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3rd Sunday of Easter
ACTS 2.14, 22-28
1 PETER 1.17-21
During the weeks after Easter, the church puts us in touch with the first men and women who experienced the risen Jesus in an attempt to deepen our appreciation and understanding of this, the linchpin of our faith. In describing those early believers, Gunther Bornkamm once remarked, “The men and women who encounter the risen Christ in the Easter stories have come to an end of their wisdom. They are alarmed and disturbed by his death, mourners wandering about the grave of the Lord in their helpless love. . . like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, their last hopes are destroyed” (Jesus of Nazareth, Harper and Row, New York. 1960). Therefore it is erroneous to think that the resurrection narratives can be explained away as a human invention or as a product of wish-fulfillment on the part of Jesus’ disciples. After Jesus’ death, they were at a loss; it was only through their revelatory experiences of the risen Lord that the disciples began to understand the Jesus event as a work of God which forever changed the course of human history. As the early believers explained in today’s first two readings, Jesus was sent according to the set plan and purpose of God; through his dying and his resurrection God has worked miracles, signs and wonders in our midst (Acts). All our faith and hope as believers are centered on this mystery (1 Peter).
In his assessment of the resurrection appearances and of the gospel narratives which have preserved these experiences, Bas Van Jersel suggested that these texts were intended not only to inform would be believers concerning the fact of Jesus-risen but also as an interpretation of his resurrection for the life of the disciple (“The Resurrection of Jesus”, The New Concilium, Herder and herder, New York. 1965). In other words, accounts such as the one recorded in today’s gospel help us to understand that faith in the resurrection is not confined to a past event; nor is it relegated solely to a future moment when we also be raised by God from death. Rather, the resurrection appearances represent the church’s understanding concerning the permanent presence of the risen Lord with us now. How and in what manner do we experience him among us? What are the implications of his presence? How must it influence our faith? our life style?
Matthew, in his gospel, told his readers that they would find and experience Jesus in the hungry when they fed them; in the thirsty when they gave a drink of water; in the stranger to whom they gave a welcome; in the naked whom they clothed, in the ill whom they cared for and in the prisoner whom they visited. In another passage, the evangelist assured his contemporaries of an experience of Jesus’ presence whenever and wherever two or three would gather together in prayer (Matthew 25.35-36, 18.20). For his part, the fourth evangelist offered the assurance of Jesus’ abiding presence in the gift of the Spirit. Like Jesus, the Spirit would teach the disciples, remind them of his words and works, guide them to the truth and be with them always (John 14.16).
In today’s gospel, Luke reminds believers that the ultimate encounter with the permanent presence of the risen Jesus comes in the breaking open of the Word and in the Breaking of the Bread which is the Eucharist.
ACTS 2.14, 22-28
The book of Acts has sometimes been called the account of how the proclaimer became the proclaimed. In Acts, Luke builds a bridge between Jesus. who came in human flesh with a ministry of healing and reconciliation. . . who died on the cross for the salvation of all peoples. . . who rose in victory over death and sin to live forever. . . and the church. whose presence in the world continues to manifest the saving plan and purpose of God in human history. In this excerpted pericope. Peter and the Eleven are portrayed as empowered by the Spirit and intent upon proclaiming the good news of salvation just as Jesus had been endowed with the Spirit when he inaugurated his public ministry (see Luke 4.14-21). Among the Israelites, there was a widespread belief that God had “closed the heavens” and that the Holy Spirit had descended on no one, prophet or leader, since the last of the canonical prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi (Jerome Crowe, The Acts, Michael Glazier Inc., Wilmington. 1983). Aware of this belief, Luke made it clear in his account of Jesus (Luke) and of the church (Acts) that God rent the heavens and came down (Isaiah 63.19) and has poured out his Spirit on all of humankind (Joel 2.1).
Like the other sermons or discourses in Acts, Peter’s reflects a Lucan hand. A literary technique, popular and well documented in Hellenistic literature, speeches or sermons attributed to key character in a story were actually a careful composition of the author and served a vehicle of the ideas he wished to convey to his readers. Constituting approximately one quarter of the book of Acts, the twenty-four discourses vary in form and content; by incorporating these sermons into Acts, Luke has addressed the missionary apologetic and ecclesial concerns of his readers.
In this particular section of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, Luke defends the manner of Jesus’ ministry and death on the cross as a part of the “set purpose and plan of God” (vs. 23) for our salvation. As Joseph Fitzmyer has explained, Luke focuses on “the inbreaking of divine salvific activity into human history with the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth among mankind.” Everything that happened to Jesus, even his ignominious passion and death, as well as everything that will happen to the church because of its faith in Jesus “is a manifestation of a plan of God to bring about the salvation of human beings who recognize and accept the plan.” (The Gospel According to Luke, Anchor Bible, Vol. 28, Doubleday and Co., New York. 1981). But God’s saving plan did not end on Calvary; indeed God raised Jesus to life thereby breaking the grip of sin and death upon believers.
By citing Psalm 16, Luke drew on the support of the Hebrew scriptures, as the other evangelists and Paul, particularly when the intended audience of the discourse was Jewish (vs. 22). This psalm and others like it (e.g. Pss. 22, 110, 118) were used extensively by the early church in their efforts to present Jesus as the promised Savior and authentic fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hopes. Today its words continue to strike a chord in the hearts of those who understand Jesus as the center and culmination of the two testaments (Old Testament New Testament) of our faith.
1 PETER 1.17-21
Someone whose uniqueness distinguishes him/her from the mainstream of human society or whose ideas and values are unsynchronized with those of the general population is often said to “march to the beat of a different drummer.” In his letter to the Christians of Asia Minor the pseudonymous author of 1 Peter encouraged his readers to aspire to a similar description. Having been delivered by Christ from the futility of their former way of life, Christians should subsequently conduct themselves in a worthy manner. More often than not, this required that they cease or forego certain activities while dedicating themselves to a life-style which was consonant with the grace of their Christian vocation.
Earlier in his letter the author had characterized the life of a person before being redeemed as one dominated by ignorance and inordinate desire (vs. 14). As William Barclay (“Peter,” The Daily Study Bible, The St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh. 1975) explained, the pagan world was suffocated by ignorance, convinced by its philosophers that God was unknowable. “It is hard,” said Plato, “to investigate and find the framer and the father of the universe; and if one did find him, it would be impossible to express him in terms which all could understand.” Aristotle spoke of God as the “supreme cause, by all men dreamed of and by no men known.” Coupled with this burden of frustrated ignorance was an attitude of self-abandon with regard to the senses. Whereas “desperate poverty prevailed at the lower end of the social scale,” the higher echelons were notorious for their “sheer fleshliness.” By their own historians’ accounts, Romans and Greeks were shamelessly indulgent. At one banquet, Emperor Vitellius served two thousand fish, seven thousand birds and thousands of dollars worth of peacock’s brains and nightingales tongues. Martial tells of women who had reached their tenth husband; Jerome wrote of a woman married to her twenty-third husband, she being his twenty-first wife. But believers in Jesus, having been rescued from such godlessness were to live otherwise!
In terms reminiscent of the exodus from Egypt, the author of 1 Peter called his readers to be reverent sojourners, faithful to their constant companion on their journey through life, viz. Jesus. By his blood they had been redeemed and through him they had the joy of knowing God. No longer simply the supreme cause who could not be known or understood but only dreamed of, God, the loving Father had revealed himself and his saving plan in the person and mission of Jesus.
Like the recipients of 1 Peter, believers on the brink of the twenty-first century live in societies that are often characterized by interests and values contrary to those of the gospel. This ancient Christian author reminds his readers that their baptismal commitment calls them to center their faith and hope in God (vs. 21) and to “march to the beat of his drum.”
Journey to Emmaus
Like the two disciples making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, contemporary believers of Jesus live after the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and in the interim between his two advents. Like Cleopas and his companion, we search for the daily experience of Jesus which sustains and strengthens our hope and which inspires our faithful discipleship. In their encounter with the risen Lord, we learn of the manner in which he remains present until his climactic appearance in glory.
In this superb narrative, Luke has provided his readers with a treasure of Christological and apologetic insights drawn from the different levels of gospel tradition. At the very basis of the story was the experience of the first witnesses of Jesus, vindicated by God and risen from death to glory. Surrounding that primitive core of gospel kerygma was the ongoing experience of the church in Syrian Antioch in the mid-80s C.E. In the almost two generations following Jesus’ death on the cross, the Antioch Christians had been encountering the risen Lord in the sacramental breaking of the bread. For his part, the evangelist had structured this narrative in a recognizable liturgical pattern. In both word (vs. 27) and sacrament (vs. 30) the risen Lord is made known and communicated to the believing community.
Notice the motif of delayed recognition which informed this and most of the other resurrection narratives. Initially, the disciples did not recognize Jesus because he was transformed by the glory of his resurrection. Nevertheless, Luke was careful (as were the other evangelists) to underscore the continuity between the Jesus whom the disciples had known during his ministry and the risen Lord whom they were now encountering. He taught them, ate with them and open their eyes to the knowledge of his presence.
As Jesus broke open the word for them (“he interpreted for them every passage of Scripture which referred to him”, vs. 27) the disciples’ hearts began to burn within them (vs. 32). They implored him “Stay with us!” (vs. 29). Then, in a manner which recalled his last supper with them before his cross, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them; at that point, they came to know him. The searching, hoping fire in their hearts was transformed into recognition and faith.
Luke draws attention to the significance of this moment by declaring, “with that, their eyes were opened” (vs. 31). Opened eyes (a term mentioned eight times in the New Testament, six of which are in Luke-Acts) indicated a deepened understanding of revelation. In this instance, the disciples’ opened eyes meant that they had begun to comprehend the mystery of Jesus, dead, risen and ever present. Jesus’ disappearance at the point of recognition (“he vanished from their sight,” vs. 31) was not a disappointment but yet another signal that the risen Lord would remain forever with his disciples in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of his word.
The experience of those early disciples is ours at every Eucharistic celebration. With fire in our hearts, the word reveals who he is; in the blessed and broken bread the paschal experience is renewed, We who hear the word and share the bread are nourished and sustained. Jesus lives; he stays with us. Hope and faith are not in vain.
Defense of the Resurrection and Easter Sunday
On the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about eleven kilometres from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
And Jesus said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’
Jesus asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see Jesus.’
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over,’ So Jesus went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus; and he vanished from their sight.
The two disciples said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scripture to us?
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. These were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’
Then the two disciples told what had happened on the road, and how the Lord has been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Lk. 24.13-35)
IS THERE LIFE AFTER DEATH?
Madonna the great singer, attempted to answer the question of, “Why am I here?” by becoming a diva, confessing, “There were many years when I thought fame, fortune, and public approval would bring me happiness. But one day you wake up and realize they don’t… I still felt something was missing… I wanted to know the meaning of true and lasting happiness and how I could go about finding it.”(The Oprah Magazine, “Oprah talks to Madonna,” January, 2004, 120.)
Others have given up on finding meaning. Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the Seattle grunge band Nirvana, despaired of life at age 27 and committed suicide. Jazz-age cartoonist Ralph Barton also found life to be meaningless, leaving the following suicide note. “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife, and from house to house, visited countries of the world, but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up 24 hours of the day.” Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA. Here’s Life Publ., 1981).
Pascal, the great French philosopher believed this inner void we all experience can only be filled by God. He states, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which only Jesus Christ can fill.” William R. Bright, Jesus and the Intellectual (San Bernardino, CA. Here’s Life Publ., 1968),If Pascal is right, then we would expect Jesus to not only answer the question of our identity and meaning in this life, but also to give us hope for life after we die.
Can there be meaning, without God? Not according to atheist Bertrand Russell, who wrote, “Unless you assume a god, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan, 2002),
Russell resigned himself to ultimately “rot” in the grave. In his book, Why I am not a Christian, Russell dismissed everything Jesus said about life’s meaning, including his promise of eternal life.
But if Jesus actually defeated death as eyewitnesses claim, then he alone would be able to tell us what life is all about, and answer, “Where am I going?” In order to understand how Jesus’ words, life, and death can establish our identities, give us meaning in life, and provide hope for the future, we need to understand what he said about God, about us, and about himself.
Summing up, I use the words of Arthur Ashe, the legendary Wimbledon player as he was dying of AIDS, which he got due to infected blood he received during a heart surgery in 1983. From world over, he received letters from his fans, one of which conveyed. “Why does GOD have to select you for such a bad disease”?
To this Arthur Ashe replied. The world over 5 crore children start playing tennis, 50 lakh learn to play tennis, 5 lakh learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to semi final, 2 to the finals, When I was holding a cup I never asked GOD “Why me?”.
And today in pain I should not be asking GOD “Why me?”
Life after death promise keeps us Sweet, Trials keep us Strong, Sorrow keeps us Human, Failure keeps us Humble, Success keeps us Glowing, But only GOD KEEPS US GOING….. EVER STRONG…
THE FACT OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION
The main sources which directly attest the fact of Christ’s Resurrection are the Four Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul. Easter morning is so rich in incident, and so crowded with interested persons, that its complete history presents a rather complicated tableau. It is not surprising, therefore, that the partial accounts contained in each of the Four Gospels appear at first sight hard to harmonize. But whatever exegetic view as to the visit to the sepulcher by the pious women and the appearance of the angels we may defend, we cannot deny the Evangelists’ agreement as to the fact that the risen Christ appeared to one or more persons. According to St. Matthew, He appeared to the holy women, and again on a mountain in Galilee; according to St. Mark, He was seen by Mary Magdalene, by the two disciples at Emmaus, and the Eleven before his Ascension into heaven; according to St. Luke, He walked with the disciples to Emmaus, appeared to Peter and to the assembled disciples in Jerusalem; according to St. John, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the ten Apostles on Easter Sunday, to the Eleven a week later, and to the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15.3-8) enumerates another series of apparitions of Jesus after His Resurrection; he was seen by Cephas, by the Eleven, by more than 500 brethren, many of whom were still alive at the time of the Apostle’s writing, by James, by all the Apostles, and lastly by Paul himself.
The holy women carrying the spices previously prepared start out for the sepulcher before dawn, and reach it after sunrise; they are anxious about the heavy stone, but know nothing of the official guard of the sepulcher (Matthew 28.1-3; Mark 16.1-3; Luke 24.1; John 20.1).
Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome approach the sepulcher, and see the stone rolled back, whereupon Mary Magdalene immediately returns to inform the Apostles (Mark 16.4; Luke 24.2; John 20.1-2).
The other two holy women enter the sepulcher, find an angel seated in the vestibule, who shows them the empty sepulcher, announces the Resurrection, and commissions them to tell the disciples and Peter that they shall see Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 28.5-7; Mark 16.5-7).
A second group of holy women, consisting of Joanna and her companions, arrive at the sepulcher, where they have probably agreed to meet the first group, enter the empty interior, and are admonished by two angels that Jesus has risen according to His prediction (Luke 24.10).
Not long after, Peter and John, who were notified by Mary Magdalen, arrive at the sepulchre and find the linen cloth in such a position as to exclude the supposition that the body was stolen; for they lay simply flat on the ground, showing that the sacred body had vanished out of them without touching them. When John notices this he believes (John 20.3-10).
The two groups of pious women, who probably met on their return to the city, are favored with the sight of Christ arisen, who commissions them to tell His brethren that they will see him in Galilee (Matthew 28.8-10; Mark 16.8).
The harmony of the other apparitions of Christ after His Resurrection presents no special difficulties. Briefly, therefore, the fact of Christ’s Resurrection is attested by more than 500 eyewitnesses, whose experience, simplicity, and uprightness of life rendered them incapable of inventing such a fable, who lived at a time when any attempt to deceive could have been easily discovered, who had nothing in this life to gain, but everything to lose by their testimony, whose moral courage exhibited in their apostolic life can be explained only by their intimate conviction of the objective truth of their message. Again the fact of Christ’s Resurrection is attested by the eloquent silence of the Synagogue which had done everything to prevent deception, which could have easily discovered deception, if there had been any, which opposed only sleeping witnesses to the testimony of the Apostles, which did not punish the alleged carelessness of the official guard, and which could not answer the testimony of the Apostles except by threatening them “that they speak no more in this name to any man” (Acts 4.17). Finally the thousands and millions, both Jews and Gentiles, who believed the testimony of the Apostles in spite of all the disadvantages following from such a belief, in short the origin of the Church, requires for its explanation the reality of Christ’s Resurrection, for the rise of the Church without the Resurrection would have been a greater miracle than the Resurrection itself.
- OPPOSING THEORIES
(1)The Swoon Theory
There is the theory of those who assert that Christ did not really die upon the cross, that His supposed death was only a temporary swoon, and that His Resurrection was simply a return to consciousness. This was advocated by Paulus (“Exegetisches Handbuch”, 1842, II, p. 929) and in a modified form by Hase (“Gesch. Jesu”, n. 112), but it does not agree with the data furnished by the Gospels. The scourging and the crown of thorns, the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion, the three hours on the cross and the piercing of the Sufferer’s side cannot have brought on a mere swoon. His real death is attested by the centurion and the soldiers, by the friends of Jesus and by his most bitter enemies. His stay in a sealed sepulchre for thirty-six hours, in an atmosphere poisoned by the exhalations of a hundred pounds of spices, which would have of itself sufficed to cause death. Moreover, if Jesus had merely returned from a swoon, the feelings of Easter morning would have been those of sympathy rather than those of joy and triumph, the Apostles would have been roused to the duties of a sick chamber rather than to apostolic work, the life of the powerful wonderworker would have ended in ignoble solitude and inglorious obscurity, and His vaunted sinlessness would have changed into His silent approval of a lie as the foundation stone of His Church. No wonder that later critics of the Resurrection, like Strauss, have heaped contempt on the old theory of a swoon.
(2) The Imposition Theory
The disciples, it is said, stole the body of Jesus from the grave, and then proclaimed to men that their Lord had risen. This theory was anticipated by the Jews who “gave a great sum of money to the soldiers, saying. Say you, His disciples came by night, and stole him away when we were asleep” (Matthew 28.12 sq.). The same was urged by Celsus (Orig., “Contra Cels.”, II, 56) with some difference of detail. But to assume that the Apostles with a burden of this kind upon their consciences could have preached a kingdom of truth and righteousness as the one great effort of their lives, and that for the sake of that kingdom they could have suffered even unto death, is to assume one of those moral impossibilities which may pass for a moment in the heat of controversy, but must be dismissed without delay in the hour of good reflection.
(3) The Vision Theory
This theory as generally understood by its advocates does not allow visions caused by a Divine intervention, but only such as are the product of human agencies. For if a Divine intervention be admitted, we may as well believe, as far as principles are concerned, that God raised Jesus from the dead. But where in the present instance are the human agencies which might cause these visions? The idea of a resurrection from the grave was familiar to the disciples from their Jewish faith; they had also vague intimations in the prophecies of the Old Testament; finally, Jesus Himself had always associated His Resurrection with the predictions of his death. On the other hand, the disciples’ state of mind was one of great excitement; they treasured the memory of Christ with a fondness which made it almost impossible for them to believe that He was gone. In short, their whole mental condition was such as needed only the application of a spark to kindle the flame. The spark was applied by Mary Magdalen, and the flame at once spread with the rapidity and force of a conflagration. What she believed that she had seen, others immediately believed that they must see. Their expectations were fulfilled, and the conviction seized the members of the early Church that the Lord had really risen from the dead.
Such is the vision theory commonly defended by recent critics of the Resurrection. But however ingeniously it may be devised, it is quite impossible from an historical point of view.
It is incompatible with the state of mind of the Apostles; the theory presupposes faith and expectancy on the part of the Apostles, while in point of fact the disciples’ faith and expectancy followed their vision of the risen Christ.
It is inconsistent with the nature of Christ’s manifestations; they ought to have been connected with heavenly glory, or they should have continued the former intimate relations of Jesus with His disciples, while actually and consistently they presented quite a new phase that could not have been expected.
It does not agree with the conditions of the early Christian community; after the first excitement of Easter Sunday, the disciples as a body are noted for their cool deliberation rather than the exalted enthusiasm of a community of visionaries.
It is incompatible with the length of time during which the apparitions lasted; visions such as the critics suppose have never been known to last long, while some of Christ’s manifestations lasted a considerable period.
It is not consistent with the fact that the manifestations were made to numbers at the same instant.
Keim admits that enthusiasm, nervousness, and mental excitement on the part of the disciples do not supply a rational explanation of the facts as related in the Gospels. According to him, the visions were directly granted by God and the glorified Christ; they may even include a “corporeal appearance” for those who fear that without this they would lose all. But Keim’s theory satisfies neither the Church, since it abandons all the proofs of a bodily Resurrection of Jesus, nor the enemies of the Church, since it admits many of the Church’s dogmas; nor again is it consistent with itself, since it grants God’s special intervention in proof of the Church’s faith, though it starts with the denial of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, which is one of the principal objects of that faith.
(4) Modernist View
The Holy Office describes and condemns in the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh propositions of the Decree “Lamentabili”, the views advocated by a fourth class of opponents of the Resurrection. The former of these propositions reads. “The Resurrection of our Saviour is not properly a fact of the historical order, but a fact of the purely supernatural order neither proved nor provable, which Christian consciousness has little by little inferred from other facts.” This statement agrees with, and is further explained by the words of Loisy (“Autour d’un petit livre”, p. viii, 120-121, 169; “L’Evangile et l’Eglise”, pp. 74-78; 120-121; 171). According to Loisy, firstly, the entrance into life immortal of one risen from the dead is not subject to observation; it is a supernatural, hyper-historical fact, not capable of historical proof. The proofs alleged for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are inadequate; the empty sepulchre is only an indirect argument, while the apparitions of the risen Christ are open to suspicion on a priori grounds, being sensible impressions of a supernatural reality; and they are doubtful evidence from a critical point of view, on account of the discrepancies in the various Scriptural narratives and the mixed character of the detail connected with the apparitions. Secondly, if one prescinds from the faith of the Apostles, the testimony of the New Testament does not furnish a certain argument for the fact of the Resurrection. This faith of the Apostles is concerned not so much with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as with His immortal life; being based on the apparitions, which are unsatisfactory evidence from an historical point of view, its force is appreciated only by faith itself; being a development of the idea of an immortal Messiah, it is an evolution of Christian consciousness, though it is at the same time a corrective of the scandal of the Cross. The Holy Office rejects this view of the Resurrection when it condemns the thirty-seventh proposition in the Decree “Lamentabili”. “The faith in the Resurrection of Christ pointed at the beginning no so much to the fact of the Resurrection, as to the immortal life of Christ with God.”
Besides the authoritative rejection of the foregoing view, we may submit the following three considerations which render it untenable. First, the contention that the Resurrection of Christ cannot be proved historically is not in accord with science. Science does not know enough about the limitations and the properties of a body raised from the dead to immortal life to warrant the assertion that such a body cannot be perceived by the senses; again in the case of Christ, the empty sepulcher with all its concrete circumstances cannot be explained except by a miraculous Divine intervention as supernatural in its character as the Resurrection of Jesus. Secondly, history does not allow us to regard the belief in the Resurrection as the result of a gradual evolution in Christian consciousness. The apparitions were not a mere projection of the disciples’ Messianic hope and expectation; their Messianic hope and expectations had to be revived by the apparitions. Again, the Apostles did not begin with preaching the immortal life of Christ with God, but they preached Christ’s Resurrection from the very beginning, they insisted on it as a fundamental fact and they described even some of the details connected with this fact. Acts, ii, 24, 31; iii, 15,26; iv, 10; v, 30; x, 39-40; xiii, 30, 37; xvii, 31-2; Rom., i,4; iv, 25; vi, 4,9; viii, 11, 34; x. etc. Thirdly, the denial of the historical certainty of Christ’s Resurrection involves several historical blunders. it questions the objective reality of the apparitions without any historical grounds for such a doubt; it denies the fact of the empty sepulchre in spite of solid historical evidence to the contrary; it questions even the fact of Christ’s burial in Joseph’s sepulchre, though this fact is based on the clear and simply unimpeachable testimony of history.
Acts 10.34a, 36-43; Col 3.1-4 (Or 1 Cor 5.6b-8);
Jn 20.1-18, In the afternoon Lk 24.13-35
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Marian Doctrine and Christianity
Fr. Rudolf V. D’ Souza OCD
In the history of Christianity, the periods in which Marian doctrine and devotion have flourished are also the periods when the worship and adoration of her Son were most prominent. There were moments in the history when Mary was exalted and at the same time many heretics tried to bring devotion towards her down.
The first major period of Mariological developments ranges from the second to the seventh centuries when the Christian community reflected on Mary’s role as the New Eve and acclaimed her divine maternity and perpetual virginity in various councils. This was also the period when the great Christological dogmas were debated and defined. This period saw the Councils of Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople I (381 A.D.), Ephesus (431 A.D.), Chalcedon (451 A.D.), Constantinople II (553 A.D.), and Constantinople III (681 A.D.).
The second period covers the eighth and ninth centuries when the Second Council of Nicea (787 A.D.) defined the veneration of images. Christians then pondered more closely Mary’s relationship to her Son, her sharing in His resurrection, her freedom from sin and the importance of her intercession.
Third and Forth period on which we try to make a deeper study can be summarized as follows:
The third period was the age of the Scholastics, notably Ambrose, Aquinas and Bonaventure, who provided a systematic framework for Christology and a clearer understanding of Mary’s role in the mystery of salvation. In 1215 A.D., the Fourth Council of the Lateran, and in 1274 A.D., the Second Council of Lyons, made significant pronouncements on the doctrine of the Trinity.
The fourth period stretches from 1300 A.D. to 1800 A.D., from the Renaissance through the Reformation through the Enlightenment. This was a period when many of the great truths of Christianity increasingly came under attack. The lowest point was reached with the so-called Enlightenment Era when atheism was on the ascendant and Christian doctrine was emptied of substance even within various Christian communities. Although the Protestant Reformers had initially tried to hold to some Christological and Mariological truths, many of their heirs gradually came under the influence of the Enlightenment. A famous Lutheran theologian Friedrich Heiler has written that the Marian doctrines were lost by later Protestants because of “the spirit of the enlightenment with its lack of understanding of mystery, and especially of the mystery of the Incarnation, which in the 18th century began the work of destruction.” Another Lutheran scholar, Basilea Schlink, holds that “the majority of us [Protestants] have drifted away from the proper attitude towards her [Mary], which Martin Luther had indicated to us on the basis of Holy Scripture … [partially due to the rise of Rationalism which] has lost the sense of the sacred. In Rationalism man sought to comprehend everything, and that which he could not comprehend he rejected. Because Rationalism accepted only that which could be explained rationally, Church festivals in honor of Mary and everything else reminiscent of her were done away with in the Protestant Church. All biblical relationship to the Mother Mary was lost, and we are still suffering from this heritage.” Despite the clouds of darkness hanging over Christendom, this period nevertheless saw the production of a number of devotional Marian masterpieces.
In 12th Century Feast of the Conception of Mary in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, Normandy are celebrated in many churches. The Feast of the Assumption was celebrated in the city of Rome, and in France.
Between 13th -15th century, called the Late Middle ages, devotion to Mary grew dramatically. Mary was increasingly venerated in popular piety as mediator of the mercy of Christ. Among the popular devotions that came into being at this time were the Rosary.
In 1477 Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, established the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1477 with a feast of with a proper mass and office to be celebrated on December 8. This is a big feast celebrated today by Catholics all over the world.
The fifth and final period ranges from 1800 A.D. to the present day, which will not be the subject of this article. In this period it may be said that God launched a Marian counter-attack on the Enlightenment in its nerve-center through a series of Marian apparitions in France. These were the great nineteenth century apparitions of the Miraculous Medal, La Salette and Lourdes, which continue to exert a tremendous influence as tangible manifestations of the supernatural world denied by the Enlightenment theories of the middle ages. Such influential apparitions have continued into the twentieth century, the most notable example being Fatima, Portugal. Accompanying these reminders of the Marian heritage, there has been a revival of interest in Marian doctrine and devotion that continues even today. But many of the Christian communities who have rejected Marian doctrine and devotion have gradually departed from Christological doctrine as well.
Focus on the Middle Ages
During the late Middle Ages (13th century to 15th century), devotion to Mary grew dramatically. One of the principal reasons was the image of Christ that developed in the missionary efforts of the early Middle Ages. To the extent that the Goths and other tribes of central and northern Europe were Christian, they remained strongly influenced by Arianism, a teaching that denied the divinity of Christ. In response, preaching and the arts of this period particularly stressed Christ’s divinity, as in the Byzantine depictions of Christ as Pantokrator (universal and all-powerful ruler) and in the western images of Christ as the supreme and universal judge. As Christ became an awe-inspiring, judgmental figure, Mary came to be depicted as the one who interceded for sinners. As the fear of death and the Last Judgment intensified following the Black Plague in the 14th century, Mary was increasingly venerated in popular piety as mediator of the mercy of Christ. Her prayers and pleas were seen as the agency that tempered the stern justice of Christ. Among the popular devotions that came into being at this time were the rosary (a chaplet originally consisting of 150 Hail Marys in imitation of the 150 Psalms in the psalter, later augmented by 15 interspersed “Our Father” as penance for daily sins); the angelus recited at sunrise, noon, and sunset; and litanies (invocations of Mary using such biblical titles as Mystical Rose, Tower of David, and Refuge of Sinners). Hymns, psalms, and prayers were incorporated into the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, in imitation of the longer divine office recited or chanted by monks and priests.
Doctrine of Immaculate Conception
The principal theological development concerning Mary in the Middle Ages was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This doctrine, defended and preached by the Franciscan friars under the inspiration of the 13th-century Scottish theologian John Duns Scotus; maintains that Mary was conceived without original sin. Dominican teachers and preachers vigorously opposed the doctrine, maintaining that it detracted from Christ’s role as universal saviour. Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, defended it, establishing in 1477 a feast of the Immaculate Conception with a proper mass and office to be celebrated on December 8.
Marian shrines and places of pilgrimage were found throughout the world. At Montserrat in Spain the Black Virgin has been venerated since the 12th century. The icon of Our Lady of Czêstochowa has been venerated in Poland since the early 14th century. The picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe commemorates an alleged apparition of Mary to Native American Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. In the 19th century a number of apparitions of Mary were reported that inspired the development of shrines, devotions, and pilgrimages – for instance, in Paris (1830, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal); Lourdes (1858, Our Lady of Lourdes); Knock, in Ireland (1879, Our Lady of Knock); and Fatima, in Portugal (1917, Our Lady of Fatima).
Lutheran Attacks and Counter Attacks
The Anglican scholar A. Lancashire shows in Born of the Virgin Mary that a Christianity without Mariology cannot have an orthodox Christology: “A rejection of Mariology must inevitably lead to a rejection of orthodox Christology. … Devotion to Mary, far from leading men away from Christ, draws the Church into a deeper recognition of the mystery of God’s loving activity directed towards man in Christ.”
Cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Oneness Pentecostals that accept the divine inspiration of the Bible but reject the doctrine of the Trinity have simply taken Fundamentalism to its logical conclusion. When you reject the binding interpretations of the historic Faith there is no doctrine that is safe. Moreover, the history of doctrine shows that the rejection of Marian doctrine leads sooner or later to the rejection of the Christological and Trinitarian affirmations. It is Marian doctrine and devotion that preserved the truth of the Trinity. When the Christian believer sees the biblical portrait of Mary as Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, he grasps forcefully the distinctions between the Three Persons. The doctrine of the Trinity becomes a reality for him. On the flip side, the idea of “Jesus alone” with no reference to Mary leads to a focus on God only as Father (Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Fundamentalists) or a focus on Jesus that excludes the Father and the Holy Spirit (most Fundamentalists) or an exclusive focus on the Holy Spirit (Fanatic Charismatics/ Pentecostals). With a healthy Marian devotion comes an authentic understanding and a conscious grasp of the doctrine of the Trinity. Marian doctrine is equally important for Christology. For instance, the declaration that Mary is the Mother of God said two clear things about Christ: He is one Person, a divine Person; He is a human being because His mother is human. Once the declaration of Mary’s Divine Maternity was rejected the next step was to reject the affirmation that Christ is a divine Person.
Finally, each one of the Marian doctrines is in reality both a Christological doctrine and an application of Christology to the human condition. The Marian doctrines not only tell us the central truths of Christology but show their application in the life of humanity as a whole. To say that Mary is the Mother of God is to say that Jesus is God and Man. To teach Mary’s Perpetual Virginity is to teach the Virgin Birth and the supernatural nature of the birth of Jesus. To proclaim the Immaculate Conception is to proclaim the reality of the redemption wrought by the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world – to realize moreover that the redemptive effects of His death transcend time. To acclaim the Assumption of Mary is to celebrate the fact that the Resurrection of Christ not only took place but that it opens the door to our own resurrection from the dead. To affirm the mediation of Mary is to affirm both the supreme mediation of Christ and the possibility and the obligation of our participating in this mediation.
Martin Luther and Marian Doctrine
Contrary to popular belief, Martin Luther basically did not reject major Marian doctrines although some of his immediate followers and present day heirs have done so. This point is well argued by the Lutheran Charles Dickson: “After five centuries of Church history since the period of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants alike assume the reformers downplayed the role of the Virgin Mary in God’s plan of salvation. Actually the facts are otherwise. While it is true that many of the radical leaders who followed the original reformers sought to eliminate the Mother of our Lord from their theology, and in many cases were successful in all but doing so, this does not represent the position of the early leaders. … Perhaps in no other place is the discrepancy more evident than in the example of the viewpoints of Martin Luther contrasted with the practices and beliefs of modern Protestants. What did Luther really believe about Mary? For an answer to that question, we must search through his original writings. Some interesting points emerge as a result of that investigation. First, Luther referred to Mary as “the workshop of God” and decried Protestant antagonism toward her as an offshoot of Church conflict. Luther believed in the help of the Virgin Mary for all worthwhile endeavors. In his letter to Prince John Frederick, duke of Saxony, in 1521 as a prologue to his commentary on the Magnificat of the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, he wrote, “May the tender Mother of God herself procure for me the spirit of wisdom profitably and thoroughly to expound this song of hers.” Not only did Luther believe Mary helped Christians who call on her for assistance, he also supported prayers to her. Again, in his commentary on the Magnificat, he wrote, “O Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, what great comfort God has shown us in you by so graciously regarding your unworthiness and low estate.” For those who would follow in the faith, he desired a continued honor of Mary by stating, “The Virgin Mary means to say simply that her praise will be sung from one generation to another so that there will never be a time when she will not be praised.” While he was concerned about any beliefs or practices that might tend to make her equal with Christ in our redemption, in accord with Catholic theology throughout history, he referred to Mary as “Queen of Heaven” and called this a “true enough name”. Luther’s belief in the position of Mary in salvation history is summed up in his conclusion to the commentary on the Magnificat where he states, “We pray God to give us a right understanding of this Magnificat, an understanding that consists not merely in brilliant words, but in glowing life in body and soul. May Christ grant us this through the intercession and for the sake of His dear Mother Mary.”
It is a hard fact of history that Marian doctrine and devotion have been an indivisible part of Christian belief – both in the East and the West – for 20 centuries. The primary sources of Marian doctrine and devotion are the following: Sacred Scripture, the divinely inspired inerrant Word of God; the earliest Teaching of the Apostolic Community which in the first four centuries served as the main framework of instruction for believers prior to the fixing of the canon of Scripture; the inner dynamic of Christianity as this emerged through the authoritative interpretation of Scripture by the Councils and Creeds; the liturgy which reflected the Apostolic Faith; the reflections of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church; the testimony of the Holy Ones and Martyrs; the consensus of the faithful. United with all of this also was the living experience of Mary enjoyed by millions.
By establishing its basis in Scripture and the apostolic community’s interpretation of Scripture, Mariology seeks to show that Marian doctrine and devotion are (a) fundamental to historic Christianity and (b) acceptable to all Christians regardless of denominational background. Differences on other issues such as the Papacy and the Sacraments, important as these may be, are not the subject of these volumes since the objective is simply to introduce Bible-believing Christians to their common Mother. Fortunately, there is today a cross-denominational rediscovery of Mary and a renaissance of Marian thought among Protestant Christians. The Ecumenical Society for the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in 1966, has played an influential role in the contemporary rediscovery. Among the most important recent books on Mary by Protestant Christians are Mary for all Christians by John Macquarrie (Anglican); Down to Earth: The New Protestant Vision of the Virgin Mary by John de Satge (Evangelical); A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary by Charles Dickson (Lutheran) and Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Neville Ward (Methodist).
We Catholics know that the importance of Mary will be truly rediscovered only if the doctrine is based on the unity of their faith. They must resolve considerable discrepancies of doctrine concerning the mystery and ministry of the Church, and sometimes also concerning the role of Mary in the work of salvation. The dialogues begun by the Catholic Church with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West are steadily converging upon these two inseparable aspects of the same mystery of salvation. If the mystery of the Word made flesh enables us to glimpse the mystery of the divine motherhood and if, in turn, contemplation of the Mother of God brings us to a more profound understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation, then the same must be said for the mystery of the Church and Mary’s role in the work of salvation. By a more profound study of both Mary and the Church, clarifying each by the light of the other, Christians who are eager to do what Jesus tells them as their Mother recommends (cf. Jn. 2:5) will be able to go forward together on this “pilgrimage of faith.” Mary, who is still the model of this pilgrimage, is to lead them to the unity which is willed by their one Lord and so much desired by those who are attentively listening to what “the Spirit is saying to the Churches” today (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17).
 Friedrich Heiler, “Die Gottesmutter im Glauben und Beten der Jahrhunderte,” Hochkirche 13 (1931), p. 200.
 Basilea Schlink, Mary, the Mother of Jesus (London: Marshall Pickering, 1986), 114-115.
 This feast was extended to the whole Western church by Pope Clement XI in 1708. In 1854 Pope Pius IX issued a solemn decree defining the Immaculate Conception for all Roman Catholics, but the doctrine has not been accepted by Protestants or by the Orthodox churches. In 1950 Pope Pius XII solemnly defined as an article of faith for all Roman Catholics the doctrine of the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven.
 A. Lancashire, Born of the Virgin Mary, London: The Faith Press, 1962, pp. 142-3.
 Charles Dickson, A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary, 40-2
Jesus, the Great Teacher
Dr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. Teaching is a divine task. Teaching ensures future of humanity. Being a good teacher is a task of transmitting wisdom of God himself. Although the teaching ministry of Christ lasted only three and a half years, during that time He showed that He was the world’s master teacher. He performed great miracles and taught a new way of life. His teaching was simple. He used words the common people could understand, and took His illustrations from the things with which His listeners were familiar. Many of His principles were set forth in parables. A parable is a true-to-life story with a special meaning.
The things Jesus taught are more important than His methods. He gave us a complete way of life, which He summed up in one sentence, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”[Mt 7.12]
One of the great themes of His teaching was God’s kingdom. His claim was, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”[Mk 1.14-15]
This is a reminder to all of us that the world is not out of control. God is still in charge, but He has given us free-will. We are not like machines wound-up by God. Rather we are free and yet ruled by a King, and that is God. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God it was to invite people to submit themselves to it. Jesus told parables to illustrate what He meant by God’s kingdom.
The Parable of the Sower
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”[Mt 13.3-8]
Obviously the resulting crop depended on the kind of ground that the seed fell into. What Jesus meant here is that if our hearts are hard, bitter, and filled with pride and self sufficiency, then even if the good seed comes to us, even if we hear and learn about His kingdom, we won’t accept it. However, if we accept God’s will in our lives, the Kingdom of God will be within us.
A Hidden Treasure
On another occasion Jesus told of a treasure hidden in a field. A merchant found it “… and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.”[Mt 13.44] It is true that when we find the Kingdom of God, we receive much joy, but there is a price to be paid. Our becoming a member of the Kingdom of God, and following Jesus may offend many people. Our honesty may well make some people around us uncomfortable. We may lose friends, brothers and sisters. Our families may well turn against us. Joining this Kingdom of God may mean the loss of a job, imprisonment, or even death. Jesus recognizes that you may have to pay a high price to come into this Kingdom but it is still well-worthwhile.
Once some of the Jewish leaders from the sect of the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come.[Lk 17.20-21] Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in you.” Many people who were listening to Jesus were longing for a political revolution. They wanted Jesus to be their Messiah in a political sense, to overthrow the Roman rulers and release Palestine from its bondage. Jesus refused such a demand because that was not the real problem. Mankind’s fundamental problem is not political. it is sin. Jesus came to deal with sin. [Jn 6.15] According to Him, God’s kingdom was a universal kingdom, not restricted to any particular people. Therefore He told them that this kingdom is within men’s hearts. It was not something that was going to be established in the future, but something that was being established there and then. One can become a member of this kingdom by following Jesus and His commandments.
The Parable of the Lost Son
Jesus did not tell this parable just to entertain the people who were around Him. He intended to show that God receives even the wicked person who repents and turns to Him, because He wants everyone to be saved and come to him through Jesus. In this parable we see how one may turn away from God to find his own way of adventure and folly. However God in his mercy and kindness awaits and leaves the door flung open for every sinner.
Have you ever wondered what makes a great special education teacher? What separates a mediocre teacher from a terrific teacher? It’s not easy to define, however, here’s a list of qualities:
- You love your role, you love being with your students and you couldn’t imagine doing anything else. You were meant to teach special needs children; you know this in your heart.
- You have a great deal of patience and know that little steps in learning go a long way.
- You know your students well and they are comfortable and at ease with you, they enjoy having you as their teacher and look forward to going school each day.
- You provide a non-threatening, welcoming environment that nurtures each of the students you work with.
- You understand your students, you know what motivates them and you know how to scaffold activities to ensure that maximum learning occurs.
- You take each student from where they are and provide experiences that will maximize success. You’re always discovering new things about your students.
- You are very comfortable working with exceptional learners and learners with diverse needs.
- You thrive on challenge; can easily build relationships with your students and your student’s parents.
- You are a life-long learner and committed to the profession.
- You have a never ending willingness to ensure that all students reach their maximum potential. You constantly strive to ‘reach and teach’ every student under your care.
Through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the teacher, who is our master teacher, gives us good counsel on the way to true happiness, the settling of quarrels, how to avoid immorality, how to deal with those showing enmity, the true practice of righteousness free from hypocrisy, the right attitude toward the material things of life, confidence in God’s generosity, the golden rule for right relationships with others, the means for detecting religious frauds, how to build for a secure future. The crowds were “astounded at His way of teaching; for He was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matt 7:28-29).
Why should learning from Jesus be the only way to inherit the Kingdom of God? It is because He is the king of the kingdom. He did not act like worldly teachers. He introduced a totally different concept of leadership through his practical life of teaching. He advised his disciples: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Mk 10.43-45] He demonstrated this concept by washing the feet of His disciples [Jn 13.4-17]. Later He gave his life for them and for us. On the other hand He did prove His authority and trustworthiness by the many signs He provided, and by the many prophecies He fulfilled particularly by getting out of the tomb [Rom 1.4; 10.9]. This is what the Master Teacher has taught us.