by Father Robert Lauder
11th in a series
In re-reading Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011, pp. 362), I found some of the statements that the Holy Father makes about the Risen Christ especially interesting. Reflecting on my own experience of receiving religious instruction from grammar school right through college, I think that the mystery of the Resurrection was greatly neglected.
An historian of theology, I suspect, could explain in detail how this happened, but whatever the reason, this central mystery of Christianity should never be neglected in any presentation of the Christian faith.
In discussing the appearances of Christ after the Resurrection, Pope Benedict points out that the apostles don’t seem to recognize the Lord immediately. When they do recognize Him, the Holy Father suggests that they recognize Him from within rather than recognizing Him from His physical appearance. The pope suggests that there is a kind of dialectic of recognition and non-recognition.
He writes the following:
“This dialectic of recognition and non-recognition corresponds to the manner of the apparitions. Jesus comes through closed doors; he suddenly stands in their midst. And in the same way he suddenly withdraws again, as at the end of the Emmaus encounter. His presence is entirely physical, yet he is not bound by physical laws, by the laws of space and time. In this remarkable dialectic of identity and otherness, of real physicality and freedom from the constraints of the body, we see the special mysterious nature of the risen Lord’s new existence. Both elements apply here: he is the same embodied man, and he is the new man, having entered upon a different manner of existence.” (p. 266)
The type of existence that the Risen Lord has passed into is very mysterious to us. I suggest that the dialectic of recognition and non-recognition can be a help to us as we allow our relationship with Christ to develop. We have the Scriptures to guide us and the sacraments to aid us so that there may be times when we are very aware of the presence of Christ in our lives.
In my own life, I find that during some moments when I am praying, the Risen Lord is very real to me. At some other times, I am not aware of His presence. That does not mean He is not present but that I may not be focusing on His presence. That Christ is not bound by physical laws means that He can be present everywhere, that there is not a moment when He forgets us or neglects us. Christ’s conquest of death is a victory for Love.
Commenting on the way that God enters into the lives of people, the Holy Father writes the following:
“It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently, that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind; that he becomes man and so can be overlooked by his contemporaries and by the decisive forces within history; that he suffers and dies and that, having risen again, he chooses to come to mankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself; that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him.
“And yet – is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love.” (p. 276)
I believe deeply that giving freedom is the divine way.
Reflecting on the mystery of the Risen Christ in our lives and reading some contemporary Catholic theology, I have come to believe when people die in union with the Risen Christ they enter a new way of existence. They are wherever the Risen Christ is.
For example, I believe that when I celebrate the Eucharist tomorrow morning, my deceased father, mother and sister will be present. I don’t mean that they will be present only in my memory. I mean that they will really be present as will the Blessed Mother and all the saints. Of course it is impossible to imagine this – billions of people standing around the altar!
But I no longer think, as I once did, of the death of our loved ones as a separation from us. I believe that when our loved ones die in union with the Risen Christ they are closer to us than ever. Obviously, we cannot see them or touch them or hear them speak. Still, I believe that they are present. This is part of what the Risen Christ’s victory over death means. This is part of what Love’s victory over death means.