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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Harrowing of Hell

Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all were saved through water. [1 Peter 3:18-21]

Holy Saturday is spent in remembrance of our Lord’s descent among the dead. He descended there to save the souls of the faithful who had died before his Passion and Resurrection, to open for them the gates of heaven. Hades had attempted to contain the uncontainable, but the power of Christ has overturned the power of Death forever. Indeed it was necessary that Christ descend among the dead so that every knee would bow at his name on the earth, above the earth and under the earth.
As Mary and the disciples remained hidden in the upper room in sorrow and confusion, Jesus warred against the Prince of this world and the power of death. While the world of Mary and the disciples may have seemed to have entered into a deep silence after the death of Jesus, below the earth the angels were shouting before the gates of Hades – “Lift up your heads, O gates, rise up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter!” Who is this king of glory? “The Lord, a mighty warrior, the Lord, mighty in battle! The Lord of Hosts is the king of glory!” Though the world of Mary and the disciples may have seemed bleak, the light of Christ even then was dispelling the black power of death and binding the power of the forces of darkness. Oh, if amidst that silence Jesus’ followers could only have heard the glorious sounds that were heard among the rejoicing holy men and women who had finally seen the savior about whom they had prophesied and for whom they had waited.

As Saint Francis wrote,

For the Most Holy Father of heaven, our King before all ages
sent His Beloved Son from on high
and has brought salvation in the midst of the earth. (OfP 7:3).

Yet, what does Holy Saturday mean to we who are striving to conform ourselves to the very image of the Godhead, to imitate Christ perfectly? Is it simply a remembrance of things of long ago? Not at all, my brothers. Though the world may have seemed silent to Jesus’ disciples, the power of God was still at work accomplishing mighty and wondrous deeds. The entrance of Jesus into the realm of the dead overturned the power of death, just as the reality of Christ’s incarnation into this world has changed everything here forever. The light of Christ in Sheol began as a flicker which became a light which eventually became a blinding sun from which darkness could not hide or prevail.

Just as the light of Christ overturned the powers of death and darkness, so too can the light of Christ conquer the shadows present in our world. Often the workings of God may seem hidden to us, God may seem silent. But just as Christ was working mighty deeds on that Saturday of long ago, he continues to work mighty deeds today through we who must be Christ today. Just as Christ awoke those who had fallen asleep, so are we called to go out into the world and cry out “Awake O Sleeper!” We must let them know of the coming of Christ and of his victory.

I spoke to you yesterday of the many signs of darkness in the world, but there are also many signs that the light of Christ is already breaking through. In North Carolina, eleven year old Suzie Tipton, who suffers from cerebral palsey, started a “loan closet” for families with special needs children so that they could donate their used equipment to others. About 155,000 people are expected to become Catholic at this evening’s Easter Vigil. As Iraqi priest Ragheed Ganni proclaims, “We have gone through 2004, our Cavalry, with its pain and destruction, but we have not lost our vitality, we have not fled, we are still here, because we are certain of Resurrection.”

Christ has not fled, he is still here, the darkness is ending, the light is dawning and it is time for us to rouse the world.


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