St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote: “The proof of the resurrection we learn not so much from the words as from the works of our Savior.”
The Lord Jesus did, of course, speak about the resurrection of the body. “I am the resurrection and the life.” “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” “It is my Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up.”
But it wasn’t all talk. As St. Gregory put it, Jesus’ works prove the resurrection. He raised the dead. Like the man we read about at Sunday Mass, in the town called Nain. And the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue official. And also, in John 11, Christ raised… His friend… Kinda rhymes with Nazareth…
Now, why? Why did Jesus raise the dead during His public ministry?
Because He loves the human race. Because He hates death. Because He came to nullify the annihilation of death. He came to turn death into the door to everlasting life.
Christ raised certain individuals from the dead during His pilgrim life, as we read in the gospels. Then, as we also read, when Jesus died, the netherworld shook, and a number of dead people rose in Jerusalem. Then, Christ Himself rose from the dead, never to die again.
All of this indicates the ultimate destiny of every human individual. We will all rise on the last day. The blessed will enjoy everlasting happiness; the wicked will suffer permanent condemnation.
We Catholics do various things to signify, or celebrate, or call to mind, or exercise our faith in the resurrection. Like, at the Easter Vigil, we light the Paschal Candle. And we say we believe in the resurrection whenever we recite the Creed. And we celebrate Mass.
The Mass inherently involves faith in the resurrection. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, the Mass would hardly make sense. But, since He did indeed rise, Christ revives our faith in the resurrection by the very act of feeding us with His resurrected Body and Blood.
A week and a half ago, a certain famous person gave a speech in Vietnam. Part of the speech touched on “universal human rights.” He did not mention the right to life of the innocent and defenseless unborn. But he did extoll the importance of religious freedom. In his speech, President Obama said to the Vietnamese government and people, “freedom of religion allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions.”
Now, even speaking about “all great religions” certainly exceeds my pay-grade. I hardly consider myself qualified to speak about one great religion.
But I can say this without any hesitation whatsoever: If Christianity involves love and compassion—which, of course, it does—if our religion moves us to love others and act with compassion, there is an underlying reason for this. A crucial underlying fact.
After all, love and compassion don’t exactly grow on trees, so to speak. What does seem to grow on trees? Greed, vanity, shallowness, and the tendency to flimflam and b.s. one’s way through life. Sin, in other words, grows on trees.
So: If we have any love and compassion, there’s a reason. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
None of the Apostles became Christians—nor the early martyrs, nor the heroic Vietnamese, for that matter, who have suffered in order to bear witness to Christ—none of these people thought to themselves: “Let me become a Christian, let me become a Catholic, because that way I will be able to express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions!”
No. The martyrs and heroes have stared death squarely in the face, with the sacred name of Jesus on their lips, because: He rose from the dead.
The resurrection means that a loving and compassionate divine Heart beats in heaven. The same Heart that loved the widow of Nain and raised her son from the dead, out of compassion for her. Jesus’ resurrection means that loving and compassionating win out, over hating and crushing, in the end.
One of the great half-truths of modern life is: Religion involves ideals. Fundamentally, religion has to do with ideals for us to strive for. Therefore, the ceremonies and specifics don’t matter that much.
Now, of course we need our ideals to strive for. But let me just speak as what I am—a Catholic priest: our religion fundamentally has to do with facts. Not ideals. God became a man and conquered Satan. He died at the hands of us sinners. Then He rose again.
High ideals are great. But any ideal that doesn’t fundamentally have to do with Jesus Christ—what good is it? You can have it; I’m not interested.
The triune God Almighty rules over life and death; over heaven and hell; over past, present, and future. Jesus has revealed that God Himself loves, with compassion. He loves us, has compassion on us, in our sin-soaked mortal misery.
The operative fact is: Jesus lives.