In Resurrectione Domini Nostri Jesu Christi
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem., Prior
We are all of us here this morning to celebrate the rising of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. This is not a metaphorical event, a wish of believers transposed onto reality, but the real reunion of His human soul returning from Limbo with His human body lying in the Holy Sepulcher. It is into this historical event that we are incorporated, that we partake and claim as our own identity, through holy baptism.
And so we heard in the second reading today, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” We, therefore, who have been baptized into Christ, who hope to rise on the last day just as bodily as did our Lord on Easter Sunday—we must necessarily undergo a massive mentality shift. No longer living for this life alone, we look to where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Why? Because we are supposed to sit there too.
This mentality shift needs daily attention. It’s not enough to claim, “I follow Jesus!” and then be just as worldly as an unbeliever who has no hope. Death is not the end of all things, but the gateway to life everlasting. We all will die, but at that moment our souls do not cease to exist; they immediately encounter Christ for judgment, for rewards or punishment.
Contrast this with the mentality that has been forced upon us in this last year of the pandemic. We have been terrorized—literally, fear has become the tool to control our actions; it is the mentality assumed for—or really imposed upon—all good law-abiding citizens. Fr. Abbot gave us some statistics on Thursday regarding the practice of our faith—or lack thereof—in the United States. So let me give you a few statistics gleaned just two days ago from the Center for Disease Control. In our nation of more than 328,000,000 people, just over 9% have been registered as having COVID-19. And of these cases, 1.8% resulted in death. And as we know, in 94% of those deaths the virus was combined with an average almost four co-morbidities. This disease is currently the third-leading cause of death in the United States, safely behind heart disease and cancer.
But what are people more afraid of, what has concretely changed their lives more: heart disease and cancer, or getting COVID? Do they try harder to avoid COVID or sin? How have the measures taken to prevent the spread of this disease become an obsession, and one that’s crossed all bounds of right reason? It’s as if the worst possible thing in life is death. It used to be that men would rather die than lose their good name or live on in servitude. So is it worth it, even on the natural level, that we can no longer associate with one another in a human manner, in person rather than via internet, face to face rather than mask to mask? Can anyone say it is really right that someone should die without the consolation of being surrounded by family? Worst of all, how can a disease—yes, a real disease, I had it, it was awful—how can a disease that for most people might but probably won’t kill the body prevent someone from receiving the sacraments Jesus Christ Himself instituted to prepare us for passing over into the undiscovered country?
On the feast of the resurrection of our Lord, we have to ask ourselves, what is our mentality? How does it play out concretely in our lives? The One Who rose from the dead told us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Let alone eternal death, fear kills our souls even while our bodies live. And so He cried out, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Take courage, be of good cheer, have confidence; I have conquered the world!” And the proof is the empty tomb.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t take reasonable measures to avoid getting sick. But I am saying we must not live our lives dominated by terror of a disease. Why doesn’t Jesus want us to be so afraid? Because fear prevents us from doing what is good in order to avoid perhaps suffering evil. But doing what is good is what makes us like Him, makes us like God.
St. Paul tells us, “Since the children share in blood and flesh, [Christ] likewise shared in them, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” Yes, to be freed from endless, useless fear is the greatest of Easter news. And so, all of us who celebrate the resurrection of Christ today, who have been raised with Christ, we must seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. We have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. For if nothing, not even disease or death, can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord, what can truly terrify us?
Rising from the dead is an experience not just of Christ on Easter morning, nor of mankind as a whole on the Last Day, but of everyone who, like the women in the Gospel, departs from the tomb, the place needed on account of sin’s just punishment; departs from the death of sin through the mercy and forgiveness of Christ; departs quickly because we should never delay our conversion or dawdle in our iniquity.
The silence which fills that garden enables us to hear the whisper of a gentle breeze: “I am the Living One and I am with you” (cf. Ex 3:14). The curtain of the temple is torn in two. At last we see our Lord’s face. And we know fully His name: mercy and faithfulness.
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