If someone asked you why you were Catholic, what would say? How would you answer them? Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha – not to be confused with the director of Star Wars – was asked this question during a talk he was giving on evangelization. Without hesitation, he responded: I’m Catholic because Jesus is alive. And it is really that simple. The man who was nailed to the Cross and died and was buried is now alive. It’s not that he was alive at one time; he is alive now. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the central doctrine of our faith that makes our faith possible. Everything else we believe comes from this. Without the Resurrection, Jesus would be no more than a man who made some dramatic claims about himself and performed some good works and gave us an interesting set of sayings to live by. It would be nothing more than that. We could take or leave what he taught because there would be no real authority behind them. With the Resurrection, our whole faith is not only possible but coherent.
Archbishop Lucas went on to make four cases for Christ. First, Jesus claimed to be God: a bold, striking claim which would be either delusional or blasphemous if it weren’t true. Second, Jesus was foretold by the prophets. The prophets of the Old Testament said that one was coming from God to save us. Third, He performed public miracles. And fourth, he was the only person who has ever risen from the dead. And it is this last one that is the clincher. Without it, the other three would not be quite enough for us to believe that Jesus is God. After his resurrection, he was seen by his disciples, at St. Paul tells us, first by Peter, then by the apostles, and then by a group of five hundred of his disciples at once.
In our readings at Mass in the coming weeks, we will hear about Jesus’ appearances to his disciples. And we will hear how the resurrected body of Jesus Christ was able to do things that a normal human body could not do – pass through locked doors, for example. And yet at the same time we will hear how he ate and drank with his disciples just like a normal human being. So the Risen Jesus was not merely a resuscitated corpse. Jesus of course had performed the miracle of raising people from the dead. But while these were incredible and unheard of miracles, Jesus’ own Resurrection was something completely different. The three individuals that Jesus raised from the dead returned to life to continue to live the life that they had already been living, and one day they all died again. The Risen Jesus, on the other hand, had a new and glorified physical body. He could eat and drink just like everyone else, but his body would no longer age; he was no longer subject to suffering and death. Those things no longer had any power over him.
Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead was an entirely new, completely unexpected, unforeseen event in the history of the world. And this event makes belief in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God possible. Our faith becomes an all or nothing deal. If Jesus Christ truly rose from the dead, then this event should have an impact on every aspect of our lives.
And why is this? First of all, it teaches us that the promises Jesus has made to us can be believed. And one of these promises is that death is not the end. Death does not rob us of life. Most of us love this life we have and cling to it, and we fear death; after all, this life is all we know. But Jesus Christ has promised us that there is another life that awaits us on the other side of death. Another life which so far surpasses this one that we cannot even imagine it. He has promised us that what he experienced in the Resurrection – a new and glorified body reunited with his spirit – is what we can expect to happen to ourselves as well. Death does not rob us of life; instead, because of the resurrection we are given a much greater treasure that we can imagine. We do not know what it will be like; all we can do is speculate. It’s all still a mystery. But we know that we will no longer be subject to the physical laws of this world and that suffering and death will no longer have any power over us. We will lack for nothing, and in God our joy will be made complete.
In the light of the Resurrection, then, our faith becomes an all or nothing deal. If Jesus really rose from the dead, then this life is not all there is and death is not the end. And this belief makes possible and gives sense to giving all for Christ – even to the point of giving up one’s life for our faith in Him.
We can begin this new life that Jesus calls us to even now in this life. Most likely most of us will not be called to witness to our faith to the point of martyrdom. But if people have been willing to die for Christ, how might we be called to live our faith? What are we called to give for Christ? What aspects of our lives are we called to change? As St. Paul exhorts us: “Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
The deaths of martyrs make no sense if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead. But if he did, then he is who he said he is – God Himself. And then what he teaches us is true. And we are called then to give our whole lives to him. And furthermore, if he rose from the dead, then we have the hope that death will not rob us of life, but rather that death is the beginning of a new, glorious life in eternal joy. And in fact that new life in Christ can begin even now.