Easter: A Season of Plentiful Redemption
In his father’s household, the father never stopped seeing him as a beloved child. The son was greeted with a party, a ring on his finger, and the finest clothes on his back. The son’s betrayal did not dilute or change the love of his father. The father welcomed his son joyfully, without expectation of reparation or conditions.
In the presence of Jesus, St. Alphonsus let go of his scrupulosity. He understood God to be only gracious love that is without condemnation. Just like the father in the parable, God doesn’t ask us for any explanations. The moment we turn to God, our irresponsible, indulgent, and cruel behavior is overshadowed by God’s desire for us to be close to him. God only cherishes us. Like the returning Prodigal Son, St. Alphonsus came to believe how important he was in the eyes of God the Father and embraced the reality that God beheld him as precious regardless of what he did or didn’t do. He understood that the goodness and closeness of God is not only available but also inexhaustible.
If St. Alphonsus could have chosen a second motto for the Redemptorists, I think it would have come from the Gospel of John. Here Jesus says explicitly the reason why he appeared in the world. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Saint Alphonsus suddenly became aware that God’s mercy is always an overflowing gift, without condition, for everyone, at all times, regardless of our response. Jesus taught that the love of God rises like the sun on both the good and the wicked and pours like rain on saints and sinners without discrimination (Matthew 5:45).
The resurrection of Jesus reveals God to be this overflowing and excessive love. From the desolation of the cross, God does not just reward Jesus with immortality. At Easter, Jesus does not simply return from the dead. In the resurrection, people meet Jesus as Christ, the anointed one of God, who sits at the right hand of God. Jesus is not just alive; he is the conqueror of death itself. The resurrection is the exaltation of Jesus. As the risen Jesus says to his disciples in the very last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, “All power and dominion has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). This biblical language is a way of saying that, in the resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth now mediates everything from God; contact with Jesus is also contact with God. God’s grace flows into the desolation of the cross and summons forth an eternal, universal Redeemer for all peoples, places, and times.
And what does the risen, exalted Jesus wish to do with his dominion and power? He desires to share it with us. Jesus now exalts the people he encounters and puts us on a miraculous path beyond what we could have imagined. As an example, consider his disciples after the crucifixion. Before they encountered the risen Jesus, the male followers of Jesus, especially the apostles, were scattered, afraid, and hiding. The Romans had ruthlessly executed Jesus, their teacher and friend. In response, they all had abandoned Jesus in his time of need. Judas had betrayed him. Peter had denied him. None of them had been brave enough to fight for him or to stand with him. The women disciples, who remained to watch over the body of Jesus, were consumed with grief and heartbreak. It is fair to say that both the men and the women were spiritually crushed and morally defeated.
When Jesus appeared, I am certain they wondered, Will he condemn us for our weakness and fear? Will he increase the weight of the shame and guilt we already bear? Of course, the risen Jesus does none of these things. Rather, he treats them with the same compassion that the father extended to his Prodigal Son. The risen Jesus reestablishes his intimacy and fellowship with his followers without condemnation, blame, or rejection. Jesus demands recompense from them.
In the Gospel of John, the very first words the risen Jesus speaks to the apostles are, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19). Then Jesus exalts them. He shares the Spirit with them, the very essence of who he is, and invites them to continue his work of forgiveness in the world. Instead of bringing them lower, he lifts them higher than they expected or deserved. He has no interest in demeaning them for their failure. Instead, he returns rejection with acceptance and rewards their failure with honor. I am sure his mercy and generosity mystified them. His mercy seemed too good to be true. It was almost too much for them to imagine.
Like the apostles, the grace of the risen Jesus can be too much for us to imagine as well. We can easily become imprisoned by our desperation and anxiety, compulsions and obsessions. Many times we can believe that the world’s depravity, greed, violence, and indifference prevails over anything good and just. Peace seems impossible; social discord seems unbreakable, the unequal distribution of wealth seems inevitable, and the dissent caused by racism and sexism seems too profound to resolve. We feel doomed. Our family disappoints us, our daily life stresses us, people oppress us, and a lack of good health burdens us. It is so easy to focus on what we don’t possess.
The risen Jesus, however, can always break through these challenges and grant us a new perspective, just as he did for St. Alphonsus. When we fully encounter the risen Jesus, he can help us overcome our despair and pessimism, increase our sense of dignity, connect us more deeply to our own worth, and guide us into nurturing relationships. The more St. Alphonsus accepted Jesus’ abundant care and concern, the more he broke out of an isolated and rigid life. Full of hope and vitality, aware of the infinite power of God’s goodness, he was opened to new possibilities. Saint Alphonsus stopped seeing the world and his life as threatening. Sin stopped holding power over him.
This is the powerful message St. Alphonsus has for us today. The risen Jesus’ care and compassion reaches us, despite any situation. We are consoled. We awaken to his Spirit. Imperfections, weaknesses, and flaws become the doorways of blessings. Suddenly we understand the mystery of redemption: God’s blessings and miracles never abandon us. Instead of fearing the weak, the hungry, and the needy, we readily share whatever we have with them. God replenishes always what we give away. Like the apostles and St. Alphonsus, after encountering the risen Jesus, we suddenly see how much good we can offer the world.
This vision of abundance inspired St. Alphonsus to dedicate his life to helping those abandoned by the Church and the rest of the world due to their lowly economic and cultural status. He encouraged people to trust the overflowing grace of the risen Jesus through his moral theology. He preached heart-healing missions to people broken by guilt, shame, and neglect and worked tirelessly to instill in them a better, more dignified vision of themselves.
We also must not diminish the infinite care God has for us through the risen Jesus. We must always keep the boundlessness of this Easter grace in mind and be confident that it truly shapes us. Easter, as the season of plentiful redemption, should help us put away our cynicism. It should permit us to witness anew that nothing can limit God, nothing in this world or beyond. Plentiful redemption awakens enthusiasm and resilience, humor and generosity, trust and risk.
Let’s celebrate this Easter season and the risen Jesus by confidently reminding ourselves that “with him there is plentiful redemption.” What if we let this Redemptorist motto seal our hearts, especially when failures press against us, when problems overwhelm us, and when we are lost in guilt and humiliation. This motto of plentiful redemption can truly focus our attention on the one who has real power over all things, the risen Jesus. He will not measure his grace based on what we deserve or even what we can handle. He will measure his love only according to his infinite generosity and goodness. The risen Jesus will always show us a better, larger reality than the sad, smaller one to which we cling. He will always show us how to define ourselves by a restorative, renewing power in which there is always copious goodness and abundant salvation for all.
Fr. Gregory Wiest, CSsR
Fr. Gregory Wiest, CSsR is a retreat director at Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson, AZ. He also coordinates the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction and the contemplative retreats for the center.