for Sunday, April 17, 2022
On Ash Wednesday at St. Ignatius, as well as around the world, many people
come to Church. They want to receive the ashes and wear them throughout the day.
Many of these people do not go to Mass regularly, but that makes no difference to
them. Why? Why do they want to receive the ashes? Are they superstitious? Do
they think that the ashes have some sort of power? I think not. I am convinced that
people who don not regularly attend Mass want to receive the ashes because they
want to proclaim to the world that at their root, fundamentally, they are Catholic.
Catholicism runs deep, very deep.
So also, many people who do not regularly attend Mass come to Church on
Easter. I am not saying that all the additional worshipers on Easter do not regularly
attend Mass, many are visitors, vacationing in Florida or coming from out of state to
spend time with their parents or grandparents. But those who do not regularly attend
Mass come on Easter for one simple reason: they are Catholic. They want to pray with
their Catholic community. They want to celebrate the New Life of the Lord they
received at their baptism. They are here for the best of reasons, they want to draw
closer to their Savior and they want to do this through the beauties and sacraments of
the Catholic Church. Catholicism runs deep, very deep.
And that is wonderful.
So, what does it mean to be a Catholic? I could answer this question in a
theological way, but, instead, I want to consider our participation in three of the many
fundamental elements of Catholicism: the Church, the Eucharist and Easter.
Being Catholic means that we are part of a Church with a huge number of
devoted worshipers, 1.285 billion people or more. Back in 1984, I made my first trip to
Rome with my parents and godmother. I was there for Pentecost and was able to
assist the Holy Father, Pope St. John Paul II. Yup, it was just me and the pope, along
with about a hundred other priests, and all sorts of bishops and cardinals. I told my
parents to meet me in the Piazza San Pietro after the Mass. Well, when I left St.
Peters, I saw this huge crowd of people, thousands and thousands, in the piazza,
waiting for the Pope's Sunday blessing. (I did find my parents, who were smart enough
to go to the obelisk in the center of the piazza.) That is when it really hit me. The
people in the piazza were from all over the world. And I was part of them. I belonged
there. Every person who comes to Church on Easter belongs here. We are all part of
this, this worldwide assemblage of devoted worshipers who today come together to
proclaim our belief in the resurrection of the Lord. We are all part of this, this massive
and wonderful Catholic Church.
What else does being a Catholic mean? It means that we receive the Body and
Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist. We take Jesus inside of us. We are united to him
in His death on the Cross and in His Resurrection. In my 45 years of priesthood, so
many people have said to me that they want to become Catholic because they want to
receive Communion. They understand that Communion is a profession of belief in the
Real Presence of the Lord, and they respect the need they have to learn the faith and
proclaim the faith. So they attend classes to prepare for Communion. Being Catholic
means sharing in the Eucharist, not as a meal of solidarity or fellowship, but as a real
union with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
The Eucharistic Presence of the Lord is infinitely more valuable than the most
expensive works of art kept in the finest museums. And we have been given the gift of
taking this Presence of the Lord within us, this Sunday and every Sunday, every day
for that matter. Whether it is at a large Mass such as this, or whether it is in a hospital
room with only a priest, deacon or Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and a person
confined to bed, Jesus is present in the same way, the way of the Eucharist, the Real
Presence. One of the greatest experiences and blessings I have had as a priest was
bringing Communion to a dying 14 year old, Jamie Kelleher, and having him say to me,
"I've lost everything, but no one will ever take Jesus from me." I still have tears of joy
when I remember how much the presence of the Lord, particularly in the Eucharist,
meant to that young boy. He died two months later. He's a saint.
The Eucharist is a treasure so valuable that we realize that to receive
Communion we need to be better Christians, better followers of the Lord. We realize
that we need to reach out to others in humble service, just as the Lord reaches out to
us in humble service. We realize that we need to do all we can to be pure, to be free
from sin. We value the Eucharist to such an extent that we would deny ourselves the
reception of the Eucharist if we knew that serious sin has made us unworthy recipients
We experience Catholicism as part of the body of worshipers; we experience
Catholicism as people who receive the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist; and
we experience Catholicism in our continual celebration of Easter. The central
celebration of our Church year is Easter Sunday, but every Sunday, including those in
Lent, is a renewal of Easter. Catholics are Easter People. That is why so many come
to Mass on Easter Sunday. Easter is a celebration of whom they are, of whom we are.
Jesus Christ died on the Cross to free us from the grip of the devil. He
bargained his life for our lives. He redeemed us. But it was not enough for Him, the
Tremendous Lover, to free us from evil. He gave us a new life. He gave us his
Resurrected Life. Through Jesus Christ we are more than the physical. We are more
than that which meets the eye. Through Jesus Christ, we are spiritual. Our baptism is
our reception of the Life of the Lord. Our loved ones who have passed away have only
lost their physical lives. Their spiritual lives remain. Because of Easter, we look
forward to full union with those whom we miss so much and whom we long for so
For me, for you, being a Catholic means that we are naturally, fundamentally,
optimists. No matter what horrors this world imposes on us, or on anyone, we know
that our citizenship is in heaven. We have reason for joy. We are an Easter people!
We luxuriate in the Life of Christ we have received, a Life that can never be taken from
us. Yes, we can deny this life. We can abandon it. But the Love of God is so powerful,
that He is always ready to restore His Life to us when we seek forgiveness particularly
through the sacrament of penance.
Many people have expressed to me, and I am sure to you, their fear for the
world. They are upset by news reports be they on the war in Ukraine, politics,
terrorism, mass shootings, environmental concerns, etc. Well, God bless them and
God bless us all for being upset with evil in the world. When the Lord said, "Blessed
are those who mourn," he was referring exactly to that, "Blessed are those people,
blessed are we who mourn the effect of evil upon the world." We have to work hard to
fight against evil. We join groups and support those under attack. We must fight
against injustice. We call upon St. Michael to help us defeat the devil and all other evil
spirits who prowl the world seeking the ruin of souls. But we must always keep in mind
our certainty that evil will not win the final battle. Jesus Christ has won the victory over
the worst that evil could do, the victory over death. He has given us His Life. We are
His. He is ours. We are people of the Resurrected Life of the Lord. We are an Easter
people. This is what it means to be a Catholic. "Do not be afraid," Pope St. John Paul
II asserted. There is great reason to hope. Jesus Christ, our hope, has risen from the
The tomb is empty, Mary. But the world is full. The Savior Lives. May his life
change the world. May we let his life change our worlds.
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Acts 10.34a, 36-43++
Second Reading: Colossians 3.1-4
Gospel: John 20.1-18++
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: