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Column | Opening Our Hearts and Lives for Easter

Bishop Bonnar


Bishop of Youngstown

When I was a young boy, I remember my sister Cathy and me battling each other to be the first to open the peanut butter jar. It was not just turning the lid to open the newly packaged product, but it was being the first to dig into the peanut butter. This was an opening we both anticipated with great joy.

Openings can be exciting. Whether it is a house, store, musical or academic year, or a sports season, openings are always something to be revered and celebrated.

For the past few months, I have tuned in virtually every day to the Bald Eagle Cam in Hays, Pa. There are two eagles, who, every winter it seems, nest, hatch, and rear eaglets. People from all over watch this miracle of nature. When the egg opens, it is something to behold. The opening does not end with the hatching of the eggs, for the mom and dad eagles fetch food and then open their mouths to feed the eaglets. The culmination of this process happens when the little ones open their wings and fly out of the nest to enter a whole new world.

This image of openings is something for us to ponder and pray about in this Easter season. As a community of believers, we give thanks to God the Father for His openness to sending His only begotten Son Jesus to save us. We rejoice in the openness of Jesus to become like us in all things but sin. He opened His heart to embrace His Father’s will over His own.

In this Easter season we continue to behold the Good News of the opening of the empty tomb revealing the resurrection of Jesus. And we listen again to the stories of those first followers who allowed themselves to be opened to this startling news.

One of the most compelling stories of openness comes from the 24th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Two disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus lamenting the loss of their Savior who suffered and died a brutal and innocent death. As they walk along the way, lo and behold, they encounter a stranger who converses with them. This stranger begins to speak to their hearts. These men are so comforted by the stranger’s words that they invite him into their home. We are told that they gathered at table where “… He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31). In the breaking of the bread, these forlorn disciples came to see that this stranger was none other than Jesus Himself. It was clearly an eye-opening experience for them.

Later in the same chapter, Jesus emerges again. He extends His peace and shows His hands and feet. The disciples offer Him some baked fish. “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Encounters with the risen Lord not only open eyes, but these moments also open minds and hearts. The Christian tradition reveals that it did not end there, for Jesus opened lips to pass on the Good News and hands to love and serve in His name.

What happened to those disciples on the road to Emmaus can happen to us. We come to Holy Mass with our sorrows, sadness, and disappointment from the previous week, all of which weigh heavy on our hearts. When we enter this sacred prayer fully and consciously, great things can happen. We “lift up our hearts to the Lord” and in the breaking of the bread our eyes are opened. We come to see like never before. The scales fall from our eyes. We behold and appreciate Jesus and the great Paschal Mystery of our faith – suffering, death, and resurrection.

Having experienced Jesus’ great love for us in the Holy Eucharist, it is not just our eyes that are opened. Our hearts become more open to loving and serving others. In fact, we are sent forth to glorify God with our lives. Essentially, this means that we are to love one another as Jesus loves us.

In a real sense, we go forth to continue our journey and, while being at times a stranger to those we encounter along the way, we are called to be Christ. Indeed, even in our sinfulness and brokenness, Christ uses us as His instruments to open eyes and hearts.

The next time you attend Holy Mass and receive the Eucharist behold this amazing experience of openness. As you walk back to your pew, pray: “Lord, open my eyes and heart to you.” Celebrate that openness with thanksgiving.

For those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, there is a beautiful psalm we pray every morning called the Invitatory Psalm. Praying this psalm is a way of inviting God truly into our prayer and lives. Before the recitation of this psalm, one is to first say: “Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.” What a wonderful prayer for us all to pray as we open our eyes each day along with asking the Lord to open our eyes, hearts, minds, and hands.

I pray this Easter season will be for all of us a time of great openings to be celebrated and shared. Happy Easter! Happy Grace-filled Openings!

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