Although last Sunday was the 2nd Sunday of Lent, still a long way off from Holy Week, I had two experiences of Easter joy, one at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and the other at the Showcase Cinema in Yonkers.
Family Time in the Cathedral
The experience at the Cathedral was the Rite of Calling for the candidates preparing to be received into the Catholic Church this Easter. Several hundred candidates from all over New York City went to be presented to the Cardinal and to be ceremonially called by him to deepen in their conversion in these last weeks before their acceptance into the Church.
We were all expecting a simple ritual in which the candidates would stand in their spots when their parishes were announced, but they ended up doing something different this year: every single candidate and his sponsor were actually invited up into the sanctuary to be with Cardinal Dolan. Since there were several hundred candidates, it took well over twenty minutes for everyone to get into the sanctuary, but no one seemed to care. Everyone seemed to be thrilled to have the opportunity to be close to Cardinal, and the gesture of allowing the candidates into the sanctuary was a nice symbolic anticipation of their upcoming entrance into the family of the Church.
The Cardinal characteristically enjoyed the opportunity to be close to his flock. At one point, he took a little infant named Elizabeth into his arms and held her for a few minutes explaining to her what was going on, “See all of these people, Elizabeth? They’re coming into the Church!” Later on, he let two boys hold his crosier and then he had them wait until the end of the ceremony to process out with him. He shook hands and patted folks on the back – you could tell that he was enjoying himself and that the people were equally thrilled to be with him.
The whole experience was familial and joyful, and the candidates were very excited and energized. They left realizing that they are coming into a big Christian family this Easter, one that goes beyond the boundaries of their parishes. Cardinal Dolan, the spiritual father and shepherd of this Catholic family of New York City, had welcomed them with warm words and beaming happiness that communicated to them the joy of Christ and his Church.
For me too, it was encouraging to see so many people so excited about entering into the Church. I think sometimes I take for granted how beautiful it is to be a Christian, but seeing those candidates so enthusiastic about their new faith renewed my own appreciation for it.
Later that evening, I joined other New York seminarians to watch Risen at a local theater. There too, as I watched the artistic re-telling of the Resurrection, I felt anew the joy of being Christian. The movie follows the fictional story of a Roman tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) who is charged with the task of finding the body of Jesus. The most powerful parts of the film were the moments in which we were given imaginative glimpses of the Easter joy the apostles. Easter is something that we can take for granted, and we often forget how intensely emotional and exciting it must have been for them to see the risen Christ. The movie does a good job at helping us imagine what it must have been like.
Risen draws the viewer into the Easter experience through the character of Clavius who goes through his own spiritual journey as he reconciles the fact that the very man he helped kill on the Cross is somehow still alive. Make sure you see it sometime before Easter, and let yourself be drawn into the story. Good works of art allow the viewer to vicariously experience a reality otherwise imposible to have. Risen will allow you experience the shock, joy, amazement, and love that the Twelve must have experienced when they saw the Risen One.
I returned to the rectory on Sunday night filled with new energy and eagerness to continue my preparation for priestly ministry. Both the experiences at the Cathedral and the cinema refreshed in me the joy of being Christian. God used both events to remind me of that amazing Easter mystery that happened 2,000 years ago but even today continues to inspire great personal conversions and artistic retellings, as it will continue to do until He comes again.