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April 11, 2004

Alleluia! He is Risen!

What appeared to be an ignominious death turned out to be the defeat of the power of sin and death forever. The One Who had been arrested as a criminal, charged falsely by the Sanhedrin, spent a night in prison, was scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, condemned by the crowd, judged by Pilate, spat upon and vilified as he walked to His Crucifixion, placed in the arms of His Most Blessed Mother after He had breathed His last, was assigned a grave among evil-doers and spent forty hours in a borrowed tomb. Although dead in His human nature, Our Lord went to the reaches of the netherworld to free all of the souls of the just who had been awaiting His Redemptive Act. The Gates of Heaven had been reopened. The Good Thief had company. Souls of human beings were finally in Heaven.

The world, however, thought that the Nazarene had been done away with. His Apostles were hiding in fright out of fear of the Jews. Only a small band of women had the courage to make their way on Easter Sunday morning to the tomb in order to anoint Our Lord's Body. The sight of the empty tomb startled them. And St. Mary Magdalene was astonished to see the Master Himself tilling the ground as a gardener. You see, Adam tilled the ground in the Garden of Eden. Our Lord wants to till the garden of our souls. He told St. Mary Magdalene to go to the Apostles with the news that He had risen from the dead as He had foretold. He had fulfilled His own prophecy: "Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days."

The Apostles did not believe at first. Do we believe at all ? Do we really understand that the fact that there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem because Our Lord got up from there and walked out on Easter Sunday morning is supposed to define everything about us and our nations and the world? Do we understand that the Cross and the empty tomb mean that we cannot think or act as secularists, making no reference to these events and One who accomplished them in public discourse? Do we understand that nothing happens to us in this life matters one little bit (no suffering, no misunderstanding, no injustice) if we die in a state of sanctifying grace? Do we realize that there is no material success or failure which defines our eternal destiny? Do we fear the deaths of our souls by means of mortal sin rather than the death of our physical bodies? Do we believe that we are destined to rise forth incorrupt and glorious on the Last Day from our tombs if only we persevere until the point of our deaths in a state of grace?

St. John the Evangelist outran the first Pope, St. Peter, to the tomb after hearing news that Our Lord's Body was not there. Out of deference to the Chief of the Apostles, John did not enter the tomb until Peter had done so, although he peered inside. They saw and believed. The words that the Lord had spoken to them as they walked down Mount Tabor flashed through their minds. "And as they came down from the mountain, He charged them not to tell any man what things they had seen, till the Son of man shall be risen again from the dead." (Mk. 9:8) He had risen! As Saint Paul would note later, if Our Lord has not risen bodily from the dead, then our faith is in vain and we are the most pitiable of men. The actual, bodily Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from dead is a central fact of the Catholic Faith and anyone who dies this central fact is not only a heretic but a demonic deceiver.

"For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures: and that he was seen by Cephas; and after that by the eleven. Then was he seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until the present, and some are fallen asleep. After that, he was een by James, then by all the apostles. And last of all he was een also by me, as one born out of due time. . . .

"Now if Christ be preached, that he arose again from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ is not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God:, that he hath raised up Christ; whom he hat not raised up, if the dead rise not again.

"For if the dead rise not again, neither is Christ risen again. And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is in vain, for you are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ, are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

"But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep: for by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also inC Christ all shall be made alive. . . .

"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet sahll sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?

"Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hat given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor. 15:3-8; 12-22; 52-58)

The Resurrection of Our Lord from the dead on Easter Sunday was an event that had never before taken place. Each of the three people, including Lazarus, that Our Lord brought back miraculously to physical life died again. Our Lord's Resurrection was not simply a physical resuscitation of His Body. No, His Resurrection from the dead on this very day, Easter Sunday, was a rising forth from death in a glorified Body with properties that all of the bodies of the just will have on the Last Day when they are reconstituted from the dust of the earth and reunited forever to their immortal souls.

Our Lord showed Himself to the Apostles in the same Upper Room where He had begun His Passion. His risen and glorified Body still bore the brand marks of the cruelty our sins had imposed upon Him. Indeed, those brand marks remained on His Body once He had ascended to the Father's right hand in glory on Ascension Thursday forty days later. There is no Easter Sunday, no empty tomb, without the Cross. There is no way to know eternal life unless we are willing to die to self as faithful sons and daughters of the true Church, outside of which there is no salvation, just as Our Lord died for love of us on the wood of the Cross. We must always look to the Cross, the instrument of Our Lord's torture which He used to effect our unmerited redemption.

An ancient tradition of the Church teaches us that Our Lord was crucified on the same date, March 25, that He had been conceived in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb by the power of the Holy Ghost at the Annunciation. No, this is not de fide dogma. However, it is worth giving the matter a moment of thought. It does make perfect sense that Our Lord would suffer and die on the same date that He became incarnate to win back for us on the Tree of the Holy Cross what was lost for us on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. No matter the date of the first Good Friday, though, it is the case absolutely that Our Lord appeared first to His Most Blessed Mother on Easter Sunday to console her and to reward her with the fruit of their Easter victory over sin and death.

There is symmetry here. If we die in a state of grace, we will be received into the bosom of Our Lady, who will present us to her Divine Son once our souls have been purified of all stain of sin in Purgatory if they are not so purified at the moment of our deaths. We will see Our Lady before she presents us to the Blessed Trinity to enjoy the glory of the Beatific Vision for all eternity. It is thus essential to keep close to Our Lady to make the best Holy Week of our lives. Let me repeat: it is essential to keep close to Our Lady to make the best Holy Week of our lives. Our Lord came into this world through Our Lady. We cannot return to Him except through Our Lady, who wants to lead us after a life of repentance as sons and daughters of the true Church her Divine Son founded upon the Rock of Peter, the Pope, to an unending Easter Sunday of glory in Paradise.

Alleluia! He is Risen! It is now time for fifty days of jubilant celebration. The Easter season lasts ten days longer than Lent, reminding us that no matter how long we toil in this vale of tears to save our own souls by cooperating with the graces won for us by the shedding of Our Lord's Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross, the joys of eternity are forever. We should work assiduously each and every day to get to Heaven by pursuing the heights of sanctity with every beat of our hearts, united as they must be to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the font of Divine Mercy.

My wife Sharon and our now two year old daughter, Lucy Mary Norma, wish each of you a blessed Easter Sunday and Easter Octave--and a glorious Easter season in the Risen Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ.




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