It was an incomprehensible act of violence: 16 individuals, including four members of the Missionaries of Charity, were brutally shot and killed in a church-run retirement home in Yemen. Pope Francis responded to the murders on March 4 saying that the sisters were “victims not only of those who have murdered them, but also of indifference...this globalization of indifference.” It is difficult to make sense of events like this, and it sometimes seems preferable simply to turn away, to tune out such suffering. Yet as Christians we are called not only to pay attention to the suffering of others but to accompany those who are suffering in whatever way we can.
Calls for an international response followed the martyrdom of the sisters, and the U.S. Catholic bishops issued a statement reminding us of the deeper meaning found in what seems like senseless suffering: “Through their sacrifice, [the sisters] were transformed into signs of Christ’s victory over sin, violence and death.”
Few of us are called to be martyrs, yet the example given by these women reminds us of our shared call to be witnesses to the Gospel and to the transformative power of service and sacrifice in our daily lives. But what does this witness look like? How might we allow our own suffering to transform us?
The Resurrection points to an answer, and we need not wait for a tragic moment to recognize it. The Easter story in the Gospel of John reminds us that when Mary “saw the stone removed from the tomb” she “ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them.” Both of them, in turn, ran to the tomb to confirm her story. When the disciples heard her testimony, they acted immediately, although they could not yet fully understand what was happening.
Having been transformed through the power of the Resurrection, we, too, are called to action, to a new kind of awakening. We are called to go out into the world and to share the reality of this salvific love, even as we seek to understand it, even as we search for hope, even though we do not yet fully comprehend God’s kingdom or our own role in its unfolding.
Today, having the benefit of 2,000 years of church history and theology, we have in some ways a more complete picture of the events of that first Easter weekend. As Peter reminded the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, we “know what has happened all over Judea.” We know of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, of his grace-filled love and his mercy. And with this knowledge comes real responsibility: We, like Jesus, must go about doing good, focused on healing and uniting. Peter’s reminders ring just as true today: We too are commissioned to testify to the truth of Christ’s life and to bear witness.
Yet, in the midst of a fraught and divided political climate, in the face of a refugee crisis, war, poverty, hunger and sorrow, it is easy to be tempted to despair. In times of turmoil and trouble, it is easy to feel as though Christ has abandoned us and to feel hatred or anger toward our neighbor. But the Resurrection calls us to transform those feelings into hope, love and compassion. It calls us to move outside of ourselves, our own wants and comforts. The Resurrection is not only about new life but also about reconciliation and union. As such it holds out a powerful message to a divided world.
The restorative power of the Resurrection calls us to be transformed each day, by the power of God’s love. This is evident in the Gospels: Jesus is raised to new life. Peter is restored to communion with Jesus. Thomas is restored to faith. Mary Magdalene to hope.
The Resurrection also encourages the conversion of our imaginations and teaches us to hope in ways we could not have done before. When we face the broken state of the world, the Resurrection invites us to imagine not just how to fix it but also how to cooperate in God’s remaking of it. Thankfully, we are not alone in this struggle. The Resurrection inspires us, of course, but its power is in the fact that the risen One remains with us. It is not simply the idea of the Resurrection but Christ himself who guides us, accompanies us, suffers and rejoices with us, even today.
We are reminded of Christ’s transformation and the need for our own week after week in the words of the Mass: “Take this all of you and eat of it. This is my body, given up for you. Do this in memory of me.” We are called to receive the body of Christ. But we are also called to build it, and, as the martyred sisters did, to transform our indifference into involvement: take, give, do. Take time to pray. Give of yourself. Do something kind for someone. In leading merciful lives inspired by the Resurrection, we both become and tend to the body of Christ.