Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy was the Archbishop of Seattle from 1991 – 1997. He was Chicago-born and bred, and served for a time as Bishop of the Great Falls-Billings Diocese before being transferred to the West Coast by Pope John Paul II. Archbishop Murphy was a highly gifted man. He was intelligent and well read, a man of creative genius and boundless energy, with relational skills in abundance. Those skills earned him the nickname “The White Tornado” while serving in Great Falls. I knew him well, loved him dearly, and still miss his high-decibel laugh, his high-octane energy, and his love for Christ and the Church.
In 1996, just barely five years into his tenure as Archbishop, he received devastating news. For over a month, he had struggled with flu-like symptoms, symptoms that were unresponsive to treatment and unabated by time. On December 8, 1996, the Archbishop was admitted to Seattle’s Providence Hospital for further testing. Within hours, the doctors informed him that he had less than six months to live. He was exactly my present age when the diagnosis came. That night, he asked me to inform his brother, call the Papal Ambassador, and preach at his funeral.
Those last few precious, bittersweet months with him are forever etched in my memory. Archbishop Murphy died a very public death. During his early hospitalization, he frequently interacted with the public and media as he shared his inner-most thoughts on radio and TV. He was photographed in hospital-issue robe and gown, ministering to fellow patients, commiserating with them in their suffering, anointing the dying, and consoling the mourners.
As his own illness advanced and his body grew weak, everything changed. Just two weeks before he died, he said something that stunned the public and left me feeling sad and shaken. He told the people of Seattle, “I am now overcome with fear, and sometimes too frightened to pray. And so I ask you, no, I beg you, for your prayers.” The words were hard to hear, especially coming from the lips of the Archbishop. If he as Archbishop was experiencing such darkness and fear in the face of death, I thought, “How will I that day endure?”
The people of the Archdiocese, clergy and laity alike, stepped up to the plate. The surrounded the Archbishop with waves of care and prayers, just when he needed it the most. Their prayer carried him through the dark night of his soul, right up to the moment of his death. I was there when he took his last breath. I saw him embrace his loving Savior, who took away his fear, and gave him serenity and peace in its place.
The Bangladeshi poet Tagore said it well, “Death is not the extinguishing of the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” I have learned, down through the years, that it is precisely here, in the face of darkness and despair, that the mystery of the Resurrection takes on its fullest meaning.
Exactly 50 years ago, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote this powerful passage which is drawn from the spirit of the Easter Gospels: “Through Christ, and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they (sorrow and death) overwhelm us.”
In his Easter address, Pope Francis proclaimed, “The Risen One, Jesus Christ, does not belong to the past, but to the present, here, today, and now. He is alive . . . He is present as a force of hope for every person in the church. He is here for you and for me.”
At Easter, dear friends, the Church does not propose some complicated theology, or lofty theory, or arcane and unreachable dogma. She presents the person of Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, the Word made flesh, and splendor of our Father.She presents Jesus as the first Word, the last Word, the living Word, the only Word; the very incarnation of our Father’s love.
St. Paul proposes that “If Christ had not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain, and so too, our faith is in vain.” He comes to us in doubt and darkness. He speaks to us in the very hour of our need. He is here for you and me as we walk in the shadow of death, confronted by our own fragility and mortality. He comes to us as Life itself. His death at Calvary is our ransom from death, and through our baptism, he hands us a passport that gives us the hope that will bring us through the gates of everlasting life.
For those who feel their life is adrift, marked by uncertainty and doubt, Easter is for you as well. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said it powerfully: “Jesus is the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life.” The Easter liturgy proclaims, “He is the Morning Star that never sets. He is the light of the sun, God’s only Son, given to us as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.”
To those who labor under the weight of guilt and sin, whose lives are burdened down by sad and toxic memories, Easter is your feast day as well. Jesus is our Divine Physician, the consoler of souls, the very embodiment of forgiveness and compassion. Jesus is the face of mercy, calling you by name, and offering you peace and rest that the world cannot give.
For those whose lives have been marked by fear or anxiety, Jesus speaks to your souls. “Do not fear what will happen tomorrow,” wrote St. Francis Xavier, “for the same Father who cares for you today will take care of you today and every day. He will either shield you from suffering, or give you the unfailing strength you need to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thought and imaginings.”
For those who have been avoiding Jesus, evading Him, holding Him at a distance and keeping Him at arm’s length, for those whose spiritual lives have been marked by mediocrity or complacency, Easter is speaking to you. It beckons you, awaiting you with a life-altering embrace. Come to Him, and open your hearts to the wellspring of Easter grace. Receive Him anew, or for the first time, on this Holy day.
The Easter liturgy says poetically what we know in our hearts – “The power of this holy feast night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, and brings mourners joy. It casts out hatred and brings us peace; it humbles earthly pride. This is the day when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.”
Easter is the time for a personal, life-changing encounter with our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ. It is your time, and it is my time. It is time to proclaim the Risen Lord’s sovereignty over your lives and to become a disciple and fellow traveler with the Lord.
It is a time for living in full communion with the Church he founded on the shoulders of the Apostles, a community given to us to nourish us and guide us with Word and sacrament until we are safe in our Father’s arms.
Christ – the same – yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To Him be glory and power, through every age, forever and ever.