Not long ago with a group of people I visited St. John Cantius, an old Polish Church in Chicago. It’s operated by a group of priests called the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. St. John Cantius is a beautiful church, built in the very early 20th century. It’s very decorative with side altars; stain glassed windows, and statues, lots of statues. No square inch of space was left untouched by beauty. Visit the church if you get a chance. We were given a tour by one of the priests and every few feet he’d stop and tell us a story about a certain saint. I loved it. He knew stuff I’d never heard of before. And one story involved St. Anthony.
Some time ago there was a woman, who was greatly troubled. Nothing ever seemed to go right for her. It was one failure after another and her husband never let her forget it. Her husband treated her poorly, verbally abusing and belittling her whenever he got the chance. Her faith was greatly shaken, “What’s the use,” she would often think, “why bother.” And so eventually she didn’t. She stayed away from church and from God. She was a lost soul. After one particularly bad week the woman decided that she wanted to end it all. She’d jump off the bridge and end her life. No one would care. Her husband wouldn’t even miss her, she thought. And so on a dark evening she made her way to the bridge. Now next to the river at the entrance of that bridge there was a church. And on a whim as the woman passed by, she went in. She told herself she was just going in to sit for a while to wait until it got really dark. And in the darkness no one would see her jump from the bridge. It seemed like a good plan.
And so into the church she went sitting in the very last pew. She was so tired that she quickly fell asleep. She ended up sleeping the entire night on that hard wooden pew. During the night the woman had a dream and she dreamed about St. Anthony. She didn’t remember the particulars of the dream just that St. Anthony was in it.
St. Anthony was a 13th century Franciscan priest. He was a gifted orator and teacher. And as many of us know St. Anthony is the patron of lost things. We’ll say a quick prayer when we lose our keys or our remote control. We say, “Tony, Tony look around something’s lost and can’t be found.” With God’s grace he never fails but much more importantly St. Anthony is also the patron of lost souls. He prays to God for the return of lost souls. The return of lost souls to the Sanctifying Grace of God.
When the woman awoke the next morning something was different, the darkness in her soul had lifted, and there was hope. And then she noticed there on the pew right next to her someone had left a note. She would later say it was from St. Anthony himself, but no one knows. On that sheet of paper there was some writing and as she read she realized that it was a prayer. And then she noticed that on the very top of this piece of paper there was a cross. Someone had drawn a beautiful cross at the top of the note. The note said, “Behold the Cross of the Lord! Fly all hostile powers! The lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered. Alleluia,
Alleluia!” It was an Easter prayer proclaiming the triumph of our Lord over the dark forces of sin and death.
The woman just stared at the prayer and she prayed it over and over and over. “Behold the Cross of the Lord! Fly all hostile powers! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered. Alleluia, Alleluia!” In that moment of prayer the woman’s heart was lifted up to God. Her heart next to His. The woman had a renewed sense of hope she quickly sought out a priest to make things right with the sacrament of reconciliation. Her problems didn’t disappear but she now knew hope.
Before Jesus the cross symbolized all the dark power that the world could throw at you: violence, oppression, injustice and indifference to suffering. The cross was meant to terrify. On Good Friday we remembered that the world had thrown its worst at Jesus. Yet He was more powerful. Before Jesus the Cross represented the powers of sin, violence, and death. But now after the resurrection the cross stands as a challenge to those very same powers of sin and death. As the prayer said, “Behold the Cross of the Lord! Fly all hostile powers!” Go away! Sin and death don’t have the last word, Jesus does. When Christians look at the Cross today we don’t see death, we see eternal life.
Because of her baptism, that woman who fell asleep in church was joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Her Good Fridays of suffering were joined to the Good Friday of our Lord; she didn’t have to do it alone. And through the power of the cross her Good Friday gave way to Resurrection Sunday, a new day of Hope.
In our Gospel we hear of the empty tomb. The disciples took this fact of the empty tomb as the first indication of the reality of the Resurrection. A further assurance that Jesus was alive came about after a series of appearances. There were many encounters with the Risen Jesus. Even today there are many encounters with the living Lord. Jesus Christ lives.
It’s interesting to note that with the exception of St. John, who died in exile, all the Apostles, those first eyewitnesses, were put to death defending the truth of the Resurrection. They chose death rather than denying the Resurrection. “Behold the Cross of the Lord! Fly all hostile powers! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley