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Tag Archive: Resurrection

I’m going to kill you! HA HA HA!

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 (10:35 pm), by John W Gillis


I find the readings for the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Lent to be among the most exhilarating collections of readings for the Mass, with its recurring promises of resurrection culminating in the Gospel story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the tomb. I reflected quite a bit on them over the weekend of the 5th Sunday, and during the following week, I came across what I guess is by now a well-traveled “sermon jam” drawn from recordings of Ravi Zacharias, which asks what, for Christians, should perhaps be considered the fundamental question that arises from Lazarus having arisen:

 

 

This is the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him fearlessly; holy and righteous all the days of our lives. (Luke 2:73-75)

Who has time to listen?

Posted: Saturday, January 1, 2011 (11:43 pm), by John W Gillis


Rummaging through some old journals this week while taking a measure of introspection, I came across the following in an entry from March 29th, 1990. I’ve cleaned it up a bit for publication, but it remains essentially the thought of my 29 year-old self. Reading old journals is a fascinating exercise in self-awareness, but I’m throwing them out, anyway…

Who has time to listen? Running around in hectic disarray, death edges closer to each of us by the minute, yet who has time to stop to listen? What would we hear if we did?

Common wisdom has it that we lead such frantic lives on account of a constant, oppressive sense that time is so short. I can no longer believe that. It seems to me these harried ways of ours reflect feeble and vain attempts to dissuade the inevitable. We busy ourselves in order to defy the inevitable, like a man fleeing from the sunset: he knows the sun is setting in the west, so he flees to the east to escape it, only to be caught all the more by surprise.

A man who takes the time, now, to slow down and enjoy the moment, which is our life as we live it now, must realize that he he may not have the time to do so later; whereas a man who won’t take the time now appears to be foolishly assuming that he will certainly have the time later. We’re not this frantically busy because life is so short, it would seem; rather we act like this because we want to believe we’ll go on forever, because we are so afraid of death.

But isn’t it quite strange to be so afraid of death? Death is the universal constant. All living beings – even those never born – suffer death. This death, physical death, is therefore more synonymous with life than is birth. Death’s singular inevitability makes it a rather strange object for our deepest fears. When we fear death, we fear certainty; when we fear certainty, we fear truth; when we fear truth, surely we fear God.

The psalmist said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and certainly nobody suggests that we should leap willy-nilly to our own destruction, or pretend that death does not involve the demise of the self on some important level.

All the same, fearing the inevitable, and acting as if it were not knocking on our doors every moment, seems a futile exercise in self-delusion – it is as if we fear life itself, or at least the process of life. Better, it seems, to embrace death – not as a tool of destruction to inflict on oneself or those whose existence one finds intolerable, but as an enemy who surely will win the battle, yet not the war.

The way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. The great modern activists of non-violence have demonstrated this clearly. If we allow it, death will terrorize us into failing to embrace life in the moment, although our busyness will never stay the executioners hand. But I suppose the steadiness necessary to look death in the eye without flinching or trying to hide from it requires a certain confidence that death will not have the last word, despite all appearances. So be it.

American Religion’s Dismissal of Apostolicity

Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 (7:02 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Wednesday, November 24th, 2010:

Henri de Lubac, from The Splendor of the Church, translated from the 2nd French edition (1953) in 1956, and re-published by Ignatius in 1999 (p.86f):

When we recite the Credo we profess our belief in the Church; and if we believe that the Church is both a universal and a visible community, then we cannot – without betrayal of our faith – be content to grant that the universal Church is made visible and concrete to the individual by that particular community which is his, regardless of the separation of these communities one from another. This would only be another way of resolving the problem of unity by an appeal to an “invisible Church”; it would still be a case of “Platonizing” rather than listening to Christ. “From the very morrow of Christ’s death” a

Church was in existence and living, just as Christ had constituted her; the Church as she is should be in verifiable continuity with the community of the first disciples, which was in turn, and from the beginning, a clearly defined group, social in character, organized, and having its heads, its rites and – soon – its legislation. She should be united to the “root of Christian society” by a real and uninterrupted succession; the need for that cannot be got rid of by treating it as something “profane”, “mechanistic”, or “legalistic”.

… Ruminating tonight, on the eve of Thanksgiving, about the English Separatists and Puritans who spawned this great social and political experiment in North America, their religious character, and how they continue to influence this culture – and not just with turkey dinners at harvest time!

As submerged as American culture still is (comparatively) in religion and/or religious sentiment (at least outside the halls of our “influence” institutions), there are few sentiments more culturally pervasive than the indigenous distrust of what is called “organized religion.” This is pretty clearly traceable to the influential prejudices of the pilgrims, with their congregationalist, dis-organized (or even anti-organized) religion, and it’s hard not to rue the possibility lost in the process.

When you close yourself off to the body as an historical reality (e.g. by “spiritualizing” it), you close yourself off to precisely that which is redeemed in the historical Christ event of Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Thus, you close yourself off to the transcendence that belongs to the historical Church in its regeneration as the Body of Christ. Christ may remain truly Christ – how could He be otherwise? – but the community lacks the characteristic unity, sanctity, heritage, and universality that marks the Church as the living manifestation of Christ’s continued presence in the world. That’s no trivial poverty.

“If the Dead are Garbage, then the Living are Walking Garbage.”

Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 (9:41 pm), by John W Gillis


Every now and again, I find myself disputing with advocates of human cremation over the propriety of the process. Cremation has very rapidly become the preferred option, in certain sectors of society, for dealing with the corpses of the deceased. Whereas at one time its appeal may have been pretty much strictly economic to those not strongly influenced by oriental, non-Christian culture (or anti-Christian sentiment), it is these days often pitched as a morally compelling solution to a looming Malthusian crisis of usable land – the argument being that burial unnecessarily consumes land that could be put to more utilitarian use; the accompanying hysterical assertion being that we are running out of land upon which to live because of all the land that is left for the dead.

On the rare occasion I find myself discussing this, I try to make the case that the cremation process – which is by no means a simple incineration, but also involves a subsequent pulverizing of the skeletal remains, with the bones of the deceased being fed, as it were, into a human garbage disposal – is a disrespectful way to treat the body of a deceased loved one. To make the point that it should matter to us how the dead are treated, I’ve asked people if they would consider having their wife/husband/mother/father/etc. disposed of corporeally by being dropped into a vat of acid that would eliminate all traces of the deceased, who could then be simply drained away. I’ve intended it as an over-the-top, reductio ad absurdum argument that might give people pause to stop and think about the importance of respect for the corpse. How naive of me…

David Mills published a post at the First Thoughts blog last Friday entitled Rest in Solution, which linked to a Daily Mail article about Belgium’s plan to wash its dead down the drain, a plan which entails using a potassium hydroxide solution to eliminate the fleshly material of the corpse – leaving the bone matter to be subsequently crushed, as does burning. The big selling point? It’s more eco-friendly than cremation, which emits large amounts of carbon dioxide! Gotta watch that carbon footprint! Given the anti-burial movement’s long history of symbolic and actual rejection of Christian resurrection doctrine, I’m not quite sure what to make of the claim in the Daily Mail that the process, called resomation, comes from a Greek word for the rebirth of the human body (soma meaning body in Greek).

The body reduced to near nothingness seems to be of a piece with modernity’s contempt for the body. Moderns seem largely divided into two silently collaborating camps: those who hold a reductionist, positivistic view of human life comprising only bodily life, unsanctified by the spiritual soul – with all that implies for the dignity of the place of man in the cosmos; and, on the other hand, those who, reviving the ancient errors of Gnosticism, see the body as a kind of unfortunate storage place for a soul. But the body is an integral aspect of the human being: neither the totality of the person, nor an inessential “thing” that exists apart from the self – except in that dreadful state of personal violation we call death.

As a counterweight to the depressing, techno-sterile misanthropy of resomation, Mills provides a second link in his article, this one to a Weekly Standard article from last March by Matt Labash called: Love Among the Ruins. It tells the story of “Father Rick” Frechette’s tireless work to minister to the castaway dead in Haiti – among his other acts of mercy to the people of that broken land. I’ve taken the title of this post from the response he gives in the article to a question about why he expends so much time and energy to minister to those who are already dead, and won’t know the difference:

Frechette thinks about it a long while, then says, “If the dead are garbage, then the living are walking garbage.”

In another place, he speaks about why he carries on, offering his gifts of mercy in what seems to be such a losing battle:

“Sometimes with horrible things, you really feel there is nothing you can do. Nothing. You’re just useless. But over time, you start seeing that to do the right thing no matter what has tremendous power.”

Reading this article feels like taking a warm bath after reading that Daily Mail piece. Strange, considering what a tale of desolation and horror it is. God bless you, Father Rick. I think it’s time for a re-reading of the Book of Tobit.

Giving Thomas His Due

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2008 (9:52 pm), by John W Gillis


Today is the day we hear in the Gospel reading about the Apostle Thomas doubting the resurrection until he sees and feels the wounds on the body of Christ. Much like Mary Magdalene, I think Thomas gets short shrift at the bar of history.

It is true that Thomas was not with the other ten disciples when the Lord first appeared to them on Sunday evening. In his homily today, my pastor explained how it should serve as a lesson to us that his not being with the community in their time of trial following Jesus’ execution led to his missing the appearance of Jesus. Fair enough, and point taken, but we actually know nothing of why he was not with the others, and there are some very diverse conclusions that could be drawn.

We do know the others were behind closed doors in fear of the Jews, and that Thomas was not. What we know of his character from his other (limited) appearances in the Gospels is that he was a man of courage and firm resolve, who was deeply devoted to Jesus.

In chapter 11 of John, Jesus tells his disciples that they will be returning to Judea (specifically, to Bethany, where he intended to raise his friend Lazarus from the grave). John records that the disciples objected because of the danger facing Jesus there, but it is Thomas who says: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11.16).

We hear from Thomas again in John 14, where he again displays his singular concern for following Jesus:

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. John 14:2-6 (RSV)

It may very well be that Thomas was the only one of the remaining apostles who was brave enough to be out and about in Jerusalem. He may have been collecting food for the others, he may have been at the Temple in prayer, we just don’t know. But it is clear he had not abandoned the others, for they spoke to him of their experience, and then he was with them when Jesus appeared again a week later.

Doubting Thomas (Guercino)Nonetheless, he comes down to us in popular understanding as Doubting Thomas. It’s hard to imagine what must have gone through his mind when he heard the incredible story his friends told him, but it is no surprise to me that he insisted on having the same proof of the reality of this “vision” that the others had had (c.f. Jn 20.20). But when the Risen Lord confronted him, inviting him to exchange his unbelief for belief, he answered with the most profound statement of faith found in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20.28).

It is in believing that Jesus has risen from the dead that the entire Christian enterprise hinges. As appealing as it is to try to move the Incarnation to the center of the faith, it is in the passion and resurrection that real salvation – victory over death, eternal life – is offered to the human race. It is the resurrection that is the “Good News.” The evangelic task of the Church is not primarily to show the world that Jesus Christ is both God and man, nor even to show the world that God is Triune, but that Jesus rose from the dead.

I suspect the best evidence of that, still, is encountering the marks of the crucifixion on Christ’s Body.

ΑΩ

Mary Magdalene, Redux

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 (11:49 pm), by John W Gillis


I kept thinking about Mary Magdalene today. I had a hard time finding an appropriate portrait of her to include in the post I wrote last night, Titiaan, Mary Magdalene (1565)and I got to thinking today that perhaps she hasn’t been very well represented over the years. She is often depicted in low-cut dresses, or in other ways linked to the idea of being a woman of loose morals. This is no doubt on account of her being associated with the woman of ill repute in Luke 7:36-50 who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears – of whom Jesus said she was forgiven because she loved much.

This association is probably based on two textual coincidences: the first being that immediately Neer, Mary Magdalene (1691)following the story of the forgiven sinful woman, Luke records that several women from Galilee followed Jesus as he journeyed from town to town, with Mary Magdalene the first named among them; the second (and perhaps more influential) being that John records a woman named Mary similarly anointing and drying the feet of Jesus (Jn 12:1-8).

Benson, Mary Magdalen, PenitentHowever, Luke only tells us that Mary had been freed from seven demons. And the Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet in John did so in Bethany, in the house of Lazarus and his sister Martha, and was undoubtedly their sister Mary, not Mary of Magdala. All the same, Mary Magdalene is almost always presented in art as a penitent (or in some guises perhaps semi-penitent!) woman, because of that association.

Furthermore, in the depictions of the post-resurrection appearance Holbein, Noli me Tangereto Mary in John 20:11-18 – the scenes typically known by the Latin of Jesus’ response to Mary’s response to him, Noli me tangere, Jesus is often seen trying to keep Mary away from him, which strikes me as an overly narrow reading of a difficult text, and one that is not easy to harmonize with the other Gospel post-resurrection scenes that depict others touching Jesus (including the encounter of Jesus with Thomas in the very same chapter of John, and Mary herself embracing his feet in homage in Mt 28:9).

What is missing are depictions of a strong, Ducco, Noli me Tangere (~1310)devoted, loyal woman of character, as Mary surely was. She not only followed him throughout his ministry, she was one of the very few who stood by him right until the hour of his death on the cross. And even then, she stayed on. Her dedication to the Lord is unparalleled in Scripture, and the Risen Christ appeared first to her, among all the inhabitants of the earth.

That raises an even bigger question about the body of art we have depicting this woman: Where is the exhilarating joy of that moment on Easter morning when he called her “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Pt 2:9)? The Noli me tangere depictions I’ve seen completely fail to do justice to the scene, as far as I’m concerned. Has no artist ever tried to capture the ecstasy and complete satisfaction that woman must have felt at that moment?

Mary!

Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 (10:46 pm), by John W Gillis


The Gospel reading for Mass today (Jn 20.11-18) contains one of the great literary images in Scripture.

Mary Magdalene, after having found the tomb of Jesus disturbed, and fetching Peter and John, stayed behind at the tomb, weeping, after the others had left. After conversing briefly with two angels she saw inside the tomb, she turned away from them in her tears, and in doing so, encountered the risen Jesus – whom she mistook for the gardener. After a few brief words, she turned away from him, too. And then Jesus spoke a single word to her that wholly rocked her world: “Mary!”

Mary Magdalene by Pietro PeruginoI don’t know if it’s possible to grasp the intensity of what must have happened within Mary at that moment. Of course, she recognized him in his calling to her, and she turned back to him, but her heart must have stopped in mid-beat. This man was dead – she saw him die, she saw him laid in the tomb – yet he was calling her name. It must have been simultaneously completely surreal, and quite terrifying, yet John tells us – not that she reacted in fear or disbelief, as we’d expect – but that she called back to him, and embraced him.

Her deep, abiding love for Jesus is made abundantly clear by John, and we can perhaps begin to imagine her feelings if we imagine our own reaction, were we to suddenly and unexpectedly encounter a loved one we were grieving over because we thought for sure he or she were dead. Yet she knew he was dead. She had heard him say “It is finished,” she had seen the blood and water flow from the lance wound to his side after he’d died. She could not have cried “I thought you were dead!” She knew he was dead. She could not have been relieved that he hadn’t died – she knew he had died. Yet … he called her name.

Mary’s universe was turned upside down in that moment, when she heard her name on the lips of a man she loved deeply, who had died two days earlier. Nothing now was impossible. Something brand new had broken in upon humanity. Hearing her name like that delivered her across the great chasm of grief and suffering that is the oppressive presence of death in our lives. Hearing him call her name must have triggered a joy so powerful she could taste it, smell it, feel it in every muscle in her body.

It is the word we all ache to hear, isn’t it?

Lord, I’m not worthy to receive you,
but only say the word,
and my soul shall be healed.