This year is a treasured year in our country and for Irish people everywhere. Easter sees the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising. In fact, it forms part of a decade of centenaries. I, like many, have been very moved by the amount of publications, the hours of programming that have coincided to mark this 1916 centenary. It is only right and proper that such a centenary should be marked and celebrated. Such celebrations are happening at a time when politicians of all political hues and persuasions are in talks around forming a government. The election is over; we have chosen those who will represent us in this the 32nd Dáil and it is incumbent on every member to play their part in doing what is best for our country at this time. Just as we look back to those who fought and died to establish the political system we have become accustomed to, we must also look forward beyond 1916, beyond Easter Sunday and Easter Monday to those we entrust with leadership of our country one hundred years after the Rising.
My late father often commented that “Easter is early”, or “Easter is late” – it was all to do with the growth of grass, the growth of crops, the work of our Creator God. But do we know why Easter is early or late? Who or what decides the date? We must go back to one of the Church Councils in Nicea in 325AD which set the date for Easter as the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. An equinox is when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of night and day are nearly equal. This year the spring equinox fell on Sunday, March 20th last at 4.30am. The first full moon was on Spy Wednesday night – March 23rd. The Sunday that follows Spy Wednesday is Easter Sunday, giving us this year’s date – March 27th, 2016. One of the saints closely associated with the faith story of our diocese, St. Laserian or Molaise of Old Leighlin, travelled to Rome as part of a delegation which eventually led to a uniformity within the Christian world regarding when Easter fell.
Easter 2016 falls within the embrace of ‘The Year of Mercy’ inaugurated by Pope Francis last December. Easter and Mercy are two sides of the one coin. Who would be the one to discover the empty tomb? Who would run in and find the cloth discarded? Who would be the one to encourage the emerging church rising from the shrapnel of Holy Week – Peter. Peter the denier becomes Peter the unifier. Peter understood mercy, Peter epitomized mercy. “Merciful like the Father”, a bit like the revisionist’s view of 1916; some of us have missed the full impact of this mercy message. We must be merciful like the Father, and if the Father and Son are one, then those words from Gethsemane must ring in all our ears: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”(1) , and the promise to the good thief: “this day you will be with me in paradise”(2) . If we were merciful we too could crack open the tombs of stubbornness, of anger, of isolation that trap too many in 2016.
Returning to our centenary celebrations and indeed the recent success of ‘Proclamation Day’. Standing on a wintry March afternoon in Dr. Cullen Park, Carlow, O’Moore Park in Portlaoise, St. Conleth Park in Newbridge or even Croke Park or the Aviva Stadium, my prayer and hope is when the National Anthem is played, that all of us would know and sing “Amhrán na bhFiann”. Is it too much to ask? I think if we collectively set upon this task we would make a huge contribution to remembering the events of 1916 while celebrating the shared values of 2016. I love the line: “seantír ár sinsir feasta ní fhágfar fén tiorán ná faoin tráill” which translates as “no more our ancient land shall shelter the despot or the slave”. May Easter allow us to open our empty tombs and offer shelter to the migrant, the refugee, the homeless, those in direct provision – by doing this we will live the Easter Message, a message that has mercy as its core. I wish all of you every blessing, grace and joy this Easter morning.
(1) Lk. 23:34
(2) Lk. 23:43