This Lenten season felt as though it stretched longer than six weeks for me, and perhaps for you, too. Lent has always been a time of sacrifice and penitential practices, a time of “giving up” or fasting from something, a time of uniting ourselves with the sufferings of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I felt ready to move from a sober and somber Lent to the joys and hopes of Easter. I looked forward to reflecting on the Scriptures of the Easter season.
I began with Mark’s Gospel at the Easter Vigil and his story of three significant women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, who decide to bring spices and perfumes to the sepulcher to anoint Jesus’ body. On arriving at the tomb, they are astonished to find the stone rolled back. They enter the tomb but do not find the body of Jesus. Instead there is a young man in a white robe and they are obviously frightened. He calms them and assures them that Jesus has risen. Jesus is alive and going to Galilee. “There you will see him,” says the young man.
In commenting on this Scripture in his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus: Meditations on the Gospel, Year B, José Antonio Pagola, one of my favorite spiritual writers, says that we, like the women and the other disciples, must return to Galilee to see the risen Jesus. Galilee was the major site of Jesus’ activities. Galilee was where he healed and forgave, comforted and called his disciples. Galilee was where Jesus awakened his listeners to follow the truth.
What does this mean – to return to Galilee and there you will see Jesus? How is this the Easter joy and hope I was looking for? As I meditated on the two themes of seeing Jesus in Galilee and seeking hope and joy, I began to see a connection.
Pope Francis, who is a symbol of hope for billions of people around the world, is calling us back to Galilee, calling us to continue Jesus’ work of healing and compassion. Francis is inviting us to Galilee to continue Jesus’ work of mercy and justice. Many bishops are following his lead. I saw this recently when the bishops of the Philippines reversed their position on an LGBT anti-discrimination bill, saying that people must not be treated like “a lower category enjoying fewer rights.” Similarly, the Archbishop of Dublin criticized the disrespectful language of some people opposed to same-sex marriage. This is Easter joy and hope.
In Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus stood up in the synagogue, took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and proclaimed liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty for the oppressed and good news to the poor. Jesus raised his voice for justice and freedom, though all were not eager to hear it. I saw this recently when Germany’s religious superiors of men’s and women’s communities released a statement that calls for a more expansive understanding of the church’s treatment of sexuality. I saw this recently when, at a Vatican-sponsored event, a panel of women raised their voices for the need for women’s equality and greater inclusion in the church. I see this continually when church reform groups urge the laity to speak up just as Jesus did in the synagogue in Nazareth. This is Easter joy and hope.
Yes, I can feel hope and joy when I see others return to Galilee to do the work of healing, forgiving, speaking out for justice and preaching God’s love for all. But I know that I too must return to Galilee to do that work if I am to see the risen Jesus. I must begin in Galilee and experience in my own being what Jesus did. I too must heal, forgive, speak out for justice, and preach God’s love for all. If I personally do not do this, the resurrection for me will just be “a sublime doctrine, a sacred dogma,” as Pagola says. To experience the Risen Jesus, I must faithfully follow in his footsteps, beginning in Galilee. This will bring the joy and hope of Easter that I am looking for.
[Sr. Jeannine Gramick is a Sister of Loretto who has been involved in a pastoral ministry for lesbian and gay Catholics since 1971. She co-founded New Ways Ministry and has been an Executive Coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns since 2003.]