Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Resurrection of Christ for the 21st Century

The Resurrection of Christ has many dimensions, because it carries within it the fruits of the history of salvation and promises of eternal life. It is impossible for us to comprehend the mysteries of God without the holy Spirit who guides the Church into the fullness of the kingdom of God.

1. Reconciliation: Is it possible?

First, there is the historical evidence that the Resurrection of Christ was the event that transmitted to the Gentile nations the Jewish concept that God is one but also through Apostolic testimony many Gentiles/Pagans became followers of the light of Christ and understood that God created all out of love. His will to bring his beloved to eternal joy is not for the Jews only but for all peoples - a point clearly made by Fr. Ibrahim El Haddad based on the act of creating us in his image (Genesis 1: 26). Fr. Ibrahim said, in Christ the strangers and enemies were reconciled and together they pronounced the faith of the New Covenant: God who is one is also the eternal relation of selfless love between the Father and the Son in the holy Spirit. This eternal Triune God raises humanity in the Resurrection of Christ as much as we accept his death and resurrection according to the Creed, live it and make it our own. Christians who truly follow Christ are the ones who love God and their fellow brothers and sisters in the world and share with them the joy of serving the needy regardless of religion or ethnicity (see Judgment of the Nations: Matthew 25: 31-46). Fr. Ibrahim stressed too that true Christians do not build political empires that enslave some of us for the empire's economic and military agendas, to sell weapons or usurp resources of conquered countries, but build bridges of the peace of the risen Christ which he uttered to the Apostles (John 20: 19-29). The risen Christ not only appeared to the fearful disciples and gave them his peace but also to them with Thomas who doubted his Resurrection (see reflection here).

Fr. Ibrahim reminded us of the joy that the Resurrection brings and the light that it shines - Christ liberated the captives in Hell and took them to Heaven while Heaven sang in praise and the Church on earth was born! These words were beautifully expressed by St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, in his poetic homily "Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen... (see the full homily here).

2.  The Truth of the Resurrection

I had spoken to the young adults at Jesus the King Church in 2006 about one of the deepest reflections on the truth of the Resurrection of Christ by the well-known theologian and adviser to the German Bishops at Vatican II (and, later,  Pope Benedict XVI). In his "Introduction to Christianity" Ratzinger powerfully shows the failed attempts of human cultures to survive death in another through progeny and fame which remain only a faint echo of the self after the person has died. Using the terminology of Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. for the bios to evolve, my survival of death would be possible only when the biological mutations had been surpassed by my presence in another who is permanent in himself to whom I entrust myself. Since Christ alone totally loved humanity and in the worst death on the cross entrusted himself to the Father, Christ was raised by the Father - and he himself being in the Father rose from death (see the full excerpt here.)

In a world full of inquiries, another relatively recent response has been summarized by the work of the Biblical scholar Gerald O'Collins, S.J. here. A logical approach to evidence for the Resurrection of Christ has been given by Peter Kreeft Professor of Philosophy at Boston College here. Additionally, see my post from a historical perspective including rich evidence from non-Christian early testimonials by such historians as Flavius Josephus, Tacitus, Gaius Suitonius, and Pliny the Younger who admitted that Christians adored Christ and sang hymns to him as to God...This in-depth investigation can be found here.

3. Why today's youth are leaving the Church?

In a recent homily (in French) the charismatic Jesuit scholar Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J., questioned his listeners "Why did Jesus come to earth? Why did he die on the cross? " He gave the traditional answer that children learn in catechism "To save us by his blood". And why save us by the shedding of his blood? he continued "Because God the Father is angry since his infinite dignity was wounded by the sin of Man." Since he is infinitely divine yet perfectly human, Christ repaid our debt and bought us by his blood. Or in other terms, according to St. Anselm, he made satisfaction for the sins of humanity before the throne of God. But why would God the Father demand the death of his own Son? "This is not a father but a monster" said Boulad. Probably in the Old Testament and in the time of Christ the above language was understood but today's 21st century people (especially the youth) do not understand this language about salvation. It is to a great extent why many left the Church or became atheists.

In the proposed language that Fr. Boulad calls "a new vision of redemption" we find a deep layer of meaning based on the Gospel. In the Gospel, Christ teaches "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12: 24). A grain or a seed, which I can keep to myself and eat alone, will be a huge tree if I let it fall into the earth to die because then, the biochemical ingredients in the soil will work on it and furnish nutrients that from the soil grows a tree and its thirst is quenched by water of rain. In the same way Christ died and his death brought out a huge tree in whose branches the birds find fruits and make nests.The Resurrection is the fruit of death to one's self and desires. After his Resurrection Christ opened the Apostles minds to understand scriptures and said to them "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead" (Luke 24, 46). Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Because in his death like the grain he will become the great tree for humanity that goes up to heaven. It is not that God is angry. God the Father who loves his creation suffered with Christ on the cross. Henri Boulad's contemporary interpretation of  salvation is shared by other theologians. The contemporary theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote "The Crucified God" in which he thinks of the suffering Father or God while his Son is dying for humanity and the Resurrection of Christ as the promised hope of eternal life for humanity. This same idea of God's love is found in the Fathers such as St. John of Damascus. There is no vengeance nor selfishness in God since the Trinity is a relationship of self-emptying love between the Father and the Son in the holy Spirit. Why blood then? Because blood means life. Loss of blood is loss of life. More profoundly, according to Fr. Boulad, loss of blood means loss of the self or ego! Loss is gain - Death is life. Jesus says "For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 16: 25). "Death is a natural process but death is not simply the death of the body. It is death of the self or ego. At this point what I lose at this level, I regain at another (more profound) level" said Fr. Boulad. It is difficult to accept death. Jesus himself was troubled in his humanity on Thursday night when he felt he will be arrested and killed. Yet his love for his Father and his human fellows was stronger than death. Jesus is the grain that fell on earth when he came from heaven to be one of us and live among us. He is the grain that was thrown to die in the depth of the earth. The grain died and became a great tree. He dies as Jesus of Nazareth and resurrects as the cosmic Christ.  His body which was limited is in the resurrection the mystical body of the cosmic Christ, the Church. "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." said Christ (John 12: 32)!

The global atheism that we see around us is about the picture of God. Atheists reject the picture of a God that leaves no space for human freedom and suffocates human dignity... The response is in living as Christ lived, giving up himself for all. We must die as he died to himself in order to realize the resurrection in him. There is a logic in the mystery of Christ: Lose yourself to find yourself. Love is the essence of eternal life.

4.  A Message of the Resurrection

On Easter vigil night, Fr. Henri Boulad added more insights in his homily (in French) from the Big Bang Theory which is the scientific finding that the universe started with an intense explosion of a "singularity" (according to Prof. Stephen Hawking) that nearly 14 billion years ago expanded rapidly and formed the huge galaxies with stars, which in turn formed planets and one of these planets is the earth that is optimally and uniquely made suitable for the development of life according to the scientific Anthropic Principle (See John Barrow and Frank Tipler; The Anthropic Cosmological Principle; Oxford; 1988). Without turning this lecture into a scientific one, let me only add that recent findings of the LHC at CERN and subsequent published scientific works on black holes point to the "Stamp of God" according to quantum physics (See  my "Quantum Synthesis - An Introduction" here and here). The above scientific theories point to a larger complexity which the Jesuit scientist Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. called the Omega Point. For Henri Boulad, S.J., the Big Bang with the nuclear energy emanating from such a tiny singularity represented the first victory of God over nothingness and darkness! "To symbolize the victory of God, we have illuminated fire in the night - fire that tears darkness apart."

According to Fr. Georges Farah "the tomb/rock where the corpse of Christ was laid symbolizes the prison of Man where there is no window but only the darkness that blinds humanity and the blind loses sight of any direction". In his Resurrection, according to Fr. Farah, Christ liberates us from this prison of the self and opens the possibility for moving towards humanity's purpose and goal: God! In the Fathers of the Church, especially St. Cyril of Alexandria, it is the work of the holy Spirit that helps us repent and find Christ! And St. Ignatius Loyola does not shy away from telling us that God uses everything to draw us to him who is "lifted up from the earth" (John 12: 32)!

Henri Boulad continues "The rock hides fire whose energy was found to be the nuclear energy in the 20th century" - Today humans can destroy the planet earth with nuclear energy or they can direct this same energy to create cities and advance civilization, but what matters most is not the physical light that is only a symbol of the inner light that shines in men's hearts - It is the light within that can be shut by men...said the Jesuit scholar.  Here it is: Christ is rejected, crucified and killed. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1: 1-5).  How is it that Jesus Christ came to earth in the night of the long Winter darkness, and resurrected from death in the night of Easter? It is because Darkness attempted to hide Light and the rock attempted to hide Christ.

"In Apocalypse, it is the story of Darkness attempting to shut out Light! The conflict between light and darkness is very much brought to our sight in the story of the Dragon. the Monster, and the Devil who sweep down a third of the stars and cast them to the earth aiming to destroy its inhabitants and facing the Woman and her Child - The woman is the Virgin Mary who delivers Jesus Christ, the immolated Lamb of God" (Cf. Leviticus 14: 25; Revelation 12: 1-17). On the "Woman" see the homily of Cardinal Thomas Collins Archbishop of Toronto here. Apocalypse finishes with the victory of Christ. Christ has conquered death, the last power where everything finishes and where everything in Christ starts anew. "And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 22: 5). Fr. Boulad then makes final remarks: This is the hope of Easter and Christian faith...Yes, we will all pass by the night of death but there is life after death. Life is stronger than death. God would not have taken the risk of creation if the outcome was darkness and nothing for us. He would not have risked entrance in human history if his human death on the cross would be in vain.

In Easter, we have a message to communicate to everyone around us! It is easy to despair when we see the aggression on human life in the Middle East, in many other countries, and in the so-called civilized world too. The contemporary philosopher Edgar Morin wrote "We have all reasons for pessimism but the surge of the improbable and impossible will anyway happen,"  Yes, said Boulad, eternal life is improbable and impossible (in the eyes of materialism) yet it is the truth; for Christ has risen!

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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