The Resurrection of our Blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from the dead on the morning of Easter Sunday is the central tenet of our Catholic Faith. As Saint Paul noted, "If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ Himself has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty too. Indeed, we should then be exposed as false witnesses of God, for we have borne witness before Him that He raised up Christ; but He certainly did not raise Him up if the dead are not raised. Why? Because if the dead are not raised, then Christ was not raised; and if Christ was not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ are the deadest of the dead. If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of men" (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
Our Lord manifested His Easter victory over and sin and death, effected by His own death on the wood of the Holy Cross on Good Friday, and it is the source of our hope beyond this vale of tears in which we live. The Cross reminds us that we must bear our share of hardship which the Gospel entails, believing with all of our hearts and minds that there is nothing we can endure in this life which is the equal of what just one of venial sins did to our Lord in His Sacred Humanity during His Passion and Death. As essential as the Cross is in our daily lives, however, it is the means by which each of us may walk out of our own graves on the Last Day and to have glorified bodies reunited with our souls for all eternity in Heaven. Our Lord's Cross was His passageway to give us eternal life-and to give it to the full. Thus, the eyes of our souls must be fixed at all times not only on the Cross, but also on the fact that the Cross to leads to eternal life, that death is not the end, only the beginning of the fullness of eternal life (the enjoyment of which may be delayed if a soul has died in a state of grace but has not satisfied the debt it owes because of its forgiven mortal sins and its general attachment to venial sin).
The fact of our Lord's Resurrection from the dead is meant to influence every aspect of our lives without exception. This secular world in which we find ourselves tends to drag down even the believing, praying Catholic to the depths of despair frequently. People find themselves thinking and acting in purely earthbound terms, going about life as though nothing makes sense, as though nothing we do really matters. Even the events of the Easter Triduum can become secondary to the perceived anxieties about daily living. There are many devout Catholics who have to "find time" to get to the Mass of the Lord's Supper or to the Liturgy of the Passion or to the Easter Vigil Mass. The world in which we live has quite a pull on us - and most of it is meant to draw our attention away from the hope that lies beyond death, the hope that lies beyond this passing life and the grave.
On the contrary, the Resurrection shows us that everything matters. Each of us matters in the eyes of the Blessed Trinity. Each one of our actions matters. Each thought we have matters. Every moment of our lives has a transcendent significance. God means to use every moment of our lives to help us know Him more fully, love Him more completely, and serve Him more generously through His true Church. He wants us realize that we are creatures whose redemption has been wrought by the terrible price of the shedding of every single drop of His own Most Precious Blood. He wants, therefore, to keep our hands on our plows as we traverse the fields of life, always keeping the eyes of our soul focused on the fact that what we do here in this life will determine where we spend the next.
Vivified by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them on Pentecost Sunday, the Apostles preached the facts about the Crucified and Resurrected Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, the Resurrection was the central theme of their preaching, precisely to teach men that this mortal life - wherein we encounter pain and sufferings and difficulties - does make sense. We are not to view our lives in earthbound terms. Our Lord has risen from death. He has conquered the power of sin and death for all eternity. It is up to each one of us to interiorize the transcendent significance of the Resurrection for us so that we can exude authentic Christian joy (as opposed to maudlin giddiness) in the midst of the world in which we live. We are meant to live in glory forever. This is our destiny. Imagine what our own lives would look like if we really kept our attention focused on the fact that the travails of this passing world are merely steppingstones to a glory which "eye has not seen and ear has not heard."
While we are creatures who have the possibility of sharing in the glory of an unending Easter Sunday in Heaven, the path to Paradise is fraught with potholes. That is what the Church's liturgy directs our attention to during the time after the commemoration of our Lord's Passion on Good Friday to meditate on the forty hours between our Lord's death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. Those forty hours - a time during which our Blessed Mother waited patiently and the Apostles hid in fright - are yet another simile for life itself. For is it not the case that it is when we are waiting for some anticipated event that the passing hours can seem endless, can seem almost like an eternity to us?
A lot happened during those forty hours between the time our Lord breathed His last on the Cross until He rose from the dead in glory. Our Lord Himself, as the Creed teaches us, went to the precincts of the dead to lead out from there all of the souls of the just who had waited for the Redemption from the beginning of time. The Gates of Heaven, which had been tied shut and closed by the Fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden, were reopened. Indeed, at the very moment that Blood and water (the sacramental elements of the Church) poured forth from our Lord's wounded side countless souls of the just were flooding into Heaven, led by their Victor and King. There was rejoicing by the angels in Heaven as the zenith of God's creative work - human beings - were finally to gaze upon the glory of the Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity.
A lot, however, was happening also here on earth. Our Lady prayed as she waited. The Apostles themselves, not knowing really what to expect, also waited, although in fright. Were they going to be arrested and crucified themselves? Where were they going to live? What were they going to do? What did the Master mean when He said that He would rise from the dead?
Indeed, isn't it this way with us sometimes? That is, those of us who profess belief in our Lord's Easter victory over sin and death act frequently as though we do not believe in the Resurrection. We complain about our crosses, not seeing in them the means to our own empty tombs. We wonder why bad things happen to ourselves and our family members and friends, forgetting the horror that our own sins imposed upon the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man. We think that Our Lord has abandoned us in our moments of need, failing to realize that He is with us at all times, that He beckons us to adore Him in His Real Presence so that we can gain the strength and the courage we need to live as true believers in His Resurrection. Our waiting seems like an eternity.
When we think about it, though, life is relatively short. Even a person who lives a hundred years has lived only a small fraction of the history of the Church, approximately five percent. We must always be aware of the fact that the same Blessed Mother who prayed while she waited for her Son to visit her on the first Easter Sunday morning prays for us and with us as we wait to be sharers in the glory of her Son's Resurrection.
As Pope John Paul II noted in 1995 during a homily given during a Mass in Oriole Park at Camden Yards:
"Our waiting for God is never in vain. Every moment is our opportunity to model ourselves on Jesus Christ - to allow the power of the Gospel to transform our personal lives and our service to others, according to the spirit of the Beatitudes. 'Bear your share of the hardship which the gospel entails,' writes Saint Paul to Saint Timothy in today's second reading. This is no idle exhortation to endurance. No, it is an invitation to enter more deeply into the Christian vocation which belongs to us all by Baptism. There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world."
No, our waiting for God is never in vain. Our waiting out the pains and anxieties of this passing world is meant to teach us that our "forty hours" (or forty days or forty years) is a relatively short period of time. We must therefore meditate on the fact that just as we go to sleep each night and enter a world of dreams the day will come soon enough when we sleep the sleep of bodily death and awaken to the reality of the world which will never end. We will see ourselves as we truly are in the sight of the Blessed Trinity - and those who have remained faithful to the point of their dying breaths will have a loving Mother of Mercy pleading for them with her Divine Son. We must be ever conscious of what is real and is what is not, what lasts and what does not.
At the end of every long night of waiting there is the break of the first light. The Easter Vigil Mass (which begins with the Service of the Light and the Readings before Midnight in the Traditional Latin Mass; the Mass itself starts just about at Midnight) is the break of the first light in the life of the Church during the Easter Triduum. The Light of the World has burst forth from the darkness of death. He wants us, whose Godparents received a lit candle at our baptism to signify the Light of Christ burning in our souls for the first time, to light up the world with the flame of His bright, burning love. He wants His light to dispel our attachment to sin and to the pleasures of this passing world. He wants His light to shine forth in every aspect of our lives, both individually and socially. Just as the Sun shines forth light into the world at every daybreak, so is it the case that the Son desires us to shine forth His light wherever we go, helping to lead those yet in darkness to follow the path that will lead them from the point of despair and misery to a loving embrace of the Cross and to their own empty tombs.
As dawn is eclipsed by the brightness of the full strength of the Sun during the daylight hours on Easter Sunday morning, we are reminded that the full strength of the Son shines forth at every hour through Holy Mother Church. A red vigil lamp signifies His Real Presence in a tabernacle. Votive candles signify our remembrance of the intention of another, living or deceased, whose light we keep alive in our hearts and in our souls. The tall Easter Candle burns in full force, reminding us that the melted wax is symbolic of how the One Whose light is thus symbolized wants to burn away all residue of sin and selfishness and self-absorption from every aspect of our lives.
The Apostles were slow to believe that the Son had risen on Easter Sunday. Our Lord had to personally instruct two men on the road to Emmaus about the meaning of the events of His Passion and Death they were trying to explain to Him, Whom they presumed to be some passerby unfamiliar with all that had happened. "What little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced! Did not the Messiah have to undergo all this so as to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:25-26). Saint Thomas did not believe the stories of Our Lord's Resurrection until he had put his fingers in the nailprints on our Lord's hands and placed his hand in Our Lord's wounded side. "You became a believer because you saw Me. Best are they have not seen and have believed" (John 20:29).
We are those who are blessed because we have not seen and have believed. We believe in the Resurrection on the authority of the Church founded by Our Lord upon the Apostles, who were the actual eyewitnesses to His having risen bodily from the dead. We know that Holy Mother Church is guided infallibly on the received teaching of Christ by the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit. God, Who can neither deceive or be deceived, has so willed it that those of us who are nearly two millennia distant from the events of Passiontide and the first Easter Sunday will believe with the fervor and the joy as that possessed by the Eleven in the aftermath of the Resurrection. And we thus have the same obligation they did to proclaim this Good News to everyone we know, never shirking from the responsibility of inviting people into the true Church so that they can be fed by the Eucharist, know the sacramental forgiveness of their sins, and thus be ready to meet God in the face at any moment He chooses to end their waiting for life everlasting.
The Easter season lasts fifty days, beginning on Easter Sunday and ending seven weeks later on Pentecost Sunday. The Easter season is ten days longer than Lent. Eternity is longer than the life we spend here in a mortal body in this passing world. The legitimate joy we experience in thanking Our Lord for bearing His Cross and conquering the power of sin and death over us is meant to be expressed in a special way during the fifty days of Easter. And that joy is meant to be conveyed to a world which is so desperately seeking joy in all of the wrong places.
Asking Our Lady, to whom our Lord first appeared on Easter Sunday, to pray for us, may we use the Easter season to radiate the Light of Christ, shouting out to the world that each of us is meant to rise from our own tombs on the Last Day and know nothing but eternal bliss.
"Not all of us shall fall asleep, but all of us are to be changed - in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the last trumpet. The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. This corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, this mortal body with immortality. When the corruptible frame takes on incorruptibility and the mortal immortality, then will the saying of Scripture be fulfilled: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and sin gets the power from the law. But thanks be to God Who has given us the victory through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Be steadfast and persevering, my beloved brothers, fully engaged in the work of the Lord. You know that your toil is not in vain when it done in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:51-58).
May we be always engaged in the work of the Lord, proclaiming to one and all the good news: Alleluia! He is Risen!
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives