The celebration of The Feast of the Resurrection (Easter) over the last two years has taken place beneath the dark shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, while stress from the pandemic is slowly fading, Easter is celebrated amid a time of grave international concern because of the Ukraine crisis, inflation and economic anxiety and the pervasive sense of division within the Church.
So now is the time to help the world to see even more clearly Christ’s passion, death and resurrection as the most profound expression of unfathomable love and mercy. Despite the destruction, sin, apathy and tensions in the Church and world, Christ’s victory and his continued presence shine in our lives through the sacraments and the witness of his people.
Signs of that continued witness are visible every year in those who come into the Church.
Around 100,000 adults enter the Church in the United States each year, either through baptism or being received into full communion. Around the world, nearly three million adults join the Church every year.
They come from every background and faith, but of particular note in recent years has been the exodus of members of the Church of England to Rome — “swimming the Tiber,” as the saying goes — especially members of the Anglican hierarchy.
The conversions had been happening for years, but in December 2019 came one of the highest-profile departures from the Anglican Communion: Gavin Ashenden, an Anglican priest, bishop in the “Continuing Anglican” jurisdiction and an honorary chaplain to the queen of England from 2008 until his resignation in 2017, over the deplorable state of the Church of England.
Ashenden was followed in short order by four Church of England bishops who came into full communion with the Catholic Church, some entering the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the personal ordinariate for Anglican traditions for the United Kingdom that was created in 2011 under Pope Benedict XVI. The bishops included Jonathan Goodall, the Anglican bishop of Ebbsfleet; Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester who was once almost chosen to be the archbishop of Canterbury; Peter Forster, the former bishop of Chester; and John Goddard, the former bishop of Burnley. Goodall, Nazir-Ali and Goddard were all ordained to the Catholic priesthood. Their reasons for leaving Anglicanism were summed up by Ashenden, who told the Register that the failure of the Anglicans to define their belief in “the most important elements of Christianity, the nature of the Church, the nature of the Eucharist” caused them to fall “prey to the very clearly focused and highly energized pseudo-ethical energy of progressive politics.”
Ashenden tellingly added, “Every generation needs a settled mind of the Church to weigh the merits and demerits of whatever society throws up.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed to the Register by American young people who have made their journey to the Catholic faith while in college.
One of the students recently profiled by the Register is an 18-year-old college freshman who is to enter the Church at Easter. She progressed from unbelief to faith thanks to the patient persistence of a Catholic high-school geometry teacher, who answered her many questions about suffering, and the small community of Catholics with whom she spent two weeks in the summer and who showed her the depth of lived Catholicism. She realized after spending time with these witnesses, “Wow, these people have something that I don’t; I want that: the overwhelming joy that comes from a life with Christ.”
Every journey to the Church is different for every convert, but the golden thread tying them all together is the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith, a faith that gives us the means to be disciples of Christ in a relentlessly changing world and that offers the unfathomable depths of God’s loving mercy.
“Indeed, mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message,” Pope Benedict XVI taught on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2008. “It is the very name of God, the Face with which he revealed himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love.”
The price of entering the Church — enduring the cross for his sake — can seem a steep one in today’s culture. Mockery in the media and condemnation or ostracism by colleagues, friends and even family can be discouragements.
But the converts keep coming, despite the threats and in the face of public disdain and contempt. They find in embracing their cross a joy and a peace unlike any they have known.
As Pope Francis taught at last year’s chrism Mass, “It is true that the cross is present in our preaching of the Gospel, but it is the cross of our salvation. Thanks to the reconciling blood of Jesus, it is a cross that contains the power of Christ’s victory, which conquers evil and delivers us from the evil one.”
Today, what is so desperately needed is for Christians to proclaim the cross and to live in Easter hope. It is a hope that exposes the lies of the world and is stronger than conflict or worldly ambition for power and status. It is a hope that invites and welcomes all who seek the peace that only true discipleship can bring, living in conformity to God’s will and not our own. It is a true new beginning.
As Pope Francis memorably taught in his Easter homily last year, “it is always possible to begin anew, because there is always a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures. From the rubble of our hearts — and each one of us knows the rubble of our hearts — God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can prepare a new history. He never ceases to go ahead of us: in the cross of suffering, desolation and death, and in the glory of a life that rises again, a history that changes, a hope that is reborn.”
For those buffeted by the storms of culture and by the empty promises of denominations who have surrendered to the “pseudo-ethical energy of progressive politics,” coming into the Church is and will always be what the great convert St. John Henry Newman described as “coming into port after a rough sea”.
To the thousands of new Catholics who entered the Church at the Easter vigil, we say welcome!