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The Resurrection of Christ

Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
Conference by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Jesus appeared to His mother first, the Fathers of the Church tell us, to Mary Magdalen, then to the holy women, next to Peter, to the disciples of Emmaus, then through barred doors, to the apostles, where He instituted the Sacrament of Confession. What a joy to make this meditation with a master of Scripture and Tradition, Fr. Hardon.

Shall we start with a prayer?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among omen and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Mary, Mother of the Risen Savior, pray for us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our present meditation is on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As you know we are following the sequence of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. There are four successive weeks as St. Ignatius calls them. The fourth week begins with Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The focus in the fourth week of the Spiritual Exercises is on Christ’s victory over sin and death. And therefore, Christ providing us with a means that only God become man, could give us to conquer sin in our own lives and to finally conquer even bodily death by our own resurrection from the dead on the last day. Faith in Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead is also a fact of recorded history. It is part of Catholic catechesis, which I wish to stress during this meditation. In other words, I want to bring out as clearly as I can the importance of explaining the mystery of the Resurrection, so that we in turn can pass on this revealed truth and its implications in the lives of others.

In the fifth article of the Apostles Creed we say of Christ, “He descended into hell, on the third day, He rose again from the dead”. We therefore affirm two things: That after Jesus was crucified and buried His soul appeared to the souls of the just who are awaiting their entrance into heaven, and then, on the third day after Good Friday Christ’s body rose glorious from the grave. Our main concern, however, is to look more closely at the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection on Easter Sunday. And the reason is that we wish to more effectively understand this dogma of faith and thus be able to better explain it to others. We can explain our faith to others only in the measure that we grasp its meaning ourselves. Three words in the statement, therefore, need to be stressed, they are fact, faith and effectively. It is remarkable how sincerely people may believe in Christ’s resurrection from the dead, without realizing that Christ’s resurrection is also and antecedently a provable historical fact. What we are to bring out is that there are two kinds of truths that we are expected to believe. There are truths which God revealed, which do not have, as you may say, historical evidence, thus the Holy Trinity, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But Christ’s resurrection from the dead, though indeed a mystery of faith, is grounded in factual, historical evidence. Immediately we see how the word faith or belief, if you wish, takes on a special meaning when applied to what happened on Easter Sunday. There was no need for a special, divine revelation to tell the holy women and disciples that Jesus had actually risen in His own body from the grave. They spoke with Him, they touched Him, they ate with Him and saw Him face to face, that was a fact. But they had to believe that as He had promised, He would lay down His life and take it up again. They had to believe that when He rebuked the disciples on the way to Emmaus for not believing, “You foolish men”, He told them, “so slow to believe in the full message of the prophets. Was it not ordained that Christ should suffer and so enter into His glory?” Whatever else as teachers and trainers of others, we are to do, we are to make clear, that Christ’s resurrection from the dead is an article of faith. Christ rose glorious from the grave, hear it, only, (comma) only because He underwent His passion. There is no glory without the cross.

In teaching Christ’s resurrection, we should concentrate on those aspects, aspects of Christ’s resurrection which the Church over the last twenty centuries especially concentrated on. And what are they? They are especially three, and these three, will be the concentration of our meditation this evening. They are first, the historical reality of Christ’s rising from the dead. They are second, Christ’s promise of our own final bodily resurrection from the grave, and the Holy Eucharist as Jesus Christ’s continued presence on earth in His risen humanity.

First then, the Resurrection as a historical reality. Over the centuries there have been many theories trying to explain away the real bodily resurrection of Christ. And let me tell you, articles in journals, books, big, I’ll use the word, fat volumes stuffed with learned ammunition devoid of the truth, undermining the reality of Christ’s bodily, physical, real resurrection. One theory for example, claims that Jesus did not really die on the cross. Another theory says that His body was stolen from the grave by His disciples who then proclaimed that He had risen. Still others insist that the disciples imagined Christ came back from the dead. Others again, that Christ’s resurrection was in the purely, purely supernatural order. What these learned, heretics I call them, call the super historical order which means, it cannot be established on factual grounds. Over the years in teaching Christology, especially to my Jesuit students, I spend weeks concentrating on the historicity of Christ’s resurrection. I know of no learned critic of Christianity, I know of none, who does not try to undermine the Christian faith by denying in subtle, learned language, the historical reality of Christ’s bodily rising from the grave. In teaching this to others, and notice my focus of this meditation will be how we are to understand Christ’s resurrection ourselves in order to be pedagogues of Christ’s resurrection to others. We need not go into a lot of detail, but we should repair those who we train or teach, to give them an intelligent proof that Jesus truly rose from the dead, He was really crucified, He really died, He was really buried, and He truly rose from the dead.

The heart, as we may call it, of the historical evidence for Christ’s real resurrection is the facts of recorded history. If anyone will not accept the data provided by the Gospels and the first century Church, that person, I can say, has no grounds for accepting any history of equal antiquity. We have written testimony to Christ’s bodily resurrection that is up to one thousand years closer to what actually happened than any other event that took place as far back in comparable secular history. Those who will not accept the historical facts of the Gospels, including the resurrection of Jesus, have a very simple choice. They can either deny, deny the truth of the events described by relatives, Thuycides among the Greeks four, five hundred years before Christ or by Pliny, Caesar and Livy among the Romans, or by Josephus in the first century of the Christian era. And if the person does not want to accept those as facts, then there are no valid grounds, I mean it, there are no valid grounds for accepting anything as authentically historical in anything which we call history. Why not, because we have manuscripts for the Gospels that are up to a millennium older than the written records of events narrated by these commonly accepted historians of secular history. Why, because the disciples who followed Jesus were anything but ready to accept the fact of Christ’s resurrection. Remember. The women went out first thing in the morning, came back to the apostles, and the apostles, did they believe? No. The women, they reported they had seen Jesus. And even after Christ appeared physically to the disciples, they thought they were seeing a ghost. And as Augustine tells us, the shining proof for the unwillingness among the apostles to believe was the theologian apostle, Thomas. A week after Christ’s resurrection, Christ did him the favor of appearing and then told him, all right Thomas, now here I am. All of this is just the opposite of credulity. These same disciples, how this needs to be stressed, after all their stubborn resistance in accepting Christ’s resurrection, and they finally accepted it, then we know one apostle after another laid down his life in witness to the reality of Christ’s resurrection. And Peter on Pentecost Sunday, could not have been more clear. Over the centuries, the Church teaches that Peter’s Pentecost homily is the synthesis of the whole Gospel, everything which the New Testament contains is summarized in that short homily preached by Peter on Pentecost Sunday. And at the heart of that homily is Peter’s insistence, you crucified Jesus and He rose from the dead. So far, number one.

The second great truth of our faith, which is of the essence of our faith in the Resurrection is the Holy Eucharist. In one sentence, the Risen Christ is on earth in the Blessed Sacrament. Over the years in teaching this subject and in lecturing to people, I’ve never failed to bring out what I’m afraid many Catholics do not sufficiently appreciate. When we speak of the Real Presence, we’d better, we’d better know what we mean by the reality behind that adjective real. Do we mean, do we mean that God is really present in the Blessed Sacrament? Well, I must say, not exactly. Suppose I were to ask, was God present on earth before the Incarnation? The answer that any one who understands his faith should be, of course. Was God present in Nazareth before the Incarnation? He had to be, otherwise there would not have been a Nazareth. Was God present in Mary? He had to be, otherwise there would not have been a Mary. We begin, to begin, to begin to understand the Real Presence the moment we affirm that the Holy Eucharist began in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To see the implications of that statement is to begin to understand what we mean by the Real Presence. Back to our original question. What is the reality behind the adjective real in Real Presence? It is the Incarnate Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is God become Man. It is God, hear it, it is God present in space and time, what a statement, the only one who has the faith can affirm this Jesus Christ. Therefore, the living God, who assumed a human nature of His human mother, was conceived. Carried by her for nine months, born in Bethlehem, lived for some thirty years at Nazareth, preached and performed astounding wonders during His three years of ministry in Palestine; was unjustly condemned to death, crucified and died. But this Jesus Christ, in that same human nature which He assumed at the Incarnation, though He really died on Good Friday, really rose on Easter Sunday. And we dare not, I repeat, we dare not qualify one iota by saying there is any difference between the Jesus now at the right hand of His heavenly Father. The same one who forty days after His resurrection ascended into heaven and the Jesus who is present on our altars, reserved in the tabernacle, Whom we receive in Holy Communion. We, therefore, say, and for two thousand years the Catholic Church has been so teaching, God became man for two profoundly, divinely wise reasons. God became man that as man He could die on the cross. But, God became man that having died on the cross and risen from the dead, He might now, in His risen humanity, present, as we believe in the Blessed Sacrament, continue the salvivic work which He began the moment He rose from the grave. And here we open up an ocean of supernatural wisdom. I hope I will be clear, God became man, indeed, that by His bodily death on the cross He might thereby redeem a sinful world. However, redeeming a sinful world is one thing, this God became man in order to reassume His now glorified humanity, so that through this risen humanity He might communicate the graces that He had won for us by His death on the cross. What are we saying? We are saying that Jesus by His death on the cross, the moment He died, the Church came into existence. The years of preparation were a prelude to what Christ intended. He intended to found a Church and the Church, we believe, came into existence the moment Jesus died. But within this Church there is, that is why Christ established the Church, within this Church there is a treasury of grace which Christ communicates to those who believe in His name. And the single most important source of this grace in the Church which Christ founded, the most important source of His grace, I repeat, is Christ Himself present on earth in the Holy Eucharist. And this, we must say, is why Christ, having died on the cross, rose from the dead. God became man, let’s repeat, God became man not only or mainly to die as man for our redemption. God became man so He might continue after rising from the dead to live as man, there as man on earth, until the last day as our principle source of grace. The Holy Eucharist is our main, primordial, fundamental, indispensable source of grace, and whatever else you carry away from this meditation on the resurrection of Christ, I beg you in the name of Jesus, I beg you, to carry away this truth. Jesus Christ the Risen Savior is on earth and He is here mainly to provide us with the grace that His risen humanity wants to give us. On one condition, that we have the faith to believe in His Presence and approach Him, worship Him, receive Him, as often and with as much fervor as with the grace that He provides we can. The Eucharist is the means of making saints. No one, no one has ever become a saint without the Eucharist. No one.

We still have a part three to our meditation. Part one, remember, was the historical reality of Christ’s bodily rising from the dead. Part two is how the Resurrection is a continuing reality in the Holy Eucharist. And part three is, ‘that Christ’s Resurrection is a promise of our own resurrection from the dead’. Peter’s insistence on Jesus the man being raised back to life by the power of God is the heart of the matter. Later on Peter would tell the Jews, the Father and the Author of Life you have killed, but on Pentecost it was necessary to emphasize that Jesus was a true man, who truly died and by divine power was truly raised from the dead. Christians must be firmly convinced that Jesus, Himself, rose from the dead, otherwise their faith in the final resurrection will lack the grounds for believing that Peter provided the first converts to Christianity on Pentecost Sunday. What Peter wanted to bring out, and Paul will make clearer as we go along, Jesus was the first man raised from the dead. As God He raised Himself, as man, He was the first one to be raised, and we are to follow.

Now St. Paul, again, in the Acts. The longest sustained narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, begins with St. Paul’s unsuccessful effort to convert his fellow Jews to Christianity. Through five chapters, no less, chapters 25, 24, 23, 22, and 21, St. Luke tells the story of Paul’s stay in Jerusalem. Paul preached there at length, but the high point of his preaching was the fact that the followers of Christ, like the Master, will one day rise glorious from the grave. The Jews, we are told, tried to kill Paul, and then had him arrested by the Roman authorities. While pleading to his Roman citizenship, he was temporarily freed from his chains. During his period of freedom, he spoke before the assembled Sanhedrin, the highest court in Judaism. He told the Jews, “It is for our hope in the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial”. On trial before Felix the Roman governor, Paul, again defended himself against the charges which the Jews were making. He told the governor, that the real grievance against him was not his belief in the final resurrection. “I hold the same hope in God as they, the Jews, do, that there will be a resurrection of good men and bad men alike. In these things I, as much as they, do my best to keep a clear conscience at all times before God and man.” The opposition to Paul was deeper. All his Jewish enemies opposed Paul’s teaching, because he claimed that Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. And Jesus proved His claims by allowing Himself to be killed and then rising from the dead after three days. In teaching the final resurrection of the body we in sharing this faith with others must show how this relates to Christ’s divinity. It is because Christ is the living God in human form that He has the power to raise mankind from the grave at the General Judgment. Death came into the world through sin, we must all die because we have all been conceived in sin. But we shall all rise again in our bodies because Jesus Christ died on a cross to redeem us and proved that we are redeemed by raising Himself from the dead on Easter Sunday. Except for the Savior, we could not hope to attain either eternal happiness for our souls or eternal joy for our bodies. Why not? Because, Christ our Lord, by His death on the cross, merited two things. He merited our salvation and, therefore, our eternal happiness in soul. Unless Christ had died, none of us could reach heaven. But, unless Christ had died, none of us could hope to rise glorious from the grave. Why not? Because, Jesus assumed the penalty which God had imposed on the human race for sin. What was that penalty? Bodily death. And just as bodily death is the proof of our spiritual death in sin, so our resurrection of the body will be God’s universal proof of our restoration in soul to reunion in spirit with a God from whom we were estranged by sin. Christ’s bodily death, therefore, was Christ as man taking upon Himself the penalty that was due to all of us, namely death of the body. Rising from the dead, Christ proved historically that we were truly redeemed. He really died, but He really rose from the dead, which is the evidence we have that our sins have truly been remitted. Until the last day we believe that, but on the last day no longer have to be a matter of faith. We will experience the restoration of our supernatural life in soul by the restoration of our bodily life in rising glorious from the grave. There is a very close intimacy between death of soul and death of body, and correspondingly, there is a necessary relationship between the rising of the body and the restoration of grace in the soul.

One concluding observation. Christ’s body after the Resurrection was glorified. We know that the full, glorified state of His risen body, Jesus did not reveal during the forty days He spent in Palestine before the Ascension. The fullness of that glory is revealed only in heaven, indeed, we may say, will be totally revealed only when we in our bodies join Jesus Christ in His body. Because, one of the main reasons why we are to rise bodily on the last day, is that we might join with Christ in the joy of His Resurrection. Sharing with Him not only in the Beatific Vision that Jesus experiences in His soul, but sharing in the pleasures of the body of the Risen body of Christ experiences now in heaven.

Lord Jesus, we believe that You rose from the dead, really, truly, historically. We believe You, our Risen Savior, are with us on earth in the Holy Eucharist. We believe, with the depths of our hope, that one day we shall be with You our Risen Savior in Your glorified body, and we glorified by You in Your company in a glorious eternity for which we were made. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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