By Debbie Shelley
The Catholic Commentator
Easter Sunday is the beginning of a huge 50-day celebration in which the faithful can fully give themselves to understanding Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for them – which is heaven – because that is their destiny, according to Dina Dow, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
“During the Easter season, the resurrected Lord comes to earth in his glorified body and teaches the disciples, so for them, it’s just the beginning of their fortification of walking with the resurrected Lord,” said Dow. “Can you imagine that?
“When Easter happens, it’s just the beginning of a new life for them, which is what he promised. He promised new life and this new life is given to them through the cross and resurrection, redeeming their bodies and souls to be more effective disciples for him.”
For 40 days Jesus is on earth appearing to the apostles and teaching them, and their eyes are opened about everything they had learned because they see him and understand who he is, according to Dow.
She noted that the first readings of the Sunday Mass during the Easter season change from the Old Testament to the Acts of the Apostles, which is their response and actions as recorded by St. Luke.
According to the USCCB, in Acts, St. Luke has provided a broad survey of the church’s development from the resurrection of Jesus to Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, the point at which the book ends. In telling this story, St. Luke describes the emergence of Christianity from its origins in Judaism to its position as a religion of worldwide status and appeal.
“So everything we’ve sacrificed and done for Lent should have, in some way, transformed us to the point that there’s a newness inside of us,” said Dow. “And if not, that’s okay, we still have the Easter season to work on it.
“The sacrifices and promises made (during Lent) shouldn’t just be going away, we should be transformed by them. This is the hope in us walking in our own resurrected bodies with Christ.”
Dow noted that after Easter Catholics hear the stories of the apostles and what they did after Jesus was raised from the dead until he ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit descends upon them at Pentecost.
“We’re in a beautiful, beautiful time,” said Dow.
During Easter weekend, Dow said there are baptisms, confirmations and first Communions as people enter the church and Catholics are renewing their baptismal promises.
“So much so, that each weekend we are sprinkled by holy water and that continues the whole Easter season. So there’s a whole lot of sprinkling added to the liturgy,” Dow said.
The weekend after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, a fairly recent addition to the liturgical celebration given to the church by St. John Paul II and inspired by St. Faustina. Jesus appeared to St. Faustina and she wrote about his mercy in her diary.
“So you have this incredible act of love and sacrifice, followed by the cross, followed by Jesus’ resurrection and are reminded of his mercy. So divine, so real. There’s no sin greater than his mercy,” said Dow.
One of Dow’s favorite Scripture passages is when St. Peter and others go back to fishing after Jesus’ resurrection.
“What else can you do when someone rises from the dead, but go fishing?” Dow mused.
Then the scene is set – Jesus is on the shore and has made a fire, he’s cooking fish, he feeds them. He then asks St. Peter three times if he loves him, which is symbolic of Peter’s three denials that he knew him after his arrest. Christ helps St. Peter recover from his denials through his question.
“How many times have we denied Christ in our lives?” asked Dow. “How many times have we said we love him? … That mercy, falling away from the Lord, then coming back to the Lord and saying ‘Yes, I love you.’ ”
Dow then posed the question, “What does ‘I love you Jesus’ mean to us?”
The Acts of the Apostles is essentially about the apostle’s love for Jesus.
“The apostles are saying, ‘Yes, I love you, and here’s what I am going to do.’ They are doing missionary work, they are baptizing, they are healing and teaching. They couldn’t do it on their own, he (Christ) had to tell them what they needed to do.
“Forty days after he’s teaching and telling them what they need to do, he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to go, I’m leaving you, but I’m giving you the paraclete, I’m sending the advocate to you, so I’m always with you.’ ”
In St. Matthew 28, “The Great Commissioning,” Jesus gives instructions to his disciples that also apply to us today, according to Dow: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
“As Catholic Christians that’s what we are called to do. Bring them to Jesus, invite them into the body of Christ, teach them about God’s love. Do you have to have a master’s degree in theology to do that? No. Does it help? Sure. But you can teach people how to love by the way you love,” Dow said.