On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
Getting ready to practice for the Easter Vigil with our catechumens and candidates, a man I did not recognize was outside waiting for confession. When he found out that there would be no confessions, he became upset, raising his voice and shouting. Father tried praying with him but that didn’t help. I knew it wouldn’t. He didn’t want to pray, He wanted to be heard.
While everyone went inside to practice for the Easter Vigil, I stayed outside with him. He was still upset, still yelling. I told him to sit down so we could talk.
He told me he was a veteran who suffered from PTSD and that all he wanted to do was to go to confession. He was counting on it today. I could hear the fear in his voice and saw the heaviness of his heart. He talked to me about why he had to go and that he was fearful that if he didn’t find a confessional, he wouldn’t make it to Easter mass. I knew what that meant. His words were subtle but I picked up on the cues.
I scrolled on my phone to find several other churches in the area and encouraged him to pick one where he could go to confession. His voice went from loud to softly hurting. By then, there was nobody outside but him and me as the other angry mob of people wanting to go to confession left, and the rest of the people were in the church.
Can I pray for you? I said
Yes, I need it, he whispered
I prayed outside the church with him even as others were asking me to come inside for practice.
My priest may have been inside, but my heavenly Father was outside
We talked some more and I encouraged him not to give up until he found a place to go to confession. I told him that if for some reason he did not find a church, to come to mass for Easter. He thanked me and told me he was going to pray a rosary in the chapel and would include me in it.
I was so shaken by the encounter that after practice, I too went into the chapel to receive some consolation from our Lord, only to find the Blessed Sacrament gone, the tomb empty. The darkness of our missing Lord frightened me, and I feared for my new friend who may have seen that and walked away in despair. I forgot to remind him that the Blessed Sacrament would not be back until Easter.
But as I sat and stared at the darkness, I remembered Mary of Magdala arriving at the tomb to find that the stone had been rolled away. I remembered Simon Peter and the other disciple finding the tomb empty. I could feel those same feelings of sadness and confusion that gave way to hope and certainty. He was not here, He had risen.
The emptiness in my heart gave way to gladness which gave way to joy in entering the Easter liturgy. As I sat in the darkness of the commencement of the Easter Vigil Mass, I remembered my friend and the darkness of the space in the chapel. I remembered that only through the darkness of Good Friday can we enter the light of Easter. I closed my eyes and saw my friend. It was then that I realized I had an encounter with the risen Christ.
That darkness hits hard. I imagine that's how the disciples felt while He was in the tomb. You are truly blessed as is this parish for having you. I love you.