Sunday, April 24, 2011
“God has made me laugh; every one who hears will laugh with me” (Gen 21:6).
Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger quoted these words, spoken by Sarah when she was told she would conceive and bear a child, as he shared the custom of Risus Paschalis-The Easter Laugh. Risus Paschalis is a custom from the Baroque period when the Easter homily always contained a joke to make people laugh so the entire church would ring with joy. He said,“On Easter, we imagine Jesus' laughter of redemption. We who share an Easter faith can say, like Sarah, 'God has made me laugh.'”
For the past three years our parish had the great honor of hosting Bishop William Callahan as presider at our Easter Vigil, so this year the Vigil Mass, although beautiful in every way, felt just a bit lonelier without him, as Bishop Callahan is now Bishop of La Crosse, WI and is no longer able to join us.
But every time I think back to the first year that he had joined us, I just have to smile, remembering his homily about the Easter Laugh. It was the year that I was sponsoring my friend Amanda as she joined the Catholic Church through the RCIA Program. For me, everything about that particular Easter Vigil was electric with excitement and joy. I sat in the first row with Amanda on one side and my daughter, who was six at the time, on the other side, and during his homily, Bishop Callahan stood right in front of us with his hand on the edge of the pew as if the entire homily was meant for us alone, and he spoke of Risus Paschalis, the Easter Laugh.
And at this year's Easter Vigil, in fact, even before we left the house, the Easter Laugh kept bubbling up inside of me. My daughter, always the helpful nine year old, wanted me to practice my reading with her. (I lector at my parish and tonight I read the haunting words of Ezekial (36:16-17a, 18-28.) Although thankfully, I didn't blunder during Mass, I couldn't get through practicing it with Mary with a straight face. Just knowing that she was watching me made me burst into laughter, and when she joined in the laughter, the two of us were out of control with happiness.
At the vigil, sitting in the dark around the altar, I noticed the associate pastor practically dancing in his chair during the toe-tapping "Horse and Chariot", (Exodus 14:15-15:1) and that put a smile on my face that would not disappear for the remainder of the evening. Sitting next to the lead lector who had the responsibility of making the announcement to the pastor, "Reverend Father, tonight I bring you great news. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead." I just had to whisper to her, "That is so great!" as if it were the first time I had ever heard that news.
My son Jack's best friend and his brother and parents were all received into the Catholic Church at the Vigil, and the sight of an entire family giving themselves to God deepened my smile with the emotion of pride. Later, as I was sitting in the pew with my family once again, I was overjoyed to see that my daughter and youngest son noticed every single detail of the Mass including the joy of every person present, and Mary whispered that she never wants to miss a single Easter Vigil for the rest of her life, and all of this made me laugh.
After the Vigil, during the celebration welcoming our newest members of the Church, I was joined by one of my dearest and long-time friends, Katherine. The first thing she said to me was "You look happy." I realized that after four long years of leaning on the strength of God to beat back the devil of depression, I could clearly say that with God, I have won; yes, I am happy!
Bishop Callahan had said that there is nothing the devil despises more than the laughter and joy of God's people, it sends him running fast and far! On Easter we celebrate the fact that there is no despair, no loss, no death that the love and glory of God cannot overcome. In God we have life everlasting. The devil always loses and God wins! And I want to be on His side forever, singing a song of freedom! God has won the victory! Hallelujah!
"We are the Easter people, and hallelujah is our song!" Pope John Paul II