and catechesis from the pulpit;

• Holy Week liturgies, at least at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, left many people grumbling—not about the liturgy, but about the fact that the cathedral was so jammed they could not get in;

• political observers of all stripes observe that the Catholic Church is the clearest, most consistent voice on issues such as pro-life and justice for the immigrant;

• Catholics in the U.S.A. have donated already more than $60 million to Catholic Relief Services to help Haiti, with only two-thirds of the nation’s dioceses reported. You extraordinary people of this archdiocese gave almost $2 million! (And the Mets even won their opener!)

I could go on and on with the "good news," everybody, but I trust you get my point: The Church, like Jesus, is alive, not dead.

Now I realize a lot of newspapers want us on the obituary page, and our many enemies warn, as one tort lawyer did to me, that he will not rest until there is a "going out of business" sign in front of every parish, but the Church seems to keep bursting out of the tomb.

As the apostles found out, the living body of the risen Christ still bore the gaping wounds from the nails and spear.

So does His body, the Church. We’ve got wounds galore, and always will.

But the Church is strong, healthy, alive, growing…and we’re in the wrong place if we’re looking for the living among the dead!