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The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 59)

The Resurrection: Not a Problem, Not a Riddle, But a Mystery
What's the difference between a problem and a mystery? A famous Catholic philosopher once explained it this way. A problem is to be solved; a riddle is to be worked out. A mystery – not as in a “whodunit” plot, but in a spiritual sense—is never solved. A mystery is entered into, explored, meditated upon, lived. We can indeed understand something of a mystery, we can understand it more and more as we live in the mystery. But we never fully comprehend it. The mystery keeps showing us ever new depths and dimensions. We never “get to the bottom of it”. As we “know” the mystery, we know that there is more to know.
After being tortured and executed on the cross, then buried in a tomb, Jesus of Nazareth was seen to be alive by many who had known and loved him in his earthly life and ministry. They conversed with him, shared meals with him, were taught by him, then commissioned by him. These encounters took place over a period of forty days. Then, at what turned out to be the final encounter, his closest followers saw him “ascend”, exit, disappear into the heavens.
The mystery of Easter is at the foundations of the Christian Faith. There are many aspects or “doors of entry” through which we contemplate the mystery. I can but point to a few here. Through the Easter season (50 days!), I hope we can deepen our faith in the mysteries of Easter.
The “Who” of the Resurrection: It would not necessarily be good news if just somebody was raised from dead. We would shake with horror, not with wonder, if Hitler were raised from the dead. The good news is that the Crucified One is raised—the one who healed and called us to love and taught us to pray “our Father”. If it is Jesus who is raised up, then sacrificial love has been raised up as the key to all existence.
Not just Resuscitation but Resurrection: The Scriptures give us several resurrection stories. Lazarus was brought back to life, as was the little daughter of the high official (Luke 8:40-42, 49-56). But they were raised to resume their old life; they would once again face death. But Jesus did not simply resume his life. He was raised above the power of death itself. “Death has no more dominion over him,” as St. Paul says. That is, he was raised up into Life Eternal, as the Crucified victor over death itself. Only so can he grant us such Life.
Reunion: As the risen Christ, Jesus appeared not to all, but to those who had come to know him and love him, to Peter and John and all the apostles, to Mary and “five hundred at one time” (1 Cor. 15:1 ff). Why did he not simply appear to all, everywhere in the world, compelling belief? Because knowledge of his Lordship can be real only through Love, not through sheer power. Until he comes again, the Easter mystery must be proclaimed and believed in this humble human way – from faith to faith, from love to love.
The Resurrection of the Body: We profess this aspect of the mystery in the Apostles' Creed. St. Luke tells us that when Jesus suddenly appeared to them the disciples thought they had seen a ghost. But Jesus showed them his hands and feet, his wounded side. And Jesus ate with them (Lk. 21, John 26)! The risen Jesus is no ghost, no disembodied spirit, but a fully human life—body, soul, and spirit. For he came to redeem us body, soul, and spirit. And so heaven will be no mere fellowship of spirits, but the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8). Certainly the resurrected body of Jesus was newly empowered by the Spirit, a “spiritual body” St. Paul calls it (1 Cor. 15). But in the resurrection, Jesus has prepared a place for the whole of the human person to enjoy eternal life in God .

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