Today's Mass in the USCCB chapel provided an insight into the Resurrection that was appropriate for both the Octave of Easter and the USCCB headquarters, located in Washington, D.C.
Father James Massa, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the Conference, began his homily by noting that for a number of years the most frequently visited site in Washington, D.C. is not the Lincoln Memorial, the White House or the U.S. Capitol, but rather the "Wall," that is, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
He described the "between heaven and Earth" feeling that the Memorial evokes -- including how, when a visitor stands a few feet back from it, his or her reflection and the reflections of other visitors can be seen amid the names of the fallen etched in the black granite. When visitors then reach out to touch the names on the wall, they feel as if they are in communion with those who have already passed into the afterlife.
He related this to today's Gospel, in which Mary Magdalene sees the risen Christ but is not permitted to touch him. This is strange, he noted, especially when compared with the appearance of the Risen Jesus to Thomas the Apostle, who is invited to touch Christ in his hands and side.
To highlight the connection between these Easter readings from John's Gospel, Father Massa turned to Pope Benedict XVI, who'd written that these passages, taken together, show that Mary Magdalene wanted to embrace Jesus as she had known him before his humiliating death on the cross, that she wanted to "bury the cross." Thomas, however, is invited to touch the wounds that were inflicted by the cross, drawing the connection that we can only "touch" eternal life be entering into the mystery of the cross through the suffering of Christ reveals God's infinite love. In short, the path to Easter glory is through the love-revealing passion of Good Friday.
The communion experiences by the visitors to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, where the fallen are remembered and loved from across the chasm separating this world and the next, points to that all-embracing communion that Catholic believers share with the living and the dead in the most powerful sacrament of the Eucharist. It is there where we touch eternal life.