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My Lord and My God!

At this point I would like to say something about the liturgical year; more precisely, I would like to give a quick summary of the first week of Easter. The Gospels relate the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Easter Sunday, we have the discovery of the empty tomb; Monday there is the story of Jesus appearing to the women; Tuesday there is the sending of Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples of his restoration; Wednesday he reveals his identity in the breaking of the bread to the two men on the road to Emmaus; Thursday he reappears to these two while they are recounting the incident to his disciples; Friday he appears upon the shore while his friends are fishing; Saturday there is a brief summary from Mark of his earlier appearances and the narration of his coming to his followers while at table. Finally, John offers us two occasions where Jesus appears to his friends while assembled in the upper room.

Jesus has risen from the dead. Over and over again it is with this message that the Church saturates us. John 20:19-31 has the doors locked in fear of the Jews who plotted Christ’s death. But, doors locked because of fear are no barrier to the risen Christ. The only locks which might prevent him from being present in our lives are the ones we place upon ourselves.

We are surrounded by signs of God’s presence. Every Springtime signals the reawakening of nature, aiding us in appreciating the meaning of Easter. Learning our catechism answers is not enough. If we say that God is everywhere, we run the risk of some skeptic asking us where we saw him last. What answer would we offer?

Astute philosophy teachers would remind us that God is in his creation, but only in the Incarnation can he be identified with it. Who is this God who is vast and infinite — who is all-perfect and knows everything — who is omnipotent and the source of all life — who is three persons in one nature — who can be revealed to us in the flesh of a frail individual called Jesus and be put to death and rise from the grave? Do we see the wonders of God around us and proclaim his glory or do we nurture doubts?

Our faith teaches us that the Scriptures are both the word of God and of man and that they speak infallibly in regards to salvation truth — do we believe this? Do we believe their testimony and that of the Church that Jesus rose from the dead? These are important questions. There are some who seem to believe easily and there are others who find it a most grueling pursuit.

I want to narrow this focus to the abiding presence of Christ in the Church and the ongoing historical fact of the resurrection. I do not pretend to speak the last word on these matters; but, it may be important to speak all the same.

There was an Anglican Bishop of only a few years ago who publicly admitted in his cathedral that he did not believe the resurrection had ever occurred. Even men of faith may lose it. An interesting footnote to that incident was that a bolt of lightning immediately struck the building and destroyed an ancient stained-glass window. One uncharitable critic with a sense of humor remarked that God’s aim was off and he just missed. Like Thomas in our Gospel, it is easy to discount the fantastic or the unusual. Indeed, this is the age of the doubting Thomas. Science has taught us to believe only what we can empirically prove. Because we cannot place the resurrection of Christ under a microscope, it is a matter, if not outrightly rejected, then ignored. Theologians, even in the Catholic camp, have endorsed an assortment of resurrectional theories which I must admit, if I accepted, would seriously dampen my faith. I recall one most famous thinker writing that if the bones of Christ were discovered tomorrow, his faith would remain intact. He would do this by spiritualizing the event into some kind of a-historical sphere beyond the datum of archeology. For me, such a statement already infers a level of doubt. Some of our thinkers would minimize the resurrection to the level of an internal feeling or experience with no physical counterpart or manifestation. There would be no visions of the risen Christ and the stories of the risen Christ a fiction made up to express what they were feeling in their hearts, especially at meal time. I am sorry. I cannot buy any of it. Maybe we all think too much? Maybe we want everything too explainable within very narrow limits? Faith is deeper than knowledge, even if one informs the other. There are plenty of men and women with intellects which could do circles around most of us; but, they might not all be believers. First and foremost, we need to fall upon our knees and admit that the resurrection is a mystery. However, having said this, we must also acknowledge that it is very real. Everything that Jesus was, his entire person — body, soul, and divinity, is transformed or glorified by the resurrection. He is like us even though his humanity is perfected beyond our wildest dreams; he is unlike us in that he appears in locked rooms and to those with eyes of faith. I believe this is the response to which the Scriptures honestly testify. To doubly stress the fact that this resurrection has a deeper substance than that which some moderns would offer it, we have the story of Thomas. Because we could not all be there, he is our representative. He says, “I’ll never believe it without probing the nail-prints in his hands, without putting my finger in the nail-marks and my hand into his side” (John 20:25).

A second time Jesus appears in the locked room. Thomas is there. After wishing them peace, he says to Thomas, “Take your finger and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!”

(John 20:27). I cannot imagine this testimony from Scripture if this appearance were simply on the level of hallucination or a dream. No, Jesus said and meant these words. This particular testimony is for us more so than any previous age.

In the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Church provides what is missing so that the risen Christ might be here for us as our food. Jesus again speaks, but this time his words may be more directed to us than to Thomas. “You became a believer because you saw me. Blest are they who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). A day should not pass without our thanking God for the gift of faith and beseeching him for an ever greater share of understanding and belief. The sacraments must suffice until we meet Christ face to face. When we look upon the cup of his blood and the bread which is transformed into his body, we need to see with eyes of faith. He is here with us. His real being is present in these gifts, not just as empty symbols, not merely as devices to recall a past event, but actually here. My father had this kind of faith. Every time he saw the host and cup elevated he could not help but respond with those words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (verse 28).Those need to be our words, if not upon our lips, then at least in our hearts.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

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