Sunday, April 16, 2006

By death He trampled Death.

Christ is risen from the dead!
By death He trampled Death,
And to those in the tombs
He granted life.

In our celebration of Christ's Resurrection, we are invited to find joy in paradox. Rising from the dead, the Prince of Peace becomes the Pantocrator. The saving victim becomes a triumphant victor. The One who urged his followers to turn the other cheek becomes the One who, in the words of the Byzantine Troparion of the Resurrection, "trampled Death." Of course, to say that Christ "trampled Death" is simply another way of saying that he "overcame Death" or "conquered Death." Attending Matins and Divine Liturgy this morning at Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church near Chicago, I heard and sang this refrain innumerable times in the "conquered Death" version, which I suspect is the most common. Nonetheless, to my ears there's still something uniquely euphonious about the phrase "by death He trampled death." If nothing else, "trampled" stirs up more vivid and specific images than "conquered." That ought to count for something, especially in the realm of faith and theological mystery.
Very different but equally vivid images of trampling occur in the pages of Shusaku Endo's Silence, which I finished reading this afternoon. In Silence, Christ does not trample upon Death but is instead trampled upon by persecuted Japanese Christians forced to choose between apostasy and death. In the case of Sebastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese Jesuit betrayed to the Japanese authorities by an apostate Christian, the choice is even more poignant. Rodrigues' captors tell him that they will spare the lives of imprisoned Japanese Christians if the priest agrees to trample on an image of Jesus. Already struggling to understand God's apparent silence in the face of human suffering, Rodrigues must grapple in an even greater way with the meaning of Jesus' life and example. Silence is a good book to read during Holy Week, though its message is not a very comforting one to receive on Easter.
On a more joyful note, on Saturday night I celebrated the Paschal Vigil at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. As I've mentioned before, I have a certain fascination with the phenomenon of urban monasticism, and these Benedictines monks who provide a contemplative presence in the heart of a major metropolis offer an excellent example. From the blessing of the new fire and the Exultet to the final blessing and the recessional, the monks at the Monastery of the Holy Cross executed the lengthy and complex Vigil liturgy in a spirit of prayerful dignity and reverence. After the Mass, the monks entertained guests at a reception in the church hall. I enjoyed the monks' warm hospitality and conversation as much as I did the beautiful liturgy they celebrated.
Defying a serious thunderstorm, I drove up to the North Shore this afternoon to enjoy Easter dinner with my brother novice Jim Shea and his family. Thanks are due once again to the Sheas for their generous and gracious company. Being far from my own home, I'm thankful that the Sheas welcomed me into theirs. I wish them and all my readers a blessed and happy Easter season. Christos Voskrese! AMDG.


At April 17, 2006 2:40 AM, Blogger Florian said...

Blessed and happy Easter !

when reading your posts on the liturgies in all those different churches, especially your visit at the Redemptorist's Parish, I wondered whether your Jesuit community doesn't have community liturgies for these days ?
Wouldn't it be an integral part of a religious community to celebrate the highest feasts together ?

But it's great to read those fascinating reports about all those different ways to celebrate same mysteries.


At April 17, 2006 4:08 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thanks for the good wishes - a blessed and joyful Easter to you as well. Your point on community liturgies is well taken. Though I didn't mention it in my post, we had a community Mass for Holy Thursday, which I attended in addition to the Mass at St. Michael's. I agree that it's important for religious communities to gather on such occasions, though I also appreciate being able to celebrate some of the holiest days in the Church year with the larger Christian community.

Sometime soon I hope to have a post up on the place of liturgy in Jesuit community life. It's a important topic and one I've been thinking and praying a lot about lately, and in light of your comment I feel I ought to share some of my thoughts on the subject in a more public way. Thanks again for your comment - God bless!

At June 27, 2006 1:07 AM, Blogger Steve Hayes said...

I was interested in your comments on urban monasticism, and had just written about it, then thought I'd have a look to see who else was writing about it.

It seems to flourish in a multitude of different ways and in various places.

At June 29, 2006 4:16 PM, Blogger Steve Hayes said...

For what it's worth, we're having quite an interesting discussion on urban monasticism her:

Anything you can contribute would be welcome.


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