by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
When you are named a bishop, you are asked to develop a coat of arms and to adopt a motto that serves as a theme for your ministry as bishop. The vast majority of bishops select a phrase from the New Testament. There were several biblical verses that I considered, but in the end I chose instead a phrase from the writings of Pope John Paul II: “Vitae Victoria Erit” — “Life Will Be Victorious.”
In part, I chose this motto because of my many years of service in the church’s pro-life apostolate. It is a phrase that communicates an abiding hope, despite all the current challenges and obstacles, to the promotion and defense of the sanctity of human life.
However, I selected “Vitae Victoria Erit” even more because it summarizes the invincible hope that is ours as Christians. Our annual celebration of the great feast of Easter focuses our attention on the fundamental truth that is the foundation of our Christian faith — namely, Jesus is risen from the dead.
Death has received a definitive defeat. The victory of life has already been won by Jesus. You and I are privileged to participate in the unfolding of this victory of life in this particular moment of human history. No matter our trials and tribulations, no matter how grim the problems of our world, the outcome is certain. More than anything else, I want my ministry as a bishop to foster the irrepressible hope that the victory of Jesus over sin and death brings to the hearts of his disciples.
The devil is always sowing seeds of discouragement and discontent. Many were saddened that health care reform was passed without prohibiting tax-funding of abortion. Our dismay was even intensified by the fact that so-called Catholic organizations and groups undercut the efforts of the bishops to prevent passage of a bill with insufficient protections for the unborn.
The sex abuse scandal in Ireland, as well as many other nations of Western Europe, has also been disheartening. With our own experience in the United States of a similar scandal so fresh in our memories, it revives a mixture of negative emotions. Our hearts go out to the victims. We are ashamed that some priests exploited their position of trust to commit such evil acts against innocent youth and children. We are disappointed that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect their flock. We are angered that enemies of the church are attempting to use this tragedy to discredit its essential message for humanity.
Many are experiencing great personal struggles. Individuals and families continue to suffer the repercussions of our poor economy and high unemployment. There are many who are experiencing serious health problems. The recent death of a loved one burdens many with what seems unbearable grief. Others have had love betrayed, shaking the foundation of their marriage or family.
There are always reasons to despair. However, despair is not an option for the Christian. We are never without hope, because our hope does not rest upon our own wisdom and strength but on the victory of life won by Jesus.
As we read the Passion narrative during Holy Week, we realized that God loved us so much that he submitted himself to the full range of human sufferings. Jesus is the ultimate innocent victim. He suffered false accusations and grave injustices. Jesus was abandoned and betrayed by his closest friends. He endured the most excruciating physical pain. Jesus was mocked, ridiculed and humiliated. Finally, he suffered the inescapable human reality: death itself.
Yet, the story of Jesus does not end on Good Friday. In fact, it does not end at all. On Easter, Jesus vanquished death and opened up the door for eternal life for all those who believe in him. The Paschal Mystery is an important term in our Catholic vocabulary. The word paschal is derived from the Latin word for Passover. This phrase hearkens back to the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt. It was the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites that saved them from the angel of death destroying their firstborn. It was the flesh of the lamb that nourished the Israelites for the Exodus journey.
Jesus is the Lamb of the New Covenant. By his blood, we have been redeemed from sin and death. His flesh nourishes us for our pilgrimage in this life. The Paschal Mystery refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lamb of God. The Christian sees this pattern of death and rebirth everywhere. We recognize in our sufferings and our dyings, the instruments that God uses to draw forth new and more abundant life.
May this Easter renew in our hearts the invincible hope of the risen Lord! May we reaffirm our conviction, as followers of the Lamb, that no matter the problems of our present circumstances, the victory of life is certain! Indeed, Life Will Be Victorious!