Monday, April 21, 2014
He is Risen!
Image from http://stainedglassinc.com/
Happy Easter! Jesus is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia! As Christians, we recognize that the Resurrection is the culmination of the Paschal Mystery, the central event of human history. It is Jesus’s victory over death, the firstfruits of the resurrection of ourselves to everlasting life. It is also the ultimate sign testifying to Jesus Christ. The Resurrection proves undeniably that Jesus is who He says He is.
One of the disappointing (but not unexpected) things I saw this Easter was the prominence on Holy Saturday of television programming themed: “Who Really Was Jesus?” and, “The Lost Gospel of Judas.” These sacred days are never lost opportunities for our pagan culture to revel in blasphemy. Of course, one reality that our culture has no real answer for is the Resurrection. As we witness to our atheist or pagan family, friends, neighbors and coworkers this Easter season, the Resurrection is a challenge we can pose to them that demands an answer because, as I said above, if the Resurrection is true, then Jesus is who He says He is. In this article, I intend to show that the Resurrection is more than simply an article of faith; it is a historically verifiable fact.
To deny the Resurrection, one has to account for four historical realities: 1) Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried; 2) His tomb was empty within days of His burial; 3) Numerous people testified to seeing Him alive again; 4) The Church, which was built on the hope of the Resurrection, became the most powerful and enduring institution on the planet.
How do we know these four things are true? The fourth is rather self-evident, but the first three are historically verifiable as well. First, one needs not look at the Gospels as the Word of God to recognize that they are, historically, among the most reliable documents we have from the ancient world. There have been wonderful books and articles written about this (Lee Stroebel, among others, has done a great service in this regard). The Gospels were written essentially by eye-witnesses of the events they report, for eyewitnesses of the events. They were written in close proximity in time and location to the events they report, and they not only corroborate each other, but are corroborated by other ancient records. If the subject matter was not religious, any historian would take them as the most trustworthy historical documents we possess from the ancient world.
Also, the four facts I mentioned above are reported not only by the Gospels, but by ancient Jewish sources (Josephus probably being the most famous), as well as Roman records. They are undeniable, which leaves the skeptic with the daunting task of explaining them with something other than the Resurrection of Christ.
1) The Death of Jesus: No serious historian disputes this. We have as much evidence and detail about this event as basically anything that occurred in the ancient world. There are only two theories I know of that have ever been advanced to try and question it and both are ridiculous. The “Swoon theory” suggests that Jesus didn’t really die on the Cross; He only appeared dead, and the foolish Romans took him down and allowed Him to be buried while He was still alive. Then, after some rest in the tomb, He revived. The notion that the Romans, experts on torture and death, wouldn’t know that a crucified man had died is silly. It also ignores the fact of the lance to the Heart. Not to mention, a scourged and crucified man would not have been able to move the stone from the tomb and in that condition would never have inspired his disciples to become heroes and martyrs like the Apostles were.
The other suggestion, advanced by Muslims, is that it was actually Judas who was crucified, and God miraculously prevented people from recognizing him. This doesn’t answer the fact that Judas was found dangling from a tree by his neck. It also would not be a claim made by atheists, and in dialogue with Muslims, we likely wouldn’t begin with the Resurrection, but rather more fundamental issues – the nature of God, the persons of Christ and Mohammed, etc.
2) The Empty Tomb: If the Resurrection never occurred, it would be the easiest thing in the world to disprove – just produce the Body of Jesus. Case closed. Yet, it has never happened. Why not? Because the tomb was empty. The empty tomb was preached almost immediately, in Jerusalem, the location of the tomb. Again, it would be very simple to disprove. If the tomb were not empty, no one could have preached it right down the street from it. Anyone could check. I imagine that couldn’t have slipped the minds of both the Jewish and Roman leaders.
The other claim is that the Body could have been stolen. No it couldn’t have. There was a guard set at the tomb. How were Peter and the others going to overpower the armed guards, removed the stone, stolen the Body, and gotten away unscathed? Impossible. Plus, this theory ignores the witness of the Apostles. With the exception of John, the Apostles all died as martyrs. I’m not sure how many of you played April Fools jokes this week, but I doubt any of you would die to testify to their veracity. James was beheaded, Peter and Andrew were crucified, Bartholomew was skinned alive! All they would have had to do to save themselves was deny the Resurrection, yet none of them did. They went singing to their deaths, confident of a reward in Heaven. No possible way each of them would suffer horrific deaths for the sake of what they knew to be a fraud.
3) Numerous accounts of witnesses seeing Jesus alive: Not only do we have the testimony of the Gospels to this, but Josephus, as well as Roman sources, report that people reported seeing Jesus alive after His death. These claims were made immediately, by many people. The notion of a mass hallucination doesn’t work because of the many different people who independently reported seeing Christ. None of these people saw Him in a dream, or while they were in a trance. Also, none of these people really expected the Resurrection. And again, it begs the question of the empty tomb. St. Peter did exactly what we would expect the disciples to do when confronted with stories of the Risen Christ – he checked the tomb. Both friends and enemies would have done so when reports of people seeing Christ arose (remember, these first claims also started in Jerusalem). And, of course, the tomb was empty.
4) The Rise of the Church: The Resurrection was the event that turned a dejected band of seemingly defeated men into the most powerful group on earth. These blue-collar nobodies – 11 to start – fulfilled the commission to baptize all nations. They built a Church that outlived the great Roman Empire, tamed the barbarian Europe that was born of the Empire’s fall, evangelized the New World, and has survived attacks from without and wickedness from within for two millennia. Not particularly likely if the Resurrection was a hoax or a fantasy, and if the Holy Spirit were not with them.
5) The Shroud of Turin: One last thing worth mentioning is the Shroud of Turin. We are not bound by faith to accept the validity of the Shroud. But just last week, scientific tests confirmed that the Shroud dates to the time of Christ. There are so many wonderful books that give scientific and historical details testifying to the Shroud. The image on the Shroud not only testifies to the death of Christ, but also to His Resurrection.
As Christians, Easter is a glorious time of hope, joy, and victory. But the Resurrection is also a powerful sign to an unbelieving world. Having even a rudimentary grasp of the basic facts proving the Resurrection (which is all I can claim for myself) can be a wonderful tool, if not to convince others to believe, at least to get them to think. Open a door, plant a seed, and God will work wonders.
*Please note: The term ‘pagan’ is not meant to be pejorative or an insult to any particular people. It is only meant to express a certain spiritual reality.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Link – Ten Tips for a Holy Lent
The link below is to an article by Father Ed Broom, a holy priest of the Oblates of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with ten ways to have a fruitful Lent.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Our Lenten Discipline
Image from simplyquiet.blogspot.com
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent, of course, is a wonderful time of spiritual opportunity that the Church gifts us with. One of the beautiful things about Lent is its duration: 40 days.
Of course the 40 days is based on Jesus’s 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert, after which He was tempted by the devil. During this 40-day period we are called to face our own temptations and weaknesses. The beautiful thing about 40 days, is that it is the perfect amount of time to develop a habit, or to break one.
As we pray about what to offer God this Lent, I suggest the first thing we need to do is examine ourselves and ask the question, “What habit do I need to develop, or to break, that can bring me closer to God?” The answer to that question will guide us in discerning a powerful Lenten discipline.
By focusing for 40 days on this discipline, we should find ourselves a better person on Easter than we were on Ash Wednesday. It is good to give up something that we know we will return to after Lent, simply as an offering to God, but we should also do something that will make a lasting impact on us spiritually.
Do I lack discipline in my eating habits? Can my stomach become my god, as Scripture says? Then perhaps my discipline should be dietary, and include fasting. If I am faithful to it, by Easter I should have much more self-mastery (and be healthier, too).
Have I struggled to find time to pray? The maybe my discipline should be focused on prayer this Lent. If I am faithful to a Lenten prayer regimen, then by Easter I should be a man with the habit of daily prayer, a habit that should naturally continue long after Lent is over.
Do I lack generosity, or am I anxious about financial matters? Then perhaps my discipline should center on almsgiving. If I am faithful to it, but Easter I should be a man less attached to material wealth, and better able to trust in God for my temporal needs.
This Lent, may we prayerfully consider what we will offer God. Consider what your habits are today, and what you would like them to be in 40 days. Then this Lent will truly be the gift that God means it to be.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Monday, March 3, 2014
Son of God Movie Review
One of the hardest things to do is make a movie about the life of Jesus. It’s true that you don’t have to make up the story, but you have to somehow do justice to the greatest story ever told. You also have to take a life in which every breath touches the depths of both time and eternity, and encapsulate it into a watchable time frame. It’s no easy task, I’m sure.
Son of God opened in theaters this weekend. The film is structured as a narrative told by St. John at the end of his life, as he’s in exile. It begins with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It then quickly moves through some of the early events of salvation history, from Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and even the birth of Jesus. The story then takes its narrative form with the beginning of His public life.
One of the things I liked about the film is that it really brought out how controversial a figure Jesus was. An encounter with Him demands a choice. Often, society turns Jesus into a cuddly teddy bear, but as Professor Peter Kreeft likes to remind us, “Aslan is not a tame lion.” Jesus should shock us. How could an encounter with God do any less? I do think a glaring omission was perhaps the most shocking and controversial thing Jesus ever said: “Unless you eat my Flesh and drink my Blood, you have no life in you.”
However, though this production was basically put together by Protestants, there is not much a Catholic would complain about. The film clearly portrayed Peter as the head of the Apostles, and the rock on which Christ built His Church. It also did a good job in its treatment of Mary. The Last Supper was handled with care – we might find some things lacking, but the filmmakers did a good job of making it amenable to both Catholics and Protestants (and the Orthodox, of course).
That being said, for someone with a deep love of Scripture, some of the license that was taken may be a little annoying. I know it was usually done with an eye on including as much as possible into two-and-a-quarter hours, but each word and gesture of Jesus has such meaning that at times certain things were lost. There are also minor historical errors (such as Pilate telling Caiaphas to go ahead and execute Jesus, even though in reality Jews had no authority to do so) that only nitpicking lunatics like myself will probably even notice, and some license taken with lesser-known characters like Pontius Pilate and Nicodemus.
The only other concern I have is one scene in which Pilate’s wife Claudia is a bit immodest. It’s not major, but could have easily been fixed. Another thing to be careful of, especially if you come with children, is that the previews before the film are not necessarily chosen with them in mind. I found one quite inappropriate.
I brought my seven year-old son to the movie in the hopes of giving him a visual framework for the story, as well as some help in meditating when praying the Rosary. Overall, it was fine for him, though there were some parts that were violent, both during the Passion and at other times, that parents may want to be cautioned about. The Passion scenes were obviously heavily influenced by Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, but Son of God does a good job of showing the suffering of Christ more than most films while still being within the limits many kids can handle.
One of the best qualities of Son of God is that it is an extremely watchable film that covers the whole life of Jesus while remaining the length of a typical film. That makes it very accessible. People who want to watch it to meditate on the essence of the Story will probably not be disappointed.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The Veto of Arizona’s SB 1062
Yesterday, the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, vetoed SB 1062, a bill which would have allowed business owners to deny services to people based on their own deeply held religious convictions. The bill sparked passionate reaction on both sides.
Proponents of the bill said that it is necessary to protect religious liberty, while opponents said it would have enshrined prejudice against homosexual people in law. Republicans across the country, of course, were terrified of the bill, and urging a veto. Many organizations were vocal in opposition, including some loud groups whose favorite political tactic is intimidation. However, a bill of this magnitude should not be weighed by political calculations, but rather by moral ones.
I haven’t looked closely enough at how the bill is written to know whether it warranted a signature or a veto, but it seems to me that the underlying issue at hand is really not all that complicated.
The Church consistently teaches the dignity of every human person (regardless of sexual practice), and opposes unjust discrimination. However, it also teaches that homosexual behavior is objectively sinful, and that there is no such thing as gay “marriage.” Any proper understanding of religious liberty should free people from having to participate in or support activity they find morally objectionable.
Therefore, given our current climate, there is definitely a need for a law that protects people from providing goods and services that support or promote such activity, such as a wedding photographer being forced to work at a same-sex “wedding.”
However, a person is not defined by his sexual identity, and it seems to me that discrimination that has no bearing on that activity should not be permitted.
Now, one of the most difficult things to do is to take politicians at their word. Many are corrupt and easily bought. Even many ethical politicians see lying, or at least “spin,” as a necessary tool of the trade. However, though I do not live in Arizona and scrutinize Governor Brewer, she has not given me reason to doubt her sincerity. So it is with every benefit of the doubt that I examine some of what she said upon announcing her veto.
There were two comments that particularly struck me. (Others, of course, are relevant, as well, from a political and legal standpoint, and have been analyzed by others.) The first comment of which I took note was her statement that the bill was too broadly written. That very well may be true. If so, it should be rewritten and passed again, with improvements. I would have liked to see Ms. Brewer call for that.
The second statement was troubling. Ms. Brewer seemed to imply that the protections in the bill are not necessary. That sentiment is ludicrous. Given our current climate, nothing is more necessary at this time, in every state. The red herring of “gay rights” is a powerful tool being used to persecute Christians (and many others) all over the Western world. Doubtless, there are many who see it as the key to destroying the Church. They will never do that, but people willing to stand up for truth had better be ready to suffer for it.
On a human level, what happened yesterday is likely to scare most politicians. But I pray that there are some heroic leaders out there who will see the grave necessity of a bill similar to SB 1062. It needs to be written properly, respecting each person’s dignity, but it needs to be passed now, everywhere.