From the Desk of Father Valentine
Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando: dux vitae mortuis regnat vivus.
“Death and life have clashed in wondrous battle:
the King of Life conquers death.”
From Easter Sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes
Human beings, by our very nature, try to explain things and events so as to satisfy ourselves that we have “figured them out.” (Aristotle would call such “wisdom” knowing the various “causes” of things.) Whatever the phenomenon may be – a new species of life, a new form of disease, even a photograph of the black hole at the center of our galaxy – the mind tries to clarify something that otherwise confounds human understanding. For the most part, however, we can only understand things by means of previous experiences of the same kind.
There are, however, some realities that are not so easily domesticated. The Resurrection of Christ is one of them. We do well to take seriously St. Luke’s account of the “empty tomb” scene, wherein the holy women go to anoint the dead body of Jesus, but instead encounter “two men in dazzling garments” who ask why they “seek the living one among the dead.” Several details stand out for us. For one thing, the women are terrified at what they experience. Moreover, when they tell the Eleven about what they saw, the apostles dismiss them, for their story “seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.” Finally, when at last Peter arrives at the tomb to see the stone rolled away, and the burial cloths alone, he goes home “amazed at what had happened.” Amazement – and unbridled joy – are the human response to Jesus’ subsequent appearances in St. Luke’s Gospel: the road to Emmaus, the appearance to the Eleven in Jerusalem, and his Ascension into Heaven.
St. Luke, like the other evangelists, is trying to find words for an experience unlike any other, namely, life beyond the grave. On the one hand, Jesus does not simply return to the earthly existence he once enjoyed. He is no longer subject to the vicissitudes of hunger, pain, and death. At the same time, there is a sense of continuity between the resurrected Christ and the earthly Jesus who trod the streets of Jerusalem only days before. With good reason, then, the disciples ask “Were not our hearts burning within us as he explained the Scriptures to us?” Likewise, the Lord Jesus, in order to convince the Eleven that it was really he and not a ghost, shows them his flesh and bones, and asks, “Have you anything to eat?”
In short, the Resurrection of Jesus is an unprecedented event that cannot be explained in any other way than the intervention of almighty God. It is not a personal, subjective experience limited to a select few. Nor is it a “problem” that, by human ingenuity, can be explained according to the laws of nature. Rather, the Resurrection is the reality to which Christians surrender themselves. They live lives of prayer and the sacraments (the life of the Church), and demonstrate divine love toward their neighbor, and by so doing, embrace the paradox of the Cross. Only then do they understand the words of St. Paul of the Cross: “The passion of Jesus is a sea of sorrows, but it is also an ocean of love. Ask the Lord to teach you to fish in this ocean. Dive into its depths. No matter how deep you go, you will never reach the bottom.”
A Blessed Easter to you all.