By Fr. David Cotter
Anna Maria College Chaplain
If I’m being honest, I can’t say that I remember many of the nearly fifty Holy Weeks and Easters I’ve celebrated in my priesthood and religious life with much distinct clarity. One year is not that different from another, so they tend to blend together. However, I do remember at least one in particular. I was a student in New York City, sometime in the late 1970s. This particular Easter I was free on Easter Sunday morning and, since a friend from undergraduate days was visiting from Montreal, decided to do something neither of us had ever done. We’d go into Manhattan for the Easter Parade. Now, it’s not really a parade. Rather it’s all the people thronging Fifth Avenue in Mid-town as the many church services conclude around noon. There’s no traffic on the day. The doors open, people spill out and spend a beautiful spring morning walking up and down the avenue and Central Park enjoying the day and watching other people. Feeling as though, just as Easter promises, they’ve come to life again after a winter spent largely indoors.
I have a vivid memory of standing on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the “Met,” at 1000 Fifth Avenue, as good a vantage point as any and itself crowded with people, and looking down the street and seeing nothing but people, a solid mass of humanity, seemingly all dressed in their best, all happy and, especially, all together. There’s something about the celebration of life renewed that demands the presence of other people with whom the celebration might be shared. No one imagines an Easter Parade with only one participant, nor a heaven in which our eternal bliss is solitary. It was a perfect morning, a perfect day. Joy is meant to be shared. And that’s what I experienced that Sunday.
That’s why I’ll remember this Easter as well. Palm Sunday recalls the entry of Jesus into a Jerusalem packed with people preparing to celebrate Passover, yet this year I recalled that first Palm Sunday not in a packed church but an empty one. Aside from the musicians, the parishioner who so kindly undertook to live-stream the Mass and those necessary for the celebration of the liturgy, no one was there. I preached, as best I could, to rows of empty pews hoping that someone was watching. It wasn’t what anyone would have wanted, but it was what we had, so we did it as well as we could.
But here’s the thing…after the Mass I went out into the parking lot, with mask on and gloved hands, to distribute palms to whoever wanted to come by. And people did. Without stop. People I knew but hadn’t seen for some weeks. People from our friends in the Congregational church just across the street. People I didn’t know at all. We laughed. We caught up with our lives. We connected. When the stream of cars finally ended and I returned to the rectory, I discovered that many friends in the United Kingdom had tuned in and watched as well. I was reminded over and over of something we confess each week as we recite the Creed, the Communion of Saints. Our community does not consist only of those we can see immediately in front of us. Rather, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, with whom we share love and support.
This Easter, the One with Empty Pews, will doubtless last in many of our memories as long as that long-ago Easter Parade one has in mine. That Easter I was struck by how many people were there, how many shared the faith and joy celebrated on this day. The same is true this year, for we are always surrounded by love, buoyed up by the support of communities seen and unseen. Sometimes the circumstances of our lives make it seem as though we’re alone but then, in God’s good time, we’ll walk outside into the sunlight and discover all the people waiting to greet us, to share this day with us, to remind us that we can never be alone.
God Bless and Happy Easter!
Fr. David Cotter
Anna Maria College Chaplain
50 Ways to Be an Easter People
- Pray the Litany of the Saints
- Pray for the Pope and the leaders of the Church
- Pray for the government and the leaders of the country
- Pray for your family
- Pray for those who have died due to COVID-19
- Pray for those who have not been able to have a funeral shortly after their passing due to restrictions from COVID-19
- Step out of your comfort zone and invite someone to pray with you or for you
- Visit the Anna Maria College Virtual Prayer Wall and pray for all the intentions listed there. Even add your own!
- Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and reflect on God’s generous mercy
- Attend Mass / Make a Spiritual Communion
- Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation / Do an Examination of Conscience
- Renew your Baptismal promises
Works of Mercy:
- Be the hands and feet of Jesus
- Call or video chat with a friend and check in with them
- Visit with an elderly family member either by phone or physically (when permitted)
- Buy a few extra items at the grocery store and donate them to your local food pantry
- Go through your closet and take out everything that doesn’t fit but is still in good condition and donate them.
- Now go through a second time and remove items that you haven’t worn and are still in good condition and donate them.
- Give generously to your church, organizations, or individuals in need
- Check in with a neighbor today to see if they need anything
- Fulfill one act of kindness today
- Choose an area around your home, neighborhood or town and pick up the trash
- Preach the Gospel without using words, use actions
- Do extra chores around the house just to help out
- Practice forgiveness and let go of anger
- Love everyone as we are all equal in God’s eyes
- Welcome people as they enter your church for Sunday Mass or service
- Practice living on what you need versus living on what you want. “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Gandhi
- Practice patience today
- Become a Eucharistic Minister
- Volunteer as a Lector at church
- Join the choir at your church
- Be joyful!
- Share messages of hope- via posting in your windows, on your social media, or through the mail
- Look all around you to find Jesus in others and in the beauty of nature
- Try to let go of your fears and anxieties, one at a time, and give them to God. He’s got you!
- Take some time outside and just breathe the gift of fresh air
- Find something unique to rejoice in today, not something you’d typically give much attention to, and share it with someone else.
- Get creative! What does being an Easter people mean to you?
- Sing Praise & Worship music
- Take a virtual trip to a Shrine or Holy place
- Spend time meditating on Psalm 30:4-5
- Spend time meditating on Luke 24:40-41
- Practice “Bible before breakfast, Bible before bed”
- Don’t forget what you did for Lent in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Find a way to continue to incorporate those things into your life now!
- Research a joyful Saint and choose one thing they did that you can start emulating yourself
- Read a book about one of our great Saints
- Read St John Paul II encyclical calledRedemptoris Missio to learn more about who we are called to be.
- Try an hour away from social media and take that time to learn something new about your faith
- View the Scriptures as a love letter to you! Learn more about God by reading the Scriptures with that mindset.