The Faith

Resurrection tapestry Vatican Museums

We know that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, because it is a verifiable fact of human history.

Let’s look at it this way. When we read the Scriptures during Holy Week, we encounter a number of unfamiliar names. Malchus, the Temple guard who lost an ear in the Garden of Gethsemane. Alexander and Rufus, the sons of Simon the Cyrenian, who helped Jesus on the way to Golgatha. Clopas, the husband of one of the women at the foot of the cross. Salome, who came to the tomb.

We might wonder why these names appear in the gospels. They appear without explanation. We hardly know anything at all about these individuals; to us they are “just names.” Why did the gospel writers throw those names in?

Simple explanation. Because the gospel writers knew them. St. Mark knew Alexander, Rufus, Clopas, and Salome. St. John knew Malchus. The gospel writers knew them personally. And the people for whom the gospel writers took the trouble to write their books—they knew Malchus, Alexander, Rufus, Clopas, and Salome, too.

So St. Mark and St. John didn’t explain who Malchus, Alexander, Rufus, Clopas, and Salome were for the same reason that I wouldn’t need to explain to you [the English-speaking people of St. Joseph’s parish, Martinsville, Virginia] who Bob Humkey, or John and Joseph Nguyen, are. You already know who they are. See what I mean?

The Holy Gospels put us right in the middle of the original Church–the living, breathing social network of the first Christians. The number of people who saw Jesus after He rose from the dead—not small. Five hundred plus. The number of ancient documents bearing witness to the widespread accounts of His appearances—not a small number of documents. The twenty-seven most reliable ones make up a familiar volume, namely…the New Testament. And there are many other documents attesting to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.

st-peters-sunriseAncient history is not a science in which anything can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. But an honest historian of the ancient world would readily acknowledge: The evidence for the fact that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead vastly outweighs any evidence to the contrary. To make the case that He did rise, you can refer to these many documents. To make the case that He didn’t, you need a vivid imagination for conspiracy theories in order to explain away these documents.

So the man rose from the dead. Fact.

What we believe—what we hold by the divine gift of faith—is this: Jesus’ rising from the dead has something to do with us. What makes us Christians is: believing that the mystery of why we exist gets resolved by the fact that this man rose from the dead.

We believe that the mysterious power Who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, and brought us forth into the light of day, and fills our lungs with air, and spreads the stars in the sky for us at night—God. We believe that He has revealed His plan. Namely, that Jesus’ eternal life would be our eternal life. That is our faith.

The New Testament, therefore, offers us two things at the same time. 1) An impressive collection of historical records from the ancient world. 2) The account of how our family began.

A reasonable person can’t doubt that it happened. What we believe, by the grace of God, is that when it happened, it happened to us.

 

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Easter Exhortation

Velázquez cena in emmaus

Click HERE for Spanish.

Everyone remembers what happened when the Lord died? The disciples moped along, downcast and directionless. Jesus had been crucified. And the disciples did not understand.

As we recall, on the road, two of these disconsolate disciples met a mysterious stranger who wanted to know what was eating them. These two then expressed the thoughts and feelings of all of Jesus’ followers. “We thought he would redeem Israel. But now our hopes are dashed.”

Now, what kind of Messiah did they think was going to come? Was the Messiah going to redeem Israel without uniting Himself with the suffering of His people? Without offering Himself as the truly pleasing sacrifice to the Father? Without establishing the religion of the new and eternal covenant?

After all, the blood of bulls and goats does not atone for sins. Man, left to his own devices, stands helpless before inevitable death. Something that overcomes the separation between man and God had to happen.

resurrectionSo let’s say to these confused disciples: “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways not our ways! Human beings see crucifixion as the most shameful death imaginable. Human beings see what happened on Good Friday as discouraging, depressing, totally dispiriting. But God can turn a wooden cross into a gilded throne. God can turn heartbreak into triumph.”

Then Sunday came. The disciples, who had despaired only hours earlier, saw the Lord. And they probably began saying things like, “The heavenly Father has turned the Master’s cross into a throne of glory. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The grave could not hold Him, and He can turn bread into His immortal flesh!”

What kind of savior do we think we want? Do we want some pure spirit who has nothing to do with the trials and tribulations of our human pilgrimage? Do we want an ideal for a savior? Or a theory?

Or do we want some kind of human “savior” that grows up in a mansion and goes to Harvard? The kind that wins lots of prizes during an illustrious career and then retires to Cabo San Lucas? The kind that everybody feels comfortable with? So comfortable that, when he is confronted by contradictions and threats, he backtracks in a heartbeat, saying “Oh, no, when I said the Pharisees were a hypocritical brood of vipers, I didn’t mean you…”

No. To the contrary. I think we want the Messiah we actually have, the true Messiah Who has saved the world. The Messiah Who grew up a carpenter, suffered heroically for His beloved friends, conquered death by dying for the truth, and reigns supreme in a realm too sublime for us even to imagine.

That’s the real Messiah, foretold by the prophets, attested to by the Apostles, who lives with us in the breaking of the bread. The Messiah we never could have foreseen. But Who–now that He has done what the prophecies declared He must do–certainly is the best Messiah possible, the only Messiah possible, our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Surrexit Dominus

Pope Francis Easter candle

Christ is risen.

We do not believe in cleverly disguised myths, or shibboleths, or fancies of our minds.

We believe in the divine man Who rose from the dead and was seen by 500+ people. Reliable records of these sightings have been handed down to us.

We do not know much about the life to come. But we know that Jesus is living it. And that He lives it as a man in order to share it with us.

The Future Sea

Ten Commandments Charlton Heston Red Sea

Which great Old-Testament image shows us what Easter means for us, for the Christians of the world? This event happened originally, many centuries before Christ, in order to show us what Christ’s Passover has accomplished for us…

Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea.

You don’t have to watch Charleton Heston’s “Ten Commandments” to perceive the intense drama of the moment. Wind blowing. Hapless Israelites lined up, a cavalcade of refugees, with Moses leading the column, staff in hand. As every second passes, the angry Egyptian charioteers gain ground.

And the Israelites do not have geography on their side. Trying to get to the Promised Land? Good luck! Ain’t no bridge over this here sea! We can imagine that desperate prayers and lamentations burbled anxiously on the lips of Moses and his followers at this moment.

But the Lord impatiently said to His prophet Moses, “Come on, man! Why are you crying out to me? Tell them to stride forward. Lift up your staff. I got you!”

candleMoses, to his credit, did not panic at this. He did not say, “You mean, we should march into the middle of all that water?”

If it were you or me, we might have said, “Look, Lord, I know You made the heavens and the earth, and blew the spirit of life into all the vigorous creatures of the cosmos. But that’s an awful lot of water out there, and I don’t know how to swim.”

Moses, however, said no such thing. He did not panic. “Adelante!” he said. “Vamonos! We are stepping into that ocean, people, for the glory of God Almighty!”

I said that all this happened in order to teach us what Easter means for us. What does that wide sea represent? The windswept water?

I think we can say that the Red Sea represents a uniquely opaque reality. An impenetrably dark reality. A reality of incomprehensible mystery, when it comes to what our churning little minds can grasp.

The sea represents: All that is yet to come. Every moment, subsequent to now. The future.

This could be our last Easter like this. An asteroid could land right here. Or: Our constitutional system of government could unravel completely. Or, on the other hand: Tomorrow, you or I could meet someone with something beautiful to say, that we have never heard before, and our lives could completely change. This spring could turn lovelier than any spring we’ve ever lived through, and the world could start to look different.

Who knows what’s coming down the pike? All we know about it is that we don’t know. The future is the wine-dark sea.

And what about the voice of the Lord, speaking to Moses? God Almighty saying, “Stop whining and stride forward! I will be glorified by getting you Israelites to the other side.”

He is saying to us: “Vayanse! Don’t tell me you can’t swim. Don’t tell me you’d rather have the leeks and melons and cucumbers you had when you served Satan as slaves. Don’t tell me that you’re not sure you can handle walking through a tunnel of water, miraculously suspended to the right and to the left, and teeming with whales and fish. Don’t talk, just walk. Don’t whine, just step forward in line. I got this. I am God, and I am telling you that I got this thing, the future. I got it. Don’t you worry about it.”

Now, the Egyptians never made it through the sea. What undid them? What does the Scripture say? The Egyptians ________ed, and their chariot wheels got mired in the mud. The Egyptians ________ed, and they sounded the retreat. And, next thing they knew, the dark sea washed over them and drowned them instantly. (panicked)

The Easter candle means this: Be not afraid. The only enemy that we really need to fear, Christ has conquered. Christ has conquered our only real foe.

Adelante, entonces! Forward. The future–unknown as it is, nebulous as it is, as choppy as a stormy sea as it may be: the light of Christ’s Passover candle will shine in it.

Computus and My Brother’s Birthday

full_moon_2Week after next, we will have a full moon.

The Purim moon, which precedes the Passover moon.

Easter always falls on the first _________ after the first _____ _____ after the _________ _________ (March 21).*

If you’re looking for an extra-hard Lenten penance to do… How about: Determine whether or not a period exists during which the dates of Easter repeat exactly. If so, determine what the period is.

Now, I know that Easter occurs with some regularity on March 31, since that’s my dear little brother’s birthday. He had an Easter birthday two years ago, and thirteen years ago.

I know that Easter sometimes occurs on March 23, since Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008, will remain forever etched in my memory as the miserable, cold day when the Georgetown Hoyas got knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Steph Curry and the Davidson Wildcats. It just didn’t seem to me that the good Lord Jesus had risen from the dead so that Roy Hibbert’s college career could come to such an abrupt and painful end.

Painful Easter
Painful Easter
Easter occurs somewhat frequently on March 27, which means that Good Friday and Annunciation Day are the same. I remember that happened in 2005. And it will happen again next year.

The most frequent date of Easter? April 19. But we are living through a 75-year period during which Easter never falls on April 19.

Turns out that the mathematicians of the Middle Ages devised a science called Computus, by which to determine the date of Easter in any given year.

And there is a cycle of Easter dates. They repeat exactly, according to form, in a perfect pattern, very regularly.

Every 5,700,000 years.

______________

* Sunday full moon vernal equinox

Prepared to Answer

resurrectionOne thing we can say for sure when Easter arrives: Lent is over.

A couple weeks ago, some people told me I looked thinner. I was like, “Ah–don’t think so. I’m the worst Lenten faster ever. If I look thinner, it’s just a fluke.”

To be honest, I flailed through Lent in a spiritual haze, holding on for dear life, wondering when the Lord would finally bring on spring. I’m sure all of you kept a holier Lent than that. Forty days more focused on prayer, sacrifice, and helping the poor.

Whatever the case, now it’s over. Lent is officially over. And the whole reason we keep Lent has arrived. All our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving serves to prepare us spiritually for the moment when the Church askes us a few simple questions.

Maybe some of us can remember when we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Many of us cannot. That whole question is moot right now anyway. We have all grown up and can answer the questions for ourselves.

The moment has come for us to own our answers to these questions The answers are called our ‘baptimal promises.’ The moment has come to put everyting–heart, soul, mind, and strength–into our answers.

We do penance during Lent to prepare for this. We pray, we fast, we impose discipline, so that we can summon our whole selves and answer these questions with all the sincerity of which we are capable, the sincerity of God’s beloved children.

Do you renounce Satan?…

Malice (and not), April, the Race

President Abraham Lincoln uttered quite a few memorable sentences. My favorite is from his second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us strive on.” With malice toward none.

A couple old friends of mine crossed the finish line yesterday. I myself crossed it on Patriot Day, 1995.

Anybody else? Been there at Copley Square? Or anywhere along the route? Or at any other marathon or organized footrace?

running feetWhat I am getting at is: If there is any situation here on this beleaguered earth; any human atmosphere where we could honestly say, “the people here are gathered with malice toward none,” this would be it.

You go to a marathon, to run or to watch; you root for everyone and against no one.

In 2004, I ran 26.2 miles through every borough of New York City wearing a t-shirt that read, “100% Pro-Life.” Dozens, if not hundreds, of dyed-in-the-wool Gloria-Steinem-style Manhattan Democrats cheered for me, even though they did not know me, yelling “100% PRO-LIFE!!!”

My point is: As anyone who has ever been at a marathon knows, it is one of those truly rare human occasions where everyone is for everyone and against no one. It’s emotional; it’s genuinely wonderful; it’s one of the most fun things in the world. It is beautiful.

Hence, the bitterness of the tears.

May the Lord comfort. As the Cardinal of Boston put it: Let’s turn to the light of Christ. Because we need it. Life in this world hurts.

I ran the Boston marathon with four fellow Jesuit Volunteers. As we ran up ‘Heartbreak Hill,’ with the easy spring sun shining on us, we had one of our ‘pain check-ins:’

“Ok. Right now: My left knee. My right heel. And my entire back.”

“Check. For me, it’s a blister on the ball of my left foot, and the sweat is burning my eyeballs.”

“Check. I can’t breathe, and I’m really thirsty.”

The fourth just shook it off. Couldn’t talk for the pain.

t-s-eliotWe need Christ. Spring springs in April. Buds blossom. It’s great to be alive.

But, as T.S. Eliot put it, “April is the cruelest month.”

VA Tech shooting—April. Columbine—April. Oklahoma City—April. Statistics show that, of all months, April tends to turn depressed souls to violence. Usually it’s violence against themselves. More suicides in April than in any other month.

May God rest the souls of the dead. May He heal the wounded and comfort the grieving.

I’m not much for psychoanalyzing people. But maybe one reason why April’s sweet air and long sun, it’s soft, breezy comfort—one reason why this provokes souls darkened by despair is: This month bears so much resemblance to the peace of Eden. Yet we do not have that peace.

The most ancient teaching holds that God created the heavens and the earth on March 25. This means that the coming of April coincided with the first sabbath day.

Also, as we celebrate annually, the Lord gave us the mysteries of eternal life at this time of year, by the Resurrection and Ascension of the Passover Lamb of God.

In other words, April does indeed have a special whiff of eternity to it. Which makes the fact all the more painful: this is still the same fallen world. Same fallen world, full of sin, twelve full months per year.

Let’s turn to Christ. He endured the mystery of evil on a beautiful spring day. He endured it so that we might be redeemed, so that He could raise us on the last day. On the Day of the Lord, springtime will arrive, and it will never end.

May He comfort our troubled hearts now, and give us hope, so that we can run the race.

Easter Interview

Geraldo Rivera

Let’s imagine that a journalist came to interview us at church this evening or tomorrow morning.

Okay. So…good evening/morning! For the information of our viewers, let me ask you a few questions:

Are you saying that you are here in church this evening/morning because you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?

resurrectionAnd is it true that you hold that Jesus is God made flesh, the divine Son of the divine Father?

So there is an Almighty God Who made heaven and earth?

And He guides all things with infinite wisdom and love?

And He pours out the Spirit of holiness?

And heaven awaits?

Listen, I was doing some background research, and I learned that Catholics believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, risen and reigning in heaven, becomes present in the flesh when the priest consecrates the Host and the Chalice on the altar. Is that true?

And you hold that baptism washes away sins, and if someone sins after baptism, a priest can absolve them in the name of God after a thorough confession?

I understand that you read the Bible constantly as a group, and also individually, because you believe that God Himself has given it to you to read?

And I get the impression that you Catholics believe that Jesus walks the earth in the person of the poor or sick or imprisoned or troubled individual?

I read somewhere that you respect the Pope as the Chief Shepherd of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that Jesus Christ founded, and all the bishops around the world as the successors of the Apostles.

I heard that you hold that life begins at conception, that abortion is never an option, that marriage is a fruitful lifelong bond between a man and a woman, and that everyone needs to fight against self-indulgence and bad habits, and seek to be holy like Jesus Christ.

stfrancisYou say that you love your country, but you love your Church more, that you like to enjoy life, but that none of it is worth a darn compared to heaven, that you feel guilty if you let a day go by without praying, or a week go by without going the church?

That you know your priests and bishops are weak men, like anyone else, but you love them anyway because they stand in the place of Christ? That you kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, and sing to the Lord whenever you can?

That you sacrifice time and money for the Church, because everything really belongs to God anyway, that you pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, and try to tell the truth all the time, and treat others with respect and love, and follow the rules?

You wish that everyone could know the peace and joy of being Catholic, and join the Church—because your attitude is, ‘The more, the merrier?’

Okay! Well, it seems like either you Catholics are really quite crazy. Or maybe you are on to something…

We love the Lord Jesus, risen from the dead. We love God the Father. We are Catholic and proud.

If you mess with us, we will love you. We will love you until you love us back, or at least until you love God. Or we’ll die trying.

The We of Catholic Conscience

You are witnesses to these things.

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.

I appointed you to go and fear fruit that will remain.

Between now and Ascension Day, we hear the Lord Jesus say all these things to us. You are my chosen witnesses.

We are. We. The sons and daughters of the Church. We. You and I, dear brothers and sisters, are a we. A family.

We are united not by natural birth, but by divine choice. Not by flukish circumstances, or by personal preferences, or by common interests in sports, playing cards, politics, or music. No, we are united by the free gift of God’s grace.

We did not choose Christ. Christ chose us, and made us us, made us a family of faith.

He made a universal communion that spans every human frontier. To be Catholic is to be a brother or sister to other people of every race. We have the right, we have the duty, we have the solemn and holy privilege to call the black, the yellow, the white, the red—to call everyone brother and sister.

God made us a universal human family with the living—and with the dead. Who are my best friends? My best friends are the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese, St. Ignatius, and St. John Vianney. I don’t need a bleeding special cellphone plan to holler at my peeps all day, every day. All I have to do is pray.

Continue reading “The We of Catholic Conscience”

Seven Years, Season of John

No French cuffs. But an unforgettable moment nonetheless. Ad multos annos, Holiness.

…Everyone knows that we read from the Bible according to a three-year cycle at Sunday Mass? Year A, Year B, Year C. And, for the most part, the gospel readings come from either Matthew, or Mark, or Luke—depending on which year of the cycle we are in.

Great system. We thoroughly read all three gospels. All three—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Wait. What? Of course. The gospel of the eagle.

St. John’s gospel gets its props every year during Lent and Easter.

This is the week of John 3. We were here back on the fourth Sunday of Lent also. During Lent we had weeks for John 5 and John 8. Next week is John 6. Then we roll into John 14, 15, 16, 17—which recount all the amazing things the Lord Jesus said at the Last Supper.

…One way or another, everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth has known God. Everyone has had a relationship with God—a relationship of some kind. God gives existence to all existing things. So: to exist is to have a relationship with Him, and to know about existing is to know God.

So we all know God. Except we don’t. God gives existence. But the way that God Himself exists? His infinite being? Totally beyond us.

Totally beyond all of us. Except one. One man knows God from the inside, knows Him like a fish knows water. Jesus.

All the gospels present this fact to us—the fact that the mind of Jesus truly knows God, that Jesus’ knowledge of God is utterly unique among all those ever born of a woman. All the gospels teach us this fact.

But we have St. John to thank for recording all the intimate and sublime ways in which the Lord Himself explained it. And we have the Easter season to luxuriate in reading it all.