Written by Fr. Tim Scully, C.S.C. - Hackett Family Director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives; Founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education
When I was a student at Notre Dame, I received a call that my dad had fallen gravely ill and was in the hospital in Evanston, Illinois. I quickly packed a bag, and drove to join my mom and family, knowing in my heart that we would be walking my dad through his final passage to the Lord. It was Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Triduum. My dad drew his last breath on Good Friday, surrounded by his family holding hands and reading the Last Supper discourses of John’s Gospel.
As my dad lay still before me that Good Friday morning, I remember calling to mind an expression I had recently read from Michael Polanyi. Polanyi asserted, “We know more than we can say.” He claimed that all knowing relies upon personal commitments. In this sense, Polanyi argued that we believe more than we can prove, and “know more than we can say.” You sense something profoundly to be true, even as its proof might lie just beyond your experience.
Somehow I knew that my dad’s life had not ended, but as the liturgy puts it, it had changed, been transformed. That was the faith my dad had embraced all his life, the faith he and my mom had imparted to each one of us. I consider that moment of insight with my dad and family on that Good Friday morning an incomparable gift.
We went together as a family to the Easter Vigil as we always had, and read Mark’s stark Gospel account of the hours immediately following the resurrection. As the first lights on that Easter Sunday morning were just starting to spread in the east, three broken-hearted women, Jesus’ faithful disciples, brought fragrant herbs and spices so they might express sacramentally their desperate love for the battered and broken body of their friend and teacher, Jesus.
As Mark recounts it, as they opened their vessels, an explosion of fragrance filled the tomb. They looked up, they heard a familiar voice: “Do not be afraid. Jesus, who had been crucified, has been raised. Go back home to Galilee. He will find you there, in the midst of your daily lives.”
Well, after we celebrated my dad’s life on that Easter Day over four decades ago, in the same church where my dad had sung in the choir, where he had received the Eucharist countless times, the same church where I had received first communion and confirmation, I returned, deeply reflective and saddened, to my classes, and classmates, at Notre Dame. I remember opening the door to my residence hall room and being struck instantly by one experience: There was this very distinct aroma, the powerful fragrance of a rose filling the air as I entered the room. And then I saw it, on the window ledge, a single stemmed white rose, in a slender vase. Beside it lay a loving note from a good friend, welcoming me home, and inviting me to be attentive to the encounters the Risen Christ would surely have in store for me in the midst of my own unfolding daily life.
There seems to be something awfully true about that experience. This is where our faith hits bedrock! In the midst of the brokenness and confusion of life’s unwanted circumstances, even death itself, we are invited to “return to Galilee” and there open ourselves to an encounter with the Risen Lord in the midst of our daily lives. To open ourselves to those, sometimes hidden, daily graces, and then to actually become vessels of that New Life and Hope for others.
It is true as Polanyi said, we “know more than we can say.” Just like those three broken-hearted women at dawn’s first Easter light as they stood at the entrance to the tomb, we know more than we can say. This is the deep mystery we proclaim during these Easter days, with the sure and certain hope, that in the resurrection of Jesus, life is not ended, but changed, and forever transformed into the very life of our Living God.