The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the crown jewel of our faith and defines our existence for eternity. Jesus forever breaks the power of sin, suffering, and death. The gates of heaven are now open to receive us if we follow Him. But without constantly recurring to the fact of the Resurrection, our faith degrades and fragments, and we risk our salvation.
Despite tumultuous times and widespread faithlessness, the Church has infallible mechanisms to renew belief even if it takes generations. Here is a worthwhile game plan to nourish and bolster our religious convictions.
- Avoid spiritual poison.
Honesty requires us to acknowledge the flowering of widespread and full-bore faithlessness that followed Vatican II. At its core, many of the hierarchy’s gatekeepers, swept up in theological fads, denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
During the 1980s, seminarians often received an unholy indoctrination. Among the questions of the so-called “Priest Perceiver Interview” administered to candidates were things such as: “Do you believe in the Resurrection? What if archeologists would discover beyond a reasonable doubt the remains of the body of Jesus Christ?” The theologically chic answer was: “If archeologists discovered the bones of Jesus, it would not affect my faith at all.” (My Internet search does not turn up the Priest Perceiver Interview. I took extensive notes in the 1980s and retained them in my private archives – along with a personal enemies list.)
Saint Paul provides the correct answer: “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:12-14)
The Priest Perceiver Interview has evaporated as an instrument of dogmatic torture. Do not allow theological baloney to deceive you: whether it’s the denial of the Resurrection then, or the celebration of moral abominations today.
- Confront faith difficulties.
The Resurrection of Jesus is a dogma of the Catholic faith, witnessed by a select few of His disciples – most of whom suffered martyrdom – and handed down by the Church through the centuries. Nevertheless, even the most devout and orthodox Catholics may struggle with faith.
It is common for people to conclude that they are suffering a crisis of faith during life difficulties. Perhaps there is a death, marital problems, rambunctious kids, family members who have abandoned the faith, clerical scandals, and the rest. But sorrow and anger do not necessarily suggest a crisis of faith. Mary at the foot of the Cross was not faithless, nor did she sin. She was His sorrowful mother because we crucified her Son. She is also our sorrowful mother because our sins also crucify us. But Mary never lost faith. She knew His Divine origin.
In fear, Saint Peter and the Apostles abandoned Jesus during His Passion. Judas’ crisis of faith was twofold. The faithlessness that led him to betray Jesus is open to our speculation. But the despair that destroyed him came when he concluded that his sin of betrayal was unforgivable. For those tempted to despair, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a dramatic confirmation that Jesus has defeated every known sin. A sincere Confession forgives every sin without exception.
- Hold fast to orthodox doctrinal definitions and external observances.
We also have a crisis of faith in the Real Presence. We need not refer to the Catholic majority – including many priests and bishops – who have no idea as to the meaning of Transubstantiation. But orthodox and devout Catholics also struggle with their faith in the Eucharist.
There’s an old story about a Catholic priest explaining Transubstantiation to a devout Muslim. The description of the Real Presence astonished the man. He told the priest that if it were true that God was truly present under the appearance of bread and wine, he would fall in worship and not dare to get up. Exactly.
It is a paradox of Christianity that weak faith permits us to get back to our necessary work duties after prayer before the tabernacle. Yet we must cultivate a strong faith through sincere repeated external expressions of devotion. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Phil. 2:10)
Even the most orthodox among us struggle to remain reverent in church, sometimes with disturbing swings of behavior. We might find ourselves in a devout mood and, with great reverence, approach the table of the Lord for Communion with hands folded and focused attention. The same person, however, may glad-hand friends returning to the pew, or immediately aim for the exits to beat the crowds.
Schizophrenic faith is also part of the spiritual life. Be attentive to peculiar and unreasonable acts of irreverence. Proper reverence for God is also the foundation of respect for all of us created in the image of God.
- Be attentive to the liturgical seasons.
The rhythm of liturgical seasons – Advent, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time – re-presents the faith and reinforces our beliefs and practices. At times our faith fails. At other times – as the example of the martyrs teach us – it triumphs over the most horrifying obstacles. Reverently celebrating the Sacraments is the primary means of cultivating faith, above all, the Eucharist. Diligently observing the liturgical year strengthens faith.
With Semitic hyperbole, Jesus says: “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Lk. 17:6) Our God-given faith, purified of error, is our most potent spiritual faculty. Fortified with God’s grace, it overcomes every obstacle to salvation.
So, avoid spiritual poison.
Confront faith difficulties.
Hold fast to orthodox doctrinal definitions and external observances.
Be attentive to liturgical seasons.
A lifetime of disciplined practice makes perfect. Christ is risen in the flesh! Glorious Easter greetings.
*Image: The Resurrection by Hans Memling, c. 1490 [Musée du Louvre, Paris]. This is the center panel of Memling’s triptych of the Resurrection (Triptyque de la Résurrection). The other panels (below) depict the early Christian martyr, Saint Sebastian, and the Ascension of Christ.