The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.
… Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then he becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself.
To this extent, in our quest for the figure of Jesus, the Resurrection is the crucial point…
What actually happened? Clearly, for the witnesses who encountered the risen Lord, it was not easy to say. They were confronted with what for them was an entirely new reality, far beyond the limits of their experience.
… Now it must be acknowledged that if in Jesus’ Resurrection we were dealing simply with the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would ultimately be of no concern for us. For it would be no more important than the resuscitation of a clinically dead person through the art of doctors. For the world as such and for our human existence, nothing would have changed…
The New Testament testimonies leave us in no doubt that what happened in the “Resurrection of the Son of Man” was utterly different. Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out in an entirely new life form, into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming, but lies beyond it — a life that opens to a new dimension of human existence… it constitutes an “evolutionary leap” (to draw an analogy, albeit one that is easily misunderstood). In Jesus’ Resurrection a new possibility of human existence is attained that affects everyone and that opens up a future, a new kind of future, for mankind.
So Paul was absolutely right to link the resurrections of Christians and the Resurrection of Jesus inseparably together: “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15: 16, 20). Christ’s resurrection is either universal event, or it is nothing. And only if we understand it as a universal event, as the opening up of a new dimension of human experience, are we on the way toward any kind of correct understanding of the New Testament Resurrection testimony.
On this basis we can understand the unique character of the New Testament testimony. Jesus has not returned to a normal human life in this world like Lazarus and the others whom Jesus raised from the dead. He has entered upon a different life, a new life — he has entered the vast breath of God himself, and it is from there that he reveals himself to his followers.
Here’s the story from NEWS.va. In short:
Benedict XVI will be “Pontiff emeritus” or “Pope emeritus”, as Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, reported in a press conference on th final days of the current pontificate. He will keep the name of “His Holiness, Benedict XVI” and will dress in a simple white cassock without the mozzetta (elbow-length cape).
From my column at Patheos this week on the intersection of Benedict, the Catechism, and the hope of heaven…
I have a first edition English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in hardcover. Ever since my great awakening to my Catholic faith in my teen years, I’ve been reading about our faith, and taking theology classes when I could. So in 1992, when I heard that the Catholic Church was putting out a new catechism, the theology geek in me bought a copy when the English translation arrived in 1994.
Within the first 70 pages or so, I was hooked. I had no idea who was responsible for what I was reading, but the clarity of the teaching grabbed me.
There were several “teachable moments” where the Catechism affirmed what I already believed, or corrected or challenged my understandings. I’ll share just one instance that blessed me, and came back to bless me again years later, and is blessing me still.
The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity. (CCC, par 260)
What? God wants union with his creatures? Up until that point I had I understood that Jesus loved me. I understood that Jesus died for my sins. I understood that those graces had the power to change me and be like Jesus. But my understanding fell short of such a love yielding this kind of a bond as my entering into union with God.
Everything in God’s plan of salvation — another name for the “divine economy” — is moving toward God. Myself included. The Trinity is my destiny and yours.
This woke me up as it gave me pause.
This one sentence kept coming alive in my mind over and over again. It expanded my image of God, my relationship with him and his heaven. For most of my adult life I vaguely acknowledged that, one day, I would die. Yet I never really considered the true hope of heaven, or what it might look like. I was merrily oblivious. Looking back, my rather lame vision of heaven included clouds and angels and what not. God’s heaven was a very distant “place” that didn’t demand my meditation. But I began to ask myself, how can one truly have hope without knowing where the source of hope comes from?
Good catechesis, and the power of the Holy Spirit, has a way of making us dig deeper until we own what we profess to believe.
Two years later, in 1996, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the weight of my own mortality squarely rested across my shoulders. During that time of stress and heartache, what the Catechism had taught me came alive. I remembered that line about entering into the unity of the Trinity. My life, lived well — yoked to Christ — would someday have this potential to be permanently joined to God… to be in union with the Persons of the Trinity for eternity.
Heaven would be all about this relationship!
That one little sentence of truth from the Catechism brought me such hope, and clear direction for the rest of my life! And hope is exactly what one needs, not only when facing a cancer diagnosis, but, really, every single day.
Fast forward, years later, into cancer survivorship… the same Catechism was still challenging me, and it was a catalyst for my returning to graduate school in my forties. There were thousands of footnotes in the Catechism, and I wanted to know what they all meant! (That thirst eventually led me to seek a Masters in the theology, and I received my diploma in 2008 –- 12 years post-cancer!)
As I poured over Scripture and theology books during those study years, I came to discover the “who’s who” behind the Catechism. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – our Pope Benedict XVI – was the chief architect of the Catechism, at the directive of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
In 1986, I entrusted a commission of twelve Cardinals and Bishops, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the task of preparing a draft of the catechism….
(John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, Oct. 11, 1992.)
I felt such a debt of gratitude to Cardinal Ratzinger for the Catechism. It was a monumental work – the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years – plus it took six years to develop, with input from over a thousand bishops from the world over. It would influence future generations for the next century! It certainly had its effect on me.
What’s more, my studies led me to discover Ratzinger as one of the premier theologians of the last two generations — with dozens of books to his name! As I studied eschatology — the study of death and eternal life — I learned how important the actual Risen Body of Jesus is to humanity’s eternal destiny. I came to relish Fr. Ratzinger’s work on the subject. The good professor helped me unpack the beauty of a heavenly union with the Trinity, as he describes how Jesus brings about this union for us.
Heaven’s existence depends on the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself. One is in heaven when, and to the degree, that one is in Christ. It is by being with Christ that we find the true location of our existence as human beings in God. Heaven is thus, primarily, a personal reality…
(Joseph Ratzinger, Dogmatic Theology, Eschatology, The Catholic University of America, 1988, p. 234.)
Jesus makes a space for us in himself, as we truly become the body of Christ. As I read this text that had preceded the Catechism, I immediately recognized the themes I had read earlier.
Read the rest over at Patheos.
Image courtesy of Thomas McDonald
This makes me think… about the genius of Benedict, and the clarity of his teaching…and the meaning of life
Benedict XVI is a biblical scholar and an expert in Augustine’s writing and teaching. This section of his encyclical, Spe Salvi, is simple and profound, much like Augustine himself would teach.
27. [I]t is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12). Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished” (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30). Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what “life” really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await “eternal life”—the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life. Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), has also explained to us what “life” means: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live”.
28. Yet now the question arises: are we not in this way falling back once again into an individualistic understanding of salvation, into hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others? Indeed we are not! Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole…
Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others. This same connection between love of God and responsibility for others can be seen in a striking way in the life of Saint Augustine. After his conversion to the Christian faith, he decided, together with some like-minded friends, to lead a life totally dedicated to the word of God and to things eternal. His intention was to practise a Christian version of the ideal of the contemplative life expressed in the great tradition of Greek philosophy, choosing in this way the “better part” (cf. Lk10:42). Things turned out differently, however. While attending the Sunday liturgy at the port city of Hippo, he was called out from the assembly by the Bishop and constrained to receive ordination for the exercise of the priestly ministry in that city. Looking back on that moment, he writes in his Confessions: “Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died’ (cf. 2 Cor 5:15)”. Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others.
29. For Augustine this meant a totally new life. He once described his daily life in the following terms: “The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved”. “The Gospel terrifies me”—producing that healthy fear which prevents us from living for ourselves alone and compels us to pass on the hope we hold in common. Amid the serious difficulties facing the Roman Empire—and also posing a serious threat to Roman Africa, which was actually destroyed at the end of Augustine’s life—this was what he set out to do: to transmit hope, the hope which came to him from faith and which, in complete contrast with his introverted temperament, enabled him to take part decisively and with all his strength in the task of building up the city. In the same chapter of the Confessions in which we have just noted the decisive reason for his commitment “for all”, he says that Christ “intercedes for us, otherwise I should despair. My weaknesses are many and grave, many and grave indeed, but more abundant still is your medicine. We might have thought that your word was far distant from union with man, and so we might have despaired of ourselves, if this Word had not become flesh and dwelt among us”. On the strength of his hope, Augustine dedicated himself completely to the ordinary people and to his city—renouncing his spiritual nobility, he preached and acted in a simple way for simple people.
—Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, par 27-29. (Bold emphasis, mine.)
UPDATED* — “Pope emeritus”! After his abdication, what do we call Pope Benedict? His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome.
He’ll need a new Twitter handle too. I’m suggesting @BXVIBER. Don’t stop writing, Holy Father. We’ll need your tweets so we can read your new blog. I can’t wait til he posts his first Lisa-Hendey-esque style tweet with the “View from my Office”…
*UPDATE 2.26.2013. News from the Vatican is that they are going with “Pope emeritus”… read all about it!
Change happens… it happens in life, and last week, a soon-to-come change was announced for the papacy. Midlife women know all about changes… from the body to the soul! Join me for Among Women this week as I share my first thoughts on Benedict XVI’s stunning announcement to leave the Chair of Peter, as well talk about the changes both joyful and stressful changes that midlife women face, with my guest, Barb Szyszkiewicz, blogger at SFO Mom. Also in this episode, a look at the life of St Agnes of Prague (aka St Agnes of Bohemia).
Today our beloved Holy Father, Benedict XVI, announced the stunning news that he is going to resign the papacy on Feb 28. Smack dab in the Year of Faith, we will now have a conclave to elect a successor, taking place in the heart of Lent. We as a Universal Church have another excellent reason for keeping a good and holy Lent. It’s very likely we’ll have a new pope by Easter. Let us be sure to pray for these men who will elect him from their number. And let us remember, that the Holy Spirit is with the Church and even though we, the average Catholics, might feel a little wobbly and saddened with this news– given we’ve not had a papal resignation in centuries — this is what the Year of Faith and the new evangelization is all about. This is yet another opportunity to know our faith, live our faith, and share our faith.
Benedict XVI is one of the most deliberate thinkers of the last two generations. He is an excellent reader of the signs of the times. An eminent theologian, to the end, Pope Benedict is the consummate teacher. He not only leads with his eloquent words, but he does so by his witness of love and service to the Church, as he has for so long. He is leading us into this time of transition. I trust his gut on this. We may feel we were not ready for it, but he is leading ever still. As popes live longer and longer lives, thanks to the miracles of better health care and nutrition, we had to face this idea of a resignation from the Chair of Peter as a kind of inevitability. Let us be not afraid of it.
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is also the World Day of the Sick. I still have work to do and prayers to pray related to both. And now I will add the Pope’s intentions to my own in a more dedicated way as we march ahead in the new liturgical season.
After overcoming my own shock to Pope Benedict’s news, as I lay in bed listening to the morning news on the radio, I was grateful that they were announcing his resignation and not his death. I’m not ready to part with the great teacher who shaped so much of my theological training and prayer over the last 20 years. I pray that he has the strength to release his encyclical on faith that he was penning for the Year of Faith before Feb 28, but he might leave that to a successor. But more than that, I hope Papa Benny has a few years of quiet and peace, to maybe write a little more, and to play his piano, and to pray for us for a while longer. I wonder what you or I might be doing when we are 86 years old. Would we still working with the kind of schedule of events that our current pontiff has had? Not a chance. So let us look kindly to our brother, our good Shepherd.
Let us pray for Benedict XVI and pray for the Church. The Year of Faith is calling us to be faithful.
What are your thoughts?
Photo above: here is the Holy Father in a photo our family took during a General Audience in Rome, April 2011. Yes, we were that close to him, sitting near the railing as he rolled by. What a gift that day was!
UPDATE: Don’t forget that the media swirl around this event will be zany for the next several weeks. You might want to bookmark some of the Catholic new agencies for following reports about the coming conclave and transition to welcoming a new pope.
Here’s a few of my go-to recommendations:
and enjoy the blogs from my colleagues at the Catholic channel at Patheos.
[Describing the parable of the mustard seed, Benedict XVI preaches… ] it breaks open to give life to a sprout that can break through the ground, coming out into the sunlight and growing until it becomes ‘the greatest of all shrubs’: the seed’s weakness is its strength, its break open is its power. Thus the Kingdom of God is… made up of those.. who do not rely on their own power but on the love of God…; and yet it is through them that Christ’s power bursts in and transforms what is seemingly insignificant…. If our own small strength, apparently powerless in the face of the world’s problems, is inserted in that of God… victory is guaranteed.
–Benedict XVI, Angelus message, June 17, 2012.
The angel says to Mary: “The power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.” It ‘a reminder of the holy cloud that during the Exodus journey, stopped over the Tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant, which the people of Israel brought with them, and that indicated the presence of God (cf. Ex 40 ,40,34-38). Mary is the new holy tabernacle, the new Ark of the Covenant: with her “yes” to the words of the Archangel, God receives a home in this world, He whom the universe can not contain comes to dwell in the womb of a virgin.
–Pope Benedict XVI, from his Audience this past week on the origins of Jesus.
Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the [Second Vatican] Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path. The first reading spoke to us of the wisdom of the wayfarer (cf. Sir 34:9-13): the journey is a metaphor for life, and the wise wayfarer is one who has learned the art of living, and can share it with his brethren – as happens to pilgrims along the Way of Saint James or similar routes which, not by chance, have again become popular in recent years. How come so many people today feel the need to make these journeys? Is it not because they find there, or at least intuit, the meaning of our existence in the world? This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith, a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.
~Benedict XVI, Homily to open the Year of Faith.