Words from the Center of the Earth

Mount Zion, true pole of the earth, the Great King’s city! —Psalm 48

Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Some reflections on our visit to the empty tomb:

That Jesus Christ rose from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is one of the most solidly established facts of ancient history.

It is not just that there are no bones in the tomb. (We pilgrims can say that we have seen this with our own eyes.)

It is also that there are multiple, independent eye-witness accounts of people who saw and spoke with Christ after He had been crucified and died.

History cannot be an exact science. The smarter bet is: Jesus Christ rose and walked out of the Holy Sepulcher. It is more likely that He did than that He didn’t.

The historical fact that Jesus came back from the dead is not itself an article of faith. We did not go on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher just because Jesus rose from the dead there. We—and countless pilgrims before us—went to the empty tomb because of what the resurrection of Christ has to do with us.

Other people besides Jesus Christ have come back from the dead. We read in the gospels that Lazarus came back from the dead, the son of the widow of Nain came back from the dead, Jairus’ daughter came back from the dead.

But the man who rose from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world. The man who came back from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is the Head of the Body of the Church. The man who came back from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher rose to everlasting life, the first fruits of the final resurrection.

This man’s coming back from the dead has everything to do with us. It is the most important fact of all the facts of life. We believe that because He walked out of the tomb, we can hope for every good thing from God.

Here is how Pope Benedict put it when he visited the Holy Sepulcher in May:

Here the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life.

Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.

The Holy Sepulcher is the center of the world. All time, all history, revolve around it. The entire universe revolves around this little cave.

We do not live in a chaos of darkness careening towards nothing. No: We live in the loving hands of the God who raised His Son from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Pope Benedict at the Holy Sepulcher

Too Long?

…to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus –I Thessalonians 3:13

Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so. –Matthew 24:45-46

st monicaSt. Monica waited a LONG time for her son to turn from his wicked ways. But she kept praying and never gave up.

One of the primary causes of doubt about the Christian faith has always been: the Lord Jesus has not come back in glory yet. It has been almost 2,000 years. The skeptics think: He must not be coming back after all.

There are two reasons why this skepticism doesn’t make sense. St. Peter explained the first reason a long time ago:

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:8)

It is quite ridiculous for us to think that we can grasp the time-frame of God. He perceives all of history, from beginning to end, in a single glance. We cannot begin to understand what is a “long time” for God.

God knows how long the Age of the Church should be. If it will last 100 million years, what business of ours is it to question that? Our job involves the here and now. The length of history is God’s business.

There is another reason why it makes no sense to doubt that Christ will come again:

People who live their lives waiting for Christ to come again tend to be happy and at peace. IF it were possible to find a happier way of life, then skepticism might make sense.

But the fact is: To “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die,” does NOT make a person happy. In addition to the hangovers, there is the abiding sense of emptiness and dread.

We are made to wait for Christ. When we wait for Him to come, doing what we need to do to be ready–we are as happy as human beings can be in this world.


Scriptures are True

Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson has an essay in this week’s Commonweal upon which I would like to comment.

(As of this moment, it is not possible to read his essay on-line–unless you are a Commonweal subscriber. Maybe this will change in a few days.)

Are the Sacred Scriptures true? Certainly they are. Here is why:

Continue reading “Scriptures are True”

He Definitely Rose from the Dead

Either Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, or he did not. It is either a fact that he did, or it is a fact that he did not.

To prove a statement of fact regarding an event that happened a long time ago, what is necessary is a strongly probable argument, an argument that overwhelms the opposite statement. For example: the statement “Julius Caesar existed” is certain, because it is much more highly probable that Julius Caesar existed than that he did not. The testimony establishing his existence is much stronger than any suggestion that this testimony is unreliable. Therefore, even though you or I have never laid eyes on Julius Caesar, we can say for sure that he did in fact exist.

What testimony establishes that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead? A great deal of testimony, in fact. Most of this testimony is in the New Testament.

Many historians misunderstand what the New Testament is. The New Testament is often categorized as a “religious text”–with no objective historical significance. Now, it is true that the primary author of the New Testament is God. But, in order to understand what God wants to tell us in these books, we must first understand them as human documents.

The New Testament is made up of books written by particular men at particular times. When these men give accounts of events, they provide historical sources, just like any other chronicles. They are to be believed or disbelieved according to the same standards of evidence as any other historical source. The faith teaches us that the human authors were inspired by God and therefore free from error. But is not necessary to believe this in order to conclude that Jesus certainly rose from the dead. It is simply a matter of appreciating what the human authors of the New Testament offer us as historical witnesses. Let’s consider them simply as men writing down accounts of what they saw and heard.

If we consider the human authors of the New Testament in this way, we are left with the following: There are very few events of ancient times that are recorded by as many different historical witnesses as the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We have more written testimony about the resurrection of Jesus than we have about any of the Pharaohs of Egypt or many of the well-known historical figures of ancient Greece.

The question, then, is: The men who claimed to have seen Jesus in the flesh after He died–were they lying? If a strong case can be made that they were, then their testimony should be disregarded. But in order to demonstrate that someone is lying, it is necessary to show that the liar has something to gain by his lie, because people lie in order to benefit in some way from the deception. Or, if they were not lying, were they simply all deluded?

In the case of the men who wrote that Jesus rose from the dead, there was no benefit to lying. If they were lying, their lie led them to suffer and die. Perhaps one or two people–or even an isolated group of a larger size–might be so deluded as to die for a lie. But the witnesses to the resurrection of Christ are so numerous and diverse–not an isolated cult, but a large group of people, some of whom never met each other–that the “group hysteria” argument is impossible. It simply makes no sense to propose that all these men were willing to suffer and die for something that they knew to be a lie. Therefore, the reasonable conclusion is: Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.

Now, this does not prove that Jesus is God, or that His resurrection means that we, too, have the hope of eternal life. These latter matters are truths of faith; they cannot be proved by historical argument. The ability to believe them is a gift from God.

But the fact that Christ rose from the dead certainly helps us to assent to the Catholic faith in its entirety. That Christ rose from the dead is very strong evidence that His claims about Himself are true: He is the Son of God Who has come to lead His people to heaven by gathering them into His Church.

These Particular People


Here is tomorrow’s homily, if you are interested…

          “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Matthew 18:20

          Right now, it is impossible for us to perceive fully the splendor of the Church of Jesus Christ.  Even the holy angels cannot see it all.  Only God beholds the Church in Her full beauty.

It is good for us, therefore, to meditate on the Church.  Meditation requires ideas, so we have to think about the invisible mysteries of the Church.  In doing this, though, we must never lose sight of one essential fact:  Even though She is clothed with sublime mystery, the Church is and always will be something simple:  She is a group of particular people whom God has brought together by his deeds in history.

God showing Abraham the stars
God showing Abraham the stars



          It all began when God called Abraham.  In spite of the fact that there was no earthly way in which God’s promises could be fulfilled, Abraham believed God anyway and obeyed Him without question.

          What Abraham did is a matter of historical fact, not theory.  A brilliant philosopher named Soren Kirkegaard began his best book by extolling the courage of Abraham’s faith.  Kirkegaard revered Abraham as the first “existentialist,” the first man willing to reach out into the dark and trust.

     Certainly, Abraham did reach out into the dark and trust.  There is a difference, however, between admiring Abraham the courageous existentialist, on the one hand, and holding the faith of Abraham, on the other.

     What makes Abraham our father is not that he was courageous enough to believe, even though what he was promised seemed crazy.  Abraham is our father because He believed exactly what God promised, and because God fulfilled the promises.  In other words, Abraham is not an abstract ideal.  He is the real man with whom the history of our salvation began.

     God promised Abraham many descendants and a beautiful land to live in.  The difficulty God faced in fulfilling the promises is not what made Abraham believe.  God might have promised:  “Abraham, tomorrow you will definitely have to go to the bathroom.”  If that is what God had promised him, Abraham would have believed that, no more or less than he believed the promises about descendants and land.

     So we can and should meditate on the Church, but we need to remember that we are not dealing with theories or ideas; we are not dealing with philosophy.  We do not believe in abstract ideas.  What we believe is that particular events have occurred which have brought God’s people together, including us.



     We do not believe in the Papacy as an abstract concept; we believe that Benedict XVI is the Pope.  We believe not just that Christ instituted the sacred priesthood, but also that He has, by the ministry of His Apostolic Church, made Fr. William Foley the pastor here, and me the unworthy parochial vicar.  Christ erected this parish of St. Mary of the Assumption by the workings of Providence, and everyone baptized in water and the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who lives in Upper Marlboro is a member of our parish, no matter what ideas they have or do not have in their heads.

Now, please don’t get me wrong about ideas.  The Church of Christ loves ideas.  We love expressing them, discussing them, refining them by careful debate.  Our faith binds us to seek the truth constantly, no matter what it takes.  But when everything is said and done, our ideas are not what will get us home to the Promised Land in heaven.  What will get us to heaven is believing the Scriptures and preserving communion with the Pope.

Ideas are wonderful; they can lead us to God.  But they can also be a trap.  You or I could latch onto an idea and then insist that everyone else must agree.  If you don’t agree, then maybe you’re not really Catholic.  Before long, I could work myself up into the paranoid fear that I am surrounded in this parish by heretics and apostates because not everyone agrees with me.

Now, it is highly unlikely that you or I would actually find ourselves surrounded in this church by apostates or crypto-pagans.  It is possible, of course—the Lord never promised to preserve the church of Upper Marlboro from error.  I am ready and willing to listen to anyone who wants to make an argument that he or she is in fact surrounded by grievous error.

But the Lord has given us a very helpful limit in this regard.  If you or I ever think that we are completely alone in holding fast to the truth of the faith, we are certainly wrong.  The only person on earth who could conceivably be right in thinking such a thing is the Pope.  For all the rest of us, there is always at least one person in the Church besides me—the Pope.  It is never just me.

G.K. Chesterton said that the Catholic Church is:  “Here comes everybody.”  Let us hope and pray that this is true.  May God raise up children to Abraham from every little corner of the world–all the wonderful particular people he has made.