Fr. Jones: Mixed tears, Easter joys

By Father Richard S. Jones

Chaplain, UPMC Mercy Hospital

During Holy Week, I experienced a tremendous mix of emotions at the funeral of a priest friend, held in St. Mary of the Mount Church – now part of Mary, Queen of Peace Parish — on Mount Washington.

I wept ‘tears of sorrow’ at the loss of a friend who had lived his priesthood in such a humble, simple, non-judgmental, and loving way. I felt ‘tears of gratitude’ for his priestly dedication, his witness when he was a Christian Brother, for the way he found biblical serenity in the mystical aspects of martial arts, for his faithful friendship, and his uncommon goodness. I also cried ‘tears of joy,’ relieved that his bouts of cancer treatment, multiple strokes, dementia, and the isolation of a nursing home during a global pandemic are now lifted.

His Easter had arrived a few days early. And, like the one we all just celebrated, it is not one moment or one day. It continues without end.  

The assurance of faith echoed in my heart: God will give you the grace you need to carry your cross—be sure of this. My friend is now free from the tomb, with no more restrictions. Pain and suffering are not a cruel and meaningless fate, but preparation for an eternal reward: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” (Romans 8:18)

Easter joy does not invalidate sorrow. When Jesus stood by the tomb of his beloved friend Lazarus, John 11:35 tells us that, “Jesus began to weep.”  As a chaplain at UPMC Mercy Hospital, I had recently found insight about sorrow in Jesus, Friend of My Soul, by Sister Joyce Rupp:

Grieving is a healthy, human response to the pain of no longer having someone or something significant. Weeping does not indicate a lack of faith. There is nothing unholy about having a good cry to express our sorrow. When we grieve, we show tenderness for our broken heart. This virtue aids our healing process. As we weep, we also unite compassionately with others whose shattered hearts fill the world with endless tears.”  Death gives birth to new life.

My friend’s funeral was on an Easter-like day, with abundant sunshine, spring temperatures, blue skies, a gentle breeze, and serene peacefulness.  The liturgy was a call to love, to care, to connect, and to share with others through Gospel witnessing, according to our vocation.  Greatness does not lie in income but in the impact we make on others. Greatness does not lie in special uniforms or lofty titles: it lies in being willing to serve and self-sacrifice for our brothers and sisters.  Greatness does not lie in making a name for oneself but in keeping a place in your heart for the sufferings of others.   

The centerpiece of the Christian faith is our belief that Jesus rose from the dead, demonstrating that life continues beyond this world. This world is a place of gestation toward something higher, more permanent, and more splendid.

Easter is not just one day, or even the 50 days of the Easter season that will continue until Pentecost. We renew our Easter faith each week when the Christian community gathers on the Lord’s Day to worship, to pray, and to proclaim the Good News of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Every Sunday is a “little Easter.”

At the end of each Sunday Mass, we are to carry forth Easter graces, as the first apostles did. The word apostle means “one who is sent”-– sent to your family, your workplace, the people in your life, the world. Jesus is sending you to all of them to bring the grace, the blessing, the light, and the fruits of the Mass. It is never too late for God to invigorate and revitalize a soul, a church, and the world.

After my friend’s funeral, I returned to my ministry of tending the sick and the dying. I felt lifted-up, despite the loss of a friend. I found myself singing for Easter joy, despite the sting of death.I sensed the presence of the saints and angels, a community oflove,rejoicing that a hometown son is now — Home!

His funeral had been a true celebration, the perfect prelude to the sacred Triduum. Remembering the breathtaking view from the church atop Mount Washington, I imagined what my friend was seeing in the New Jerusalem. In the words of St. Paul, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)