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2nd Sunday of Easter 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter

Year A 2017

Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1.3-9; Jn 20.19-31

Fear forms the part of each and every one of us. We fear of sickness, we are afraid of tragedies and fear enters practically every realm of our life.

Today’s Gospel narrates the impact of the Risen Christ’s presence on the fearful disciples. In symbolic language typical of St. John, the Gospel tells of Jesus’ greeting, his breathing on the disciples and his imparting of the Holy Spirit with the power to forgive and to retain sins. The story of Jesus’ later appearance to Thomas highlights the merit of those who will not have seen Jesus but will believe in his presence and his teaching. In this way Christians will experience “life” (v.31).

The Acts of the Apostles recalls the simple characteristics of Christian life. prayer and the Eucharistic sacrifice, instruction in the faith, life and possessions in common. This simple sincerity wins the admiration of others.

Psalm 118 rejoices in the presence and the power of the Lord. In particular, the Lord has protected and saved the just from persecutions and attacks. The rejection and apparent failure of the psalmist, comparing himself to a stone discarded by the builders, has been turned by the Lord into success and revindication, a cornerstone.

The First Letter of St. Peter speaks of an inheritance that is guaranteed for those reborn as Christians. Even now Christians are filled with a joy that is “indescribable and glorious” (v.8). This joy is capable of bearing the trials of this life, which purify and strengthen faith in our future inheritance. eternal life.

The Message

The experience of Jesus Christ. What is evident from the Gospel text is the emotional impact on the disciples of Jesus’ appearance. “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (v20). Our faith is reflected not only in the intellectual content of our belief, but in the experience of the personal presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. We do not see Jesus but we can, and should, experience his presence in our lives. Our faith is not just a guarantee of future happiness; it should also open our minds and hearts now to a real experience of Jesus’ presence.

Catechism references. paragraphs 426-429 deal with Jesus Christ at the heart of catechesis; paragraph 1618 refers to Jesus Christ as the center of all Christian life.

The Christian way of living. The Acts of the Apostles describes the characteristics of Christian life. of living in and for a community. It is so strong that individual possessions are divided among all members according to need. Prayer, work necessary to sustain basic needs, and the giving and receiving of instruction in the faith are part of the Christian’s daily schedule.

Catechism references. paragraphs 787-795 deal with the Church as Body of Christ and communion with Jesus; numbers 949-953 refer to the communion in spiritual goods of the Christian community.

A time of trials. St. Peter reminds the scattered first Christian communities that they “may have to suffer through various trials” (v.6). The text suggests the durability of faith (which includes the experience of joy) even in the midst of suffering. In this sense the experience of faith is worth more than fire-tested gold. This is certainly the testimony of the first Christian martyrs who were sustained by the experience of a rock-solid faith. The text does not imply a “testing by fire” on the part of God, but the Christian’s sustaining experience of faith even though Christians may have to pass through earthly fire.

Catechism references. paragraph 157 refers to the certainty of faith; paragraph 163 speaks of faith as the beginning of eternal life; paragraphs 1817-1821 deal with the virtue of hope and its effects in our lives.

Practical Conclusion

Christians today suffer from reduced expectations. We have come to regard the Christian faith as something like an ointment to be rubbed on in times of need. The faith is reduced to some words of comfort and consolation when there is nothing else to say or to do. It has become a theoretical doctrine, an abstract explanation of ideas.

The center of Christian life is the experience of Jesus Christ. This contact is real, personal and overwhelming. It gives ordinary people a courage and a conviction that they know is worth more than anything they have. It also gives them a real joy that nothing can undermine. We need, as Christians, to have greater expectations; there is a treasure to be found. Christianity is not a present-day palliative for the woes of life, a mere opium for the people; it is the experience of fire within, an unbreakable all-conquering spirit. It is a love that always gives more.

When we consider the Acts of the Apostles’ description of Christian community life one may perhaps think it refers to some strange sect (of which there are many) with its cultish practices disconnected from normal life. We may also think that it is an impossible, impractical ideal of naïve simplicity. Have we become accustomed to a token form of Christian living? What do we think parish life is? Is it inspired by the desire to hold all things in common, to want to live together as Christian brothers and sisters, sharing a common experience of Jesus Christ? Our lives are certainly more complicated than the scattered Christian communities of the first century after Christ, but nothing should impede our desire to live and to build an authentically Christian life in community.

We have the desire to live in communion with others; we know how difficult real, intimate bonds are to achieve and to sustain. We need to re-examine the state of our Christian communion with others, starting with those nearest to us.

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

LivingFlame.ca

Saturday in the Octave of Easter:Year A - Mark 16:9-15

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Saturday in the Octave of Easter:Year A - Mark 16:9-15

ARTICLE: TYPES AND STAGES OF PRAYER

TYPES AND STAGES OF PRAYER

 

The word ‘prayer’ in Christian tradition virtually signifies a ‘petition’ or ‘request’ addressed to God and saints. The word ‘prayer’ is a derivative from the Latin precari, which signifies to beg, ask or implore. The Greek word for prayer is euchomai. It is more commonly used with a prefix, proseuchomai, i.e., a forceful vow or wish, or a vow toward someone higher, a wish toward the one that has authority, power etc.

We can classify various types and stages of prayer in Christian tradition. There are innumerable ways by which we can approach Divinity; but we must be convinced that every way must lead us to strengthen our bond with the Lord and with our neighbour. Any prayer aimed at only obtaining satisfaction and contentment cannot be called authentic prayer. The new Catechism of the Church systematically enumerates the various types of prayers we can address to God in faith (cf. CCC 2558-2751). However varied may be the way we express our feelings, emotions and needs to God, we need first of all faith in God and basically this faith should provoke love. The various types and stages of prayer indicate that we are all different. Some of us need many things from God and others need to just thank God. Many want to adore God and others just need to remain in silence before God.

 

Vocal Prayer

 

This is the way we learnt to pray right from our childhood. Our parents, brothers and sisters helped us recite and memorize prayers such as Hail Mary, Our Father, the Rosary, Litany, Angelus etc. These prayers became part of our life as we grew. We might have been very faithful in reciting these prayers but often without fully understanding what we were reciting. Later vocal prayers extended with our intentions, petitions, becoming spontaneous prayers of thanksgiving, praise, petition, adoration etc. For an ordinary person vocal prayer is prayer, without which he/she will not even begin the day or any work. According to saints who have written a lot about prayer, vocal prayer is the beginning of a relationship with God. Hence, such prayers should be recited with due attention and concentration. Prayers recited or pronounced without concentration or conviction become nothing but “clanging cymbals” or hypocritical (cf. Mt 7.21).

 

For Teresa of Avila, there is basically no difference between vocal and mental prayer, provided the basic concept of prayer is understood as ‘loving’ God. Vocal prayer done with attention and concentration is nothing but meditation. Vocal prayer done with deeper love and devotion becomes mental prayer. In vocal prayer we have to mean what we say; in mental prayer we say what we mean. When we say what we mean to a friend, it is always accompanied with love. Hence, any prayer recited or sung with love becomes mental prayer. Therefore, the saint affirms, prayer is not “thinking much but loving much” (Interior Castle IV,1,7). However, in the initial stages she says that “it is a great help to take a good book written in the vernacular in order to recollect ones thoughts and pray well vocally and little by little in order not to grow discouraged (Way  26,x).

 

We actually cannot make a distinction between mental prayer and vocal prayer if the vocal prayer is to be recited well with an understanding of whom we are speaking to. It is even an obligation that we strive to pray with attention and awareness. We need to disagree with the conventional attitude towards vocal prayer. In vocal prayer we have to apply the mind. If not, vocal prayer cannot be called ‘prayer’. Any recitation to be ‘prayer’ needs the grasp of the recitation. The serious danger in the recitation of vocal prayer is when we recite it by heart. Often the words are pronounced through force of habit, and the prayer remains a sounding cymbal (cf. Mt 7.21). Even vocal prayer recited integrally can lead us to God equally as the contemplative prayer. There are many persons who while praying vocally are raised by God to sublime contemplation. It is because of this that we need to give much attention to reciting vocal prayers well.

 

Meditation

 

‘Meditation’ is initiation into interior prayer. The practice of meditation has been in vogue since ancient times in a variety of contexts. It may serve purely quietist aims, as in the case of certain reclusive mystics. It may be viewed as spiritually or physically restorative and enriching to daily life, as in the case of numerous religious orders and the majority of secular practitioners. Perhaps it may even serve as special, potent preparation for a particular, usually physical or otherwise strenuous activity, as in the case of the warrior before battle or the musician before performance. In recent medical and psychological studies, meditation techniques and a trust in the Divine in prayer have proved effective in skilled practitioners in controlling pulse and respiratory rates and effective to varying degrees in the symptomatic control of migraine headache, hypertension, and hemophilia, among other conditions.

 

            If we meditate consistently on God, a complete revolution takes place in our behavior. Our thoughts make our desire, and our desires are the sculptors of our days. Meditation prevents defeat where defeat is final. In that silence where God is, false desires steal away. If we meditate before we go to bed, our last thought at night will be our first in the morning.

 

How can I get to know myself and the One Who has called me? Certainly it is not by thinking, for thinking only reflects my conscious being, but by meditating. Meditation done in faith goes beyond the conscious mind into the unconscious. In meditation I can become aware of the ground of my being in matter, in life, in human consciousness. I can experience my solidarity with the universe, with the remotest star in outer space and with the minutest particle in the atom. I can experience my solidarity with every living thing, with the earth, with flowers and trees, with birds and animals, with every human being. I can get beyond all these outer forms of things in time and space and discover the Ground from which they all spring. I can know the Father, the Origin, the source, beyond being and not-being, the One without a second. I can know the birth of all things from this Ground, their coming into being in the Word, the manifestation of the Father and the Self of all beings. I have existed eternally in this Word (cf. Jer 1.4-5; Eph 1.4)) and so have all things, the earth, the flowers, and the birds and the animals. We came forth in the Word from the Father beyond time and space, and there we stand eternally before him.

 

            Be on your guard not to get stuck in meditation with any single experience. Learn to move on. Any experience, howsoever delightful it may be, can create bondage if we do not leave it and move ahead. Any experience, if not moved away from after its time has lapsed, can put fetters on us. And meditation is freedom – freedom unlimited, in fact it is freedom from experience itself. In the beginning we will go through all kinds of experiences – such experiences that may tempt us to cling on to them. If we falter and linger on, we become incapable of climbing higher or delving deeper into unknown territories. And as the mystics say, the ultimate is unknown. It is supreme mystery.

Mental Prayer

 

            The word ‘mind’ has its etymological base in the expression “to think”. Its broader meanings are ‘interiority’, ‘consciousness’. The word ‘mind’ denotes ‘spatio temporal non extension’, consciousness and partly specifies the ability to think.

 

            The expression ‘mental prayer’ is used often interchangeably with meditation and contemplation. The terms ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’ are also at times used interchangeably. In reality both these terms denote two different levels of prayer. If there is an extended pondering of God’s presence and activity, it is meditation. When there is a total gazing with love and attention on God, it is contemplation. Some saints in their writings call such an activity “inflow of God into the soul”. In normal definitions of meditation there is the domination of reasoning; whereas in contemplation ‘love’ predominates.

 

            Mental prayer entails a lot of risk because most of the time we spend with God might seem useless without much success in obtaining feelings and sentimental fulfilment. The particular feature of ‘mental prayer’ is that it has no specific or fixed formulas. It is a spontaneous elevation of the heart and mind to God through love.

 

Affective Prayer

 

            The insistence in this type of prayer is affection on heart level. In any relationship if the heart is not involved, such a relationship becomes shallow and not durable. We need gut level relationship for its continuation. Affective prayer elevates us to God who is our Father. This type of prayer expresses affections like: “O God, you are my God, it is you I seek; for you my body longs and my soul thirsts. When I remember you on my bed I think of you all through the night, for you have been my help; I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you…” (Ps 63.2-7).

 

Contemplation

 

            The etymological root of the word contemplation is derived from ‘contemplatio’, which signifies, gazing with rapt attention. The word ‘contemplation’ etymologically is derived from the Latin templum, a derivative of tempus, generally translated as “time”. Tempus literally signifies “a division or section of time”. In the Roman tradition templum was assigned to a particular space in the sky or on the earth to read the omens and dreams. Thus, the development of this term finally ended up in a coined word “temple” signifying a sacred place where mysterious rituals were held to discover the divine meaning and purpose. Hence, the word “con – templum” actually signified not so much referring to a place or space, but to the actual “looking” at the inside of reality to grasp its real meaning. The “looking at the inside of reality” is nothing else than penetrating the very essence and grasping the whole instead of the parts. The Greek word for this “grasping of the whole” is theoria, approximates the Latin contemplatio. The word theoria is derived from theorin, signifying “look at something intently and with a purpose”. Some Greek fathers held that the word theoria signified “natural contemplation” which is ‘intently finding the traces of God in created things’. They would rather use another word “theologia” for the highest form of contemplation, which is ‘immediate, direct and total awareness of God’ that leads one to oneness with Him. In the Christian tradition the word ‘contemplation’ is used for non-discursive mental prayer, as distinguished from reflective meditation. In so far as this stage of prayer is to be reached through the normal development of the natural faculties, it is termed ‘acquired contemplation’. When considered as the fruit of supernatural grace, directly acting on the soul, it is known as ‘infused contemplation’.

 

Natural Contemplation

 

       This type of contemplation can be achieved through personal efforts. It is a process by which we become one with the object of observation. We can enter into contemplation within no time with a beautiful flower, tree, scenery, a bird etc. Even if you watch a flower you will die in the flower. You will forget yourself. You will experience a merging, a melting. Suddenly you will feel you are not, only the flower is. Jesus used to say to his disciples, not only once but many times “If you have eyes – look! If you have ears, hear me!” Those who were around Jesus had eyes just like ours and ears just like ours, but they failed to see and hear. What a truth! Nietzsche declared ‘God is dead’. In fact when we are dead, how can God be alive to us? When we see, we see God, when we hear, we hear Him. When we do not see, do not hear, do not touch and do not speak we are dead to ourselves and equally dead to God. We can find God if we want. When I say ‘I do not see’ certainly that object does not exist for me. This is what natural contemplation is. We become one with creation and with the presence of God. We forget ourselves and we are fully aware of the other. This can happen naturally to us through our own cooperation.

 

Supernatural Contemplation

 

It is in supernatural contemplation that prayer reaches the experience of the all embracing and all encompassing. The object of contemplation is the infinity of the divine life, the marvel of divine creativity, the inexhaustible meaning of the divine self-manifestation. Contemplation means participation in that which transcends the subject-object scheme and therefore the ambiguity of contemplative language is comprehensible.

Here are a few signs to discern if we are on the path to supernatural contemplation[1]. The first is the realisation that one cannot make discursive meditation nor receive satisfaction from it as before. The second sign is an awareness of a disinclination to fix the imagination or sense faculties upon other particular objects, exterior or interior. The third and surest sign is that a person likes to remain alone in loving awareness of God, without particular considerations, in interior peace, quiet and repose, and without the acts and exercises (at least discursive, those in which one progresses from point to point) of the intellect, memory and will, and that he prefers to remain only in the general, loving awareness and knowledge we mentioned, without any particular knowledge or understanding (Ascent II,13,ii-iii-iv).

            These are the classical signs that determine practically the precise moment when it is expedient for us to abandon discursive meditation in order to occupy ourselves completely in remaining intent upon God in loving and living faith. They are the strong signals that the time has come for us to cease from our former ways, and to pass on to others. They are the indication given to us that we are passing from the inferior mode of communing with God, called meditation, to a higher and more perfect mode, called contemplation. St. John of the Cross affirms:

“The reason is that now in this state of contemplation, when the soul has left discursive meditation and entered the state of proficient, it is God who works in it. He therefore binds the interior faculties and leaves no support in the intellect, nor satisfaction in the will, nor remembrance in the memory. At this time a person’s own efforts are of no avail, but an obstacle to the interior peace and work God is producing in the spirit through that dryness of sense. Since this peace is something spiritual and delicate, its fruit is quiet, delicate, solitary, satisfying, and peaceful, and far removed from all these other gratification of beginners, which are very palpable and sensory” (Night I,9,vii).

 

            Perhaps some insist that they should proceed forward in contemplation through meditation or reflection. By doing so, they rely too much on their own strength, and this is a mistake since, during the contemplative experience, God leads the soul along a path that is completely different. The former is the way of reflection that resorts to the mind whereas the latter has nothing to do with meditation and reflection. Our heart must be maintained in total quiet at this state, even if we may be convinced that we are wasting our time. In those circumstances, the only thing we can do is to clear our spirit of perceptions and thoughts, meditations and considerations, and abandon ourselves exclusively to a peaceful and loving attention to God. Here John gives a short reflection that is contextual: “many individuals think that they are not praying, when indeed their prayer is intense. Others place high value on their prayer, while it is so little more than non-existant” (Ascent, prologue, vi).

 

According to St. John of the Cross, the discovery of God and the strengthening of our relationship with Him implies a process, and not fossilisation of our methods. John does not disapprove of our meditating on the Passion, Resurrection and the mysteries of our redemption. He wishes us to go further, however, telling us not to stop halfway, since even the most beautiful painting of God is not God but the reflection of our own idea of God. The praying person “should not interfere with forms of discursive meditation and imaginings. Otherwise his soul will be disquieted and drawn out of its peaceful contentment to distaste and repugnance. And if, as said, scruples about his inactivity arise, he should remember that pacification of soul (making it calm and peaceful, inactive and desire-less) is no small accomplishment” (Ascent II,15,v).

 

            This brings us to understand that supernatural contemplation is attained only through God’s initiative and cannot be forced through personal efforts. This stage in its initial phase is regarded as the advent of a new crisis in spiritual life. It is painful and challenging. This experience of contemplation is given only in faith (cf. Ascent II,10,iv), and through this experience the actual process of union of the soul with God begins (cf. Ascent II,16,8). Through this contemplative experience God joins Himself to the soul in a high and divine degree. In a way, this dark, loving knowledge, which is faith, serves as a means for the divine union in this life as does the light of glory for the clear vision of God in the next (cf. Ascent II,24,iv).

 

Dr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

LivingFlame.ca

 

 

[1]  Cf. R. V. D’Souza, Meeting in God Experience, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand 1999, p. 20.

PODCAST: Friday in Octave of Easter:Year A - John 21:1-14

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PODCAST: Friday in Octave of Easter:Year A - John 21:1-14

Thursday in the Octave of Easter: Year A - Luke 24:35-48

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Thursday in the Octave of Easter: Year A - Luke 24:35-48

Easter Octave Wednesday: Year A - Luke 24:13-35

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Easter Octave Wednesday: Year A - Luke 24:13-35

ARTICLE: Defense of the Resurrection and Easter Sunday

Defense of the Resurrection
and Easter Sunday

On the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about eleven kilometres from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And Jesus said to them, 'What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?' They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, 'Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?'

Jesus asked them, 'What things?' They replied, 'The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see Jesus.'

Then Jesus said to them, 'Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?'

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, 'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over,' So Jesus went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus; and he vanished from their sight.

The two disciples said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scripture to us?

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. These were saying, 'The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!'

Then the two disciples told what had happened on the road, and how the Lord has been made known to them in the breaking of the bread." (Lk. 24.13-35)

IS THERE LIFE AFTER DEATH?

Madonna the great singer, attempted to answer the question of, “Why am I here?” by becoming a diva, confessing, “There were many years when I thought fame, fortune, and public approval would bring me happiness. But one day you wake up and realize they don’t… I still felt something was missing… I wanted to know the meaning of true and lasting happiness and how I could go about finding it.”(The Oprah Magazine, “Oprah talks to Madonna,” January, 2004, 120.)

Others have given up on finding meaning. Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the Seattle grunge band Nirvana, despaired of life at age 27 and committed suicide. Jazz-age cartoonist Ralph Barton also found life to be meaningless, leaving the following suicide note. “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife, and from house to house, visited countries of the world, but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up 24 hours of the day.” Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA. Here’s Life Publ., 1981).

Pascal, the great French philosopher believed this inner void we all experience can only be filled by God. He states, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which only Jesus Christ can fill.” William R. Bright, Jesus and the Intellectual (San Bernardino, CA. Here’s Life Publ., 1968),If Pascal is right, then we would expect Jesus to not only answer the question of our identity and meaning in this life, but also to give us hope for life after we die.

Can there be meaning, without God? Not according to atheist Bertrand Russell, who wrote, “Unless you assume a god, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan, 2002),

Russell resigned himself to ultimately “rot” in the grave. In his book, Why I am not a Christian, Russell dismissed everything Jesus said about life’s meaning, including his promise of eternal life.

But if Jesus actually defeated death as eyewitnesses claim, then he alone would be able to tell us what life is all about, and answer, “Where am I going?” In order to understand how Jesus’ words, life, and death can establish our identities, give us meaning in life, and provide hope for the future, we need to understand what he said about God, about us, and about himself.

Summing up, I use the words of Arthur Ashe, the legendary Wimbledon player as he was dying of AIDS, which he got due to infected blood he received during a heart surgery in 1983. From world over, he received letters from his fans, one of which conveyed. "Why does GOD have to select you for such a bad disease"?

To this Arthur Ashe replied. The world over 5 crore children start playing tennis, 50 lakh learn to play tennis, 5 lakh learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to semi final, 2 to the finals, When I was holding a cup I never asked GOD "Why me?".

And today in pain I should not be asking GOD "Why me?"

Life after death promise keeps us Sweet, Trials keep us Strong, Sorrow keeps us Human, Failure keeps us Humble, Success keeps us Glowing, But only GOD KEEPS US GOING..... EVER STRONG…

THE FACT OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION


The main sources which directly attest the fact of Christ’s Resurrection are the Four Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul. Easter morning is so rich in incident, and so crowded with interested persons, that its complete history presents a rather complicated tableau. It is not surprising, therefore, that the partial accounts contained in each of the Four Gospels appear at first sight hard to harmonize. But whatever exegetic view as to the visit to the sepulcher by the pious women and the appearance of the angels we may defend, we cannot deny the Evangelists’ agreement as to the fact that the risen Christ appeared to one or more persons. According to St. Matthew, He appeared to the holy women, and again on a mountain in Galilee; according to St. Mark, He was seen by Mary Magdalene, by the two disciples at Emmaus, and the Eleven before his Ascension into heaven; according to St. Luke, He walked with the disciples to Emmaus, appeared to Peter and to the assembled disciples in Jerusalem; according to St. John, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the ten Apostles on Easter Sunday, to the Eleven a week later, and to the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15.3-8) enumerates another series of apparitions of Jesus after His Resurrection; he was seen by Cephas, by the Eleven, by more than 500 brethren, many of whom were still alive at the time of the Apostle’s writing, by James, by all the Apostles, and lastly by Paul himself.

Here is an outline of a possible harmony of the Evangelists’ account concerning the principal events of Easter Sunday.

The holy women carrying the spices previously prepared start out for the sepulcher before dawn, and reach it after sunrise; they are anxious about the heavy stone, but know nothing of the official guard of the sepulcher (Matthew 28.1-3; Mark 16.1-3; Luke 24.1; John 20.1).

The angel frightened the guards by his brightness, put them to flight, rolled away the stone, and seated himself not upon (ep autou), but above (epano autou) the stone (Matthew 28.2-4).

Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome approach the sepulcher, and see the stone rolled back, whereupon Mary Magdalene immediately returns to inform the Apostles (Mark 16.4; Luke 24.2; John 20.1-2).

The other two holy women enter the sepulcher, find an angel seated in the vestibule, who shows them the empty sepulcher, announces the Resurrection, and commissions them to tell the disciples and Peter that they shall see Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 28.5-7; Mark 16.5-7).

A second group of holy women, consisting of Joanna and her companions, arrive at the sepulcher, where they have probably agreed to meet the first group, enter the empty interior, and are admonished by two angels that Jesus has risen according to His prediction (Luke 24.10).

Not long after, Peter and John, who were notified by Mary Magdalen, arrive at the sepulchre and find the linen cloth in such a position as to exclude the supposition that the body was stolen; for they lay simply flat on the ground, showing that the sacred body had vanished out of them without touching them. When John notices this he believes (John 20.3-10).

Mary Magdalen returns to the sepulchre, sees first two angels within, and then Jesus Himself (John 20.11-l6; Mark 16.9).

The two groups of pious women, who probably met on their return to the city, are favored with the sight of Christ arisen, who commissions them to tell His brethren that they will see him in Galilee (Matthew 28.8-10; Mark 16.8).

The holy women relate their experiences to the Apostles, but find no belief (Mark 16.10-11; Luke 24.9-11).

Jesus appears to the disciples, at Emmaus, and they return to Jerusalem; the Apostles appear to waver between doubt and belief (Mark 16.12-13; Luke 24.13-35).

Christ appears to Peter, and therefore Peter and John firmly believe in the Resurrection (Luke 24.34; John 20.8).

After the return of the disciples from Emmaus, Jesus appears to all the Apostles excepting Thomas (Mark 16.14; Luke 24.36-43; John 20.19-25).

The harmony of the other apparitions of Christ after His Resurrection presents no special difficulties. Briefly, therefore, the fact of Christ’s Resurrection is attested by more than 500 eyewitnesses, whose experience, simplicity, and uprightness of life rendered them incapable of inventing such a fable, who lived at a time when any attempt to deceive could have been easily discovered, who had nothing in this life to gain, but everything to lose by their testimony, whose moral courage exhibited in their apostolic life can be explained only by their intimate conviction of the objective truth of their message. Again the fact of Christ’s Resurrection is attested by the eloquent silence of the Synagogue which had done everything to prevent deception, which could have easily discovered deception, if there had been any, which opposed only sleeping witnesses to the testimony of the Apostles, which did not punish the alleged carelessness of the official guard, and which could not answer the testimony of the Apostles except by threatening them “that they speak no more in this name to any man” (Acts 4.17). Finally the thousands and millions, both Jews and Gentiles, who believed the testimony of the Apostles in spite of all the disadvantages following from such a belief, in short the origin of the Church, requires for its explanation the reality of Christ’s Resurrection, for the rise of the Church without the Resurrection would have been a greater miracle than the Resurrection itself.

  1. OPPOSING THEORIES

By what means can the evidence for Christ’s Resurrection by overthrown? Three theories of explanation have been advanced, though the first two have hardly any adherents in our day.

(1)The Swoon Theory

There is the theory of those who assert that Christ did not really die upon the cross, that His supposed death was only a temporary swoon, and that His Resurrection was simply a return to consciousness. This was advocated by Paulus (“Exegetisches Handbuch”, 1842, II, p. 929) and in a modified form by Hase (“Gesch. Jesu”, n. 112), but it does not agree with the data furnished by the Gospels. The scourging and the crown of thorns, the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion, the three hours on the cross and the piercing of the Sufferer’s side cannot have brought on a mere swoon. His real death is attested by the centurion and the soldiers, by the friends of Jesus and by his most bitter enemies. His stay in a sealed sepulchre for thirty-six hours, in an atmosphere poisoned by the exhalations of a hundred pounds of spices, which would have of itself sufficed to cause death. Moreover, if Jesus had merely returned from a swoon, the feelings of Easter morning would have been those of sympathy rather than those of joy and triumph, the Apostles would have been roused to the duties of a sick chamber rather than to apostolic work, the life of the powerful wonderworker would have ended in ignoble solitude and inglorious obscurity, and His vaunted sinlessness would have changed into His silent approval of a lie as the foundation stone of His Church. No wonder that later critics of the Resurrection, like Strauss, have heaped contempt on the old theory of a swoon.

(2) The Imposition Theory

The disciples, it is said, stole the body of Jesus from the grave, and then proclaimed to men that their Lord had risen. This theory was anticipated by the Jews who “gave a great sum of money to the soldiers, saying. Say you, His disciples came by night, and stole him away when we were asleep” (Matthew 28.12 sq.). The same was urged by Celsus (Orig., “Contra Cels.”, II, 56) with some difference of detail. But to assume that the Apostles with a burden of this kind upon their consciences could have preached a kingdom of truth and righteousness as the one great effort of their lives, and that for the sake of that kingdom they could have suffered even unto death, is to assume one of those moral impossibilities which may pass for a moment in the heat of controversy, but must be dismissed without delay in the hour of good reflection.

(3) The Vision Theory

This theory as generally understood by its advocates does not allow visions caused by a Divine intervention, but only such as are the product of human agencies. For if a Divine intervention be admitted, we may as well believe, as far as principles are concerned, that God raised Jesus from the dead. But where in the present instance are the human agencies which might cause these visions? The idea of a resurrection from the grave was familiar to the disciples from their Jewish faith; they had also vague intimations in the prophecies of the Old Testament; finally, Jesus Himself had always associated His Resurrection with the predictions of his death. On the other hand, the disciples’ state of mind was one of great excitement; they treasured the memory of Christ with a fondness which made it almost impossible for them to believe that He was gone. In short, their whole mental condition was such as needed only the application of a spark to kindle the flame. The spark was applied by Mary Magdalen, and the flame at once spread with the rapidity and force of a conflagration. What she believed that she had seen, others immediately believed that they must see. Their expectations were fulfilled, and the conviction seized the members of the early Church that the Lord had really risen from the dead.

Such is the vision theory commonly defended by recent critics of the Resurrection. But however ingeniously it may be devised, it is quite impossible from an historical point of view.

It is incompatible with the state of mind of the Apostles; the theory presupposes faith and expectancy on the part of the Apostles, while in point of fact the disciples’ faith and expectancy followed their vision of the risen Christ.

It is inconsistent with the nature of Christ’s manifestations; they ought to have been connected with heavenly glory, or they should have continued the former intimate relations of Jesus with His disciples, while actually and consistently they presented quite a new phase that could not have been expected.

It does not agree with the conditions of the early Christian community; after the first excitement of Easter Sunday, the disciples as a body are noted for their cool deliberation rather than the exalted enthusiasm of a community of visionaries.

It is incompatible with the length of time during which the apparitions lasted; visions such as the critics suppose have never been known to last long, while some of Christ’s manifestations lasted a considerable period.

It is not consistent with the fact that the manifestations were made to numbers at the same instant.

It does not agree with the place where most of the manifestations were made. visionary appearances would have been expected in Galilee, while most apparitions of Jesus occurred in Judea.

It is inconsistent with the fact that the visions came to a sudden end on the day of Ascension.

Keim admits that enthusiasm, nervousness, and mental excitement on the part of the disciples do not supply a rational explanation of the facts as related in the Gospels. According to him, the visions were directly granted by God and the glorified Christ; they may even include a “corporeal appearance” for those who fear that without this they would lose all. But Keim’s theory satisfies neither the Church, since it abandons all the proofs of a bodily Resurrection of Jesus, nor the enemies of the Church, since it admits many of the Church’s dogmas; nor again is it consistent with itself, since it grants God’s special intervention in proof of the Church’s faith, though it starts with the denial of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, which is one of the principal objects of that faith.

(4) Modernist View

The Holy Office describes and condemns in the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh propositions of the Decree “Lamentabili”, the views advocated by a fourth class of opponents of the Resurrection. The former of these propositions reads. “The Resurrection of our Saviour is not properly a fact of the historical order, but a fact of the purely supernatural order neither proved nor provable, which Christian consciousness has little by little inferred from other facts.” This statement agrees with, and is further explained by the words of Loisy (“Autour d’un petit livre”, p. viii, 120-121, 169; “L’Evangile et l’Eglise”, pp. 74-78; 120-121; 171). According to Loisy, firstly, the entrance into life immortal of one risen from the dead is not subject to observation; it is a supernatural, hyper-historical fact, not capable of historical proof. The proofs alleged for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are inadequate; the empty sepulchre is only an indirect argument, while the apparitions of the risen Christ are open to suspicion on a priori grounds, being sensible impressions of a supernatural reality; and they are doubtful evidence from a critical point of view, on account of the discrepancies in the various Scriptural narratives and the mixed character of the detail connected with the apparitions. Secondly, if one prescinds from the faith of the Apostles, the testimony of the New Testament does not furnish a certain argument for the fact of the Resurrection. This faith of the Apostles is concerned not so much with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as with His immortal life; being based on the apparitions, which are unsatisfactory evidence from an historical point of view, its force is appreciated only by faith itself; being a development of the idea of an immortal Messiah, it is an evolution of Christian consciousness, though it is at the same time a corrective of the scandal of the Cross. The Holy Office rejects this view of the Resurrection when it condemns the thirty-seventh proposition in the DecreeLamentabili”. “The faith in the Resurrection of Christ pointed at the beginning no so much to the fact of the Resurrection, as to the immortal life of Christ with God.”

Besides the authoritative rejection of the foregoing view, we may submit the following three considerations which render it untenable. First, the contention that the Resurrection of Christ cannot be proved historically is not in accord with science. Science does not know enough about the limitations and the properties of a body raised from the dead to immortal life to warrant the assertion that such a body cannot be perceived by the senses; again in the case of Christ, the empty sepulcher with all its concrete circumstances cannot be explained except by a miraculous Divine intervention as supernatural in its character as the Resurrection of Jesus. Secondly, history does not allow us to regard the belief in the Resurrection as the result of a gradual evolution in Christian consciousness. The apparitions were not a mere projection of the disciples’ Messianic hope and expectation; their Messianic hope and expectations had to be revived by the apparitions. Again, the Apostles did not begin with preaching the immortal life of Christ with God, but they preached Christ’s Resurrection from the very beginning, they insisted on it as a fundamental fact and they described even some of the details connected with this fact. Acts, ii, 24, 31; iii, 15,26; iv, 10; v, 30; x, 39-40; xiii, 30, 37; xvii, 31-2; Rom., i,4; iv, 25; vi, 4,9; viii, 11, 34; x. etc. Thirdly, the denial of the historical certainty of Christ’s Resurrection involves several historical blunders. it questions the objective reality of the apparitions without any historical grounds for such a doubt; it denies the fact of the empty sepulchre in spite of solid historical evidence to the contrary; it questions even the fact of Christ’s burial in Joseph’s sepulchre, though this fact is based on the clear and simply unimpeachable testimony of history.

 

Acts 10.34a, 36-43; Col 3.1-4 (Or 1 Cor 5.6b-8);

Jn 20.1-18, In the afternoon Lk 24.13-35

 

 

 

Monday in the Octave of Easter: Year A 2017 - Matthew 28:8-15

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Monday in the Octave of Easter: Year A 2017 - Matthew 28:8-15