Monday, August 7, 2023
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
It is well known that Easter is always celebrated in the spring. But in August, there is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, (on the 6th); and the Marian solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (on the 15th). Both liturgies, with a Paschal touch, invite us to recall the mystery of the Lord's Resurrection.
The first glorious mystery, the Resurrection, took place on the third day after the Lord’s death and burial. It was an extraordinary and singular event in history, witnessed only by the "blessed night" (beata nox), according to the Exsultet, or Easter Proclamation. Shortly after passing to eternal life with his glorified body, Jesus began to appear to certain people.
St. Paul summarizes the apparitions: "[H]e appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all ... he appeared to me" (1 Cor 15:5-7). Let us forgive the Apostle for not being aware of the first of all the apparitions, to St. Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18).
Although the witnesses to the Resurrection proclaimed it with great courage and conviction, the temple authorities discredited it by saying that the disciples had stolen the body. "And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present (day)" (Mt 28:15).
The greatest difficulty in believing in the Paschal Mystery derives from the fact that Jesus only appeared to his disciples so that they could be his witnesses. That is, he appeared to those who were inclined in his favor, to those who mourned his death.
This difficulty was pointed out by the apostle St. Jude Thaddeus when Jesus spoke to them during the Last Supper: "Master, (then) what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?" (Jn 14:22). During his public life, Jesus explained many things only to his disciples, and he did not want them to divulge his miracles. This position is known as "Messianic Secret." Let us say that Jesus wanted to do without the persuasive power of publicity and marketing!
When he rose from the dead, he did not want to reveal his new condition of living immortal to enemies such as Annas, Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate. Nor did he want to appear alive on the temple esplanade in full view of everyone, whether they were friends, enemies or indifferent. Remember that Jesus had already overcome the temptation to throw himself from the eaves of the temple to fall unharmed on the ground (cf. Lk 4:9-11).
The question now arises: If Jesus had made his Resurrection a miraculous event visible to everyone without distinction, would all the inhabitants of the world have become Christians?
The negative answer is found at the end of the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man. The latter asks Abraham from Hades (a pre-Christian eschatological term) to allow Lazarus to go and warn his brothers so that they will not be condemned as well. Abraham replies: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them" (Lk 16:29). At the rich man's insistence, Abraham gives him a final and unappealable answer: "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead" (v. 31).
So, what is it that has impelled so many human beings to believe in the risen Christ? Let us see it by accompanying St. Paul and Silas when they arrived in Philippi, a Roman colony of Macedonia. Both went to the bank of a river where Jews gathered for prayer on the Sabbath. St. Paul began to proclaim to them the Christian message, including, of course, the Resurrection. Among the listeners was a woman named Lydia. And here comes what is definitive for faith: "The Lord opened Lydia's heart to accept what Paul said" (Acts 16:14).
All of Paul's eloquence would have been insufficient without this inner touch of divine grace.
To this day, no one has become a Christian without having received that inner stir that moves them to take the beatifying leap of faith.