The events of recent weeks—the enormous concentration of power now vested in the Executive Branch of our Government, the effective lack of checks and balances, the cost of it all—sometimes make the truths of faith seem irrelevant. This sense of helplessness is exponentially increased for many when they realize that those who call themselves Catholics have played a central role in bringing about this increasing absolute rule among us. We might be somewhat consoled if this were a system imposed upon us by some alien or demonic power. But, at bottom, it is the result of free choices of presumably otherwise normal citizens. We also might console ourselves that it may not be as bad as it looks were it not for the suspicion that it is in fact much worse. We just do not want to know.
Catholics could have prevented this radical political turning, but in fact many were and are supportive, indeed enthusiastically so. The key issues of the faith are no longer considered to be basic public issues. The teaching authority of the Church, even when it is clear, is ignored or relativized. We are encouraged to "move on." Generally, this admonition means accepting or accommodating ourselves to what are now taken to be settled facts no matter what they are.
We are becoming like Jews and Christians in Muslim lands. If we politely agree to have no effect in the public order, if we submissively pay the taxes to support this new system, we will be allowed to survive after a fashion. We can have a private, not a public presence.
Easter, the commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ, goes on, of course, no matter in what the social or political order in which we find ourselves. The teaching of Easter is needed if we would make ultimate sense of our lives. Intellectual history, in one sense, is a desperate effort to find a sensible alternative explanation to Christian revelation. The modern mind is, in a way, embarrassed that it has not come up with such an alternative that makes as much ultimate sense as the Resurrection. But, of course, this teaching is the consequence of a fact that happened not of our own making. We might, in some sense, say that it was prophesized to happen, but that does not change the astonishing fact.
Various theories are proposed to explain why the Resurrection "cannot" be true or could not have happened. We have historical analyses seeking to demonstrate that Christ did not exist. Or if He did, He was only human. The evidence of His resurrection is called unreliable. The Apostles dreamed it up after the fact.
Then we have the scientific theories, all of which strive to prove that this doctrine is incoherent, that it lacks evidence that can be repeated or tested in a laboratory.
We have psychological theories which reduce the objective order to wishes or dreams. Volumes have been filled with endeavors to "prove" that this event could not have happened, did not happen, or may not happen.
The truth of the Resurrection, however, is seen as a critique of the actual public order, which it is. The fact and teaching of the Resurrection of Christ and of our own as a result are, none the less, teachings independent of the historical time or place we now live. They belong to the order of things that will happen whether we believe it or not. Nothing—no political or social order—will be more important than the understanding of our being implied in resurrection. This reality teaches us what each of us is. The Creed says that "we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting."
We can rightly assume that the teaching of the resurrection of the body is a minority opinion. We can also suspect that few see any relation between how we live our lives and what this doctrine is about. It has been the abiding task of the teaching Church to relate doctrine to practice. Things will not "go" rightly if we do not live rightly. We will generally not live rightly if we do not think rightly.
We are given intelligence in order that we might understand what we are. We are given freedom in order that, understanding what we are, we might choose to be what we are. This combination of reason and liberty results in the possibility of our choosing to reject what we are.
Why would we reject what we are? We would do it if we did not want to be what we are intended to be. We can only choose this rejection if we think we can come up with something better. We are inclined to think this way when we suspect that the kind of being and end that we are given interferes with something we think we want.
We will thus reject what we are in order to establish a way of life and explanation that depends on nothing but ourselves. "As man grows up and becomes emancipated, he wants to liberate himself from this submission and become free and adult, able to organize himself and make his own decisions, even thinking he can do without God," Benedict XVI recently observed. "Precisely this state is delicate and can lead to atheism, yet even this frequently conceals the need to discover God's true Face" (L'Osservatore Romano, English, March 17, 2010).
Paradoxically, the rejection of God can be, in another sense, a seeking for the Face of God. The very rejection of God implies that we search for an alternative that includes the rejection of what is said to be the Christian God. This alternative will never be complete. The celebration of Easter always implies an understanding of what we are and of what the world is that makes more sense than the alternatives when we see them spelled out and lived out. The resurrection will seem preposterous until we think about it.
We might propose an alternate "creed." Thus, "I do not believe in God; He did not 'create' the heaven and the earth. Christ did not rise again. Man will not be risen again either. He will not be judged. He will complete his life at the end of his days however it happens. Nothing will be heard of him again. His existence meant nothing to anybody including to himself or to a 'God.' His highest aspirations are to be left alone in the Cosmos for the fleeting moments of his existence."
The resurrection of the body puts things together again. It restores our face to the Face of God as we see in Christ. What strikes us about the Apostles, those curious men, was that after the Resurrection of Christ, they rushed to "see," to "hear," to "touch." They even "smelled" the fish being grilled on the seashore. They "tasted" it. They did not begin from some theory. Whatever theory they may have had ahead of time, they doubted. Their own "theory" began with what they saw and heard.
We do not know what percentage of human beings who will come into existence on this planet are already dead having been initially judged, awaiting the judgment that puts it all together. Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. He, having been crucified, died, was buried, and rose again. He told us that we were made to follow Him.
Nothing better has been proposed to us. It is not a myth. It is based on the fact that the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. Our minds keep coming back to this fact if we would know what we are. The world is composed of those who know what they are and those who are afraid to know what they are if it involves even their own resurrection.
Yet, in nothing else is there hope. This is what Easter is about.