Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Sure Hope of the Resurrection

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The resurrection is the ultimate proof of the reality of our faith. If Christ is not risen, then we are still in our sins and we have no hope. So says St. Paul in the 15th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian Church. It is true. The resurrection is what all our faith is staked on.

After the long fast of Lent, we now find ourselves in the celebration of the resurrection. It is easy to be carried away with the celebrating. But there is still real life to live out. And there we are reminded that it is as we live crucified that we attain to a better resurrection.

The resurrection is the key to life. How do we know that there will be glory, triumph, and reward in the end? Because of the resurrection. If Christ lives, then we who live in Him will live also.

Fear dominates our lives in this world. We worry if we will have enough food, clothing, or shelter. For those of us who are more affluent, we wonder how our stocks are performing, or the strength of our company. We worry about growing old, or the possibility of diseases like cancer. Then there are fears over our security. We buy guns, have alarms in our homes, and keep an anxious eye focused on international affairs, wondering if we will be attacked, or invaded by some foreign power. The resurrection is the true healing balm for all our fears.

If our hope is indeed in Christ, then we can learn to become dead to the things of this world and set our hearts firmly on what awaits us in heaven. Thus our Lord told us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. We cannot have it both ways. Which are we living for- this world, or the next? With a hope steadfastly rooted in the resurrection, we can boldly stare death and mayhem in the face, knowing that whatever may befall us will be nothing in comparison with the resurrection. Since this transitory life is but a vapor, we choose rather to invest in eternity. Our sights are set on the kingdom that endures forever, not any that are passing away in this present world.

Is this pie in the sky? Is it a fairy tale after all? No! If you can find the body of Jesus, or logically explain away what happened that awesome day, then you will be able to legitimately thumb your nose at those of us foolish enough to believe in the resurrection. But if His rising is true, then everything He taught and promised is true as well. You have to have eyes of faith to see it, but if you do, the promise, and the prize is yours.

Yes, Jesus is indeed risen, and so we have hope. And there's nothing in this world able to overcome it!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Alleluia, Christ Is Risen

My family and I attended the Easter Vigil last night. This is the first Mass of Easter. It is, in my opinion, one of the most glorious liturgies the Church offers. The Mass begins in darkness and ends in light. We begin solemnly. We read numerous Scriptures recording salvation history. Then there comes a point when the lights come on, the bells ring, the music strikes up, and we joyfully sing together the Gloria, which has been missing from our liturgy since Ash Wednesday. With these ceremonies, we are saying that Christ is risen. How glorious! How wonderful! As we walked through the gloom of Good Friday, now we experience the exhilaration of Easter. Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

One of the other awesome things about the Easter Vigil is that this is the time when converts are baptized, confirmed, and receive their first Eucharist. This is what we did only a year ago. It was just as exciting to watch others do the same last night. It brought me to tears as I rejoiced with them. Now, they are finally home. Thanks be to God!

The Easter liturgy is a baptismal liturgy. In baptism we died and were buried with Christ. From the waters of baptism we rise with Christ to newness of life. Coming from the font, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit. Fully initiated, we come to receive the Lord Himself in the Holy Eucharist. Interestingly enough, a funeral liturgy is an Easter liturgy. There we recognize that death has been conquered and no longer has the final say. As surely as Christ is risen, we who believe in Him will rise also on the last day when He comes to judge the living and the dead. Then we shall ever be with the Lord.

This is the Gospel- the Good News that Christ has come. He has defeated every enemy. Through His death and resurrection He has opened the door to eternal salvation to all who believe in Him. That is why we rejoice this day. Let the good news ring continually in our hearts. Let us be bold to tell the world- "Alleluia, Christ is risen!" The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Silence

Today is Good Friday. It is the most solemn day in the Church's calendar. On this day we recall the horrific events leading to the death of our Lord. It is the only day of the year in which no Mass is celebrated anywhere in the world. Instead, we receive the Eucharist from what was consecrated yesterday.

For years I was always a bit uncomfortable with Good Friday. How are we to act? What are we to do? It seemed foolish to me to think of Christ as dead when He is indeed risen. But Paul said we preach Christ crucified. At Mass we proclaim His death daily until He comes. We are called to live crucified; to enter into the dying of our Lord that we may attain the resurrection through Him. So this has a vital part.

Good Friday is observed in silence for the most part. Silence is uncomfortable. We are more at ease with noise, commotion, and celebration. But to enter into the silence can be unnerving. What will we encounter there? What sins will come to light? What wrestling will we need to endure? What things will God speak to us in the silence?

About 3:00 p.m. our Lord cried, "It is finished!" and yielded up His Spirit. From then until the dawn of Easter Sunday, there was silence. By walking with our Lord in this silence, we will learn much about His death and its meaning. We may even learn about death itself and confront our own mortality. Someday we will die. Our voices will be silenced as well. How are we preparing now for that day?

In the silence there is grief. How do we not mourn as we consider the passion of our Lord? He has given so much for us. Nothing speaks louder of His great love for us. Today, of all days, we are called to see what our sins cost Him. We should weep in repentance. We should allow ourselves to die with Him so that He may raise us to newness of life with Him as well.

It is only those who will walk in the dying of Christ that will truly experience the life of Christ. It is only by yielding up our own spirit now that we can be saved in the end.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Gospel of Nonviolence

I have been meditating on this theme for about a month now. It was about that long ago when we had a parish mission focusing on the Gospel of Nonviolence. It sounds as if this is something different from the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, or at least a side issue devolving from it. I think that is how I first perceived it. But I am seeing more and more that the two are actually one and the same.

Consider for a moment what our Lord taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. We are told not to resist evil, to turn the other cheek, and to love our enemies. This is the essence of nonviolence. Jesus further modeled this concept for us by His life, and most prominently, by His death. He calls us sheep, and the words of the prophets agree reminding us that we too are led like sheep to the slaughter. Sheep offer no resistance. The image of sheep is not a warrior image. Our Lord Himself is most prominently displayed as the Lamb of God.

So the way of nonviolence is the way of our Lord. It is the way of the cross. It is to recognize that the only way to eternal life is through death. Jesus conquered at the cross. Through death He destroyed death. We too will ultimately conquer all our enemies through death. For it is only in death that we will finally be freed from the concupiscence of our flesh. We await a better resurrection, and eternal life. The meek indeed inherit the earth because only they are deemed worthy of eternal life.

Now this sounds great in theory, but living it out is a completely different matter. What if someone attacks us or our loved ones? How do we respond to terrorist threats in our world? What about our obligation to defend the poor, helpless, and oppressed? These are real questions needing real answers. The Gospel of Nonviolence, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, does not so much offer positions as it does principles. We see how our Lord lived and died. We hear what He taught us. We observe how that was consistently lived out by the earliest Christians. Then we are called to respond in faithful obedience. We may not understand. We may not agree. We may still find our old habits of vengeance, anger, and violence rising up. But we are disciples. We are called to follow our Master, no matter what. "If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. No one is greater than his Master."

Now today I have to live this out. I hear my son is being bullied at school. I want to respond. I won't stand for this. I will do whatever it takes to keep it from happening. And I see how hard it is to truly live this out. I cannot hate. I cannot respond in kind. I do not teach him self defense and tell him it's all right to go after this kid. I can't do any of those things. Sure, I talk to teachers, administrators, etc. But after that, I really do need to leave it with God and pray, not only for my son's safety, but that he too will have the Grace to respond in a Christ-like manner. I pray that he will not be poisoned by resentment and hatred, but that he will learn to forgive and love.

This Gospel is not easy to live out, but it is the Truth nevertheless. I can amend it if I choose, but then I choose the false security of lies over the Truth. I will not do it. I don't yet understand it all. I don't have all the answers. But I know there is a powerful truth here waiting to be lived out by each one of our Lord's disciples. I can only do my part and pray I do it well.

Monday, March 3, 2008

So Great A Salvation

Lately I have been pondering, again, the miraculous nature of our faith. I see that God did not come to us with rational ideas and appeal to our reason. Rather, He revealed Himself supernaturally in many ways, and continues to do so to the present day. In this regard, I was reminded of what is written in the letter to the Hebrews: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world," (Heb. 1:1,2). Then, going further we read, "Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will," (Heb. 2:1-4).

All of that to say that God has chosen to communicate to us by the miraculous revelation of Himself. He did this first through the prophets. But the fullness of His revelation came through His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Since that time, this Gospel has been preached and accompanied by many signs, wonders, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. God continues to reveal Himself supernaturally to the world.

This is not to say that faith and reason are opposed. They are not. But God reveals Himself by faith and expects us to respond by reason. If so many wonderful and miraculous things are happening, then we should reasonably conclude that it is God speaking to us and respond in obedience. This is what it means to believe in Jesus. How can we believe in Him apart from reasonably reflecting on the revelation of Himself? Here is a man who in His life fulfilled numerous prophecies. He worked countless miracles. Finally, He Himself rose from the dead and ascended into heaven after His crucifixion. One cannot deal with Christ without considering the miraculous element of His life. As we do give this consideration, it is reasonable to respond in faith. If these things are true, then He must be the Christ- the Son of God, that is, God incarnate.

But God has not finished with His revelation. He continues to come to individuals every day and reveal Himself in miraculous ways. He still speaks through dreams, visions, and the voice of prophecy. He continues to show Himself to those who will believe. He heals the sick, delivers the oppressed, and even raises the dead on some occasions. But most of all, He comes to us in the quiet and shows Himself real to those who will diligently seek Him.

God does not do miracles as a way of entertaining, or impressing us. Rather, He does them, as He chooses, to show that He is real and that He is interested in revealing Himself to us. He uses these things to call us to Himself. With so great a revelation, how can we refuse Him? Yet, if we do refuse Him, then there remains the ominous warning given in the passage from Hebrews: how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

God is not interested in our destruction, but, rather, our salvation. Yet if we reject it after all He has done, there is no alternate plan. May we who have seen this great revelation embrace it with all our hearts. Be diligent to seek Him and not allow yourself to drift away into apathy or unbelief. Our loving God waits, but He will not wait forever. Respond with reasonable faith today!