This is the website for Little Rock Scripture Study at St. Anthony of Padua, Fresno, California.

As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55: 10-11.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter 2012: Why the Resurrection is Essential

Craig Bernthal

"Christ the Lord is Risen Today"

I have friends in liberal protestant denominations who believe that the resurrection did not occur and is not really essential for Christian faith. In one memorable conversation, a friend was relating a conversation he had with one of the women in his church. He posed a hypothetical question to her: If it could somehow be proved definitively, that Jesus did not rise from the dead, by DNA evidence, or some other way, what difference would it make to your religious beliefs?

She answered she'd be heartbroken. That she'd never enter a church again.

He thought that this was a very fundamentalist view, the reaction of an unsophisticated person. For him, Jesus was primarily a moral teacher, and the resurrection was a metaphor. He felt that she was naive in believing otherwise, and obviously expected me to be smarter and to agree with him. I said that I was with the woman completely. That if I became convinced the resurrection was a myth, I would be broken hearted, and I would never go into a Christian church again. 

He was surprised. It wasn't what Jesus did that was important, it was where your own heart was.

If you believe that, I said, isn't saying the Nicene Creed, and going through the Eucharist, all dress-up and make believe? Why do it? Why not join the Rotary? Do good deeds without the superstitious trappings?

St. Paul knew what was at stake and confronted the problem early on, and he addresses it in 1 Corinthians 15: 12 - 19:

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. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ those have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Most to be pitied because we've gotten it all wrong. Most to be pitied because we've constructed a fool's paradise. Certainly the first Christians did not see the resurrection as a metaphor, and they were closer to the events of Jesus' death than we are. Martyrs do not die for metaphors. They die for what they are convinced is the truth, as did Paul, Peter, and probably the rest of the apostles but for John. That is convincing testimony, as is the success of the Church, against all odds, but prophesied, nevertheless, in Acts.

John Updike, in his great poem, "Seven Stanzas at Easter," understands exactly why the resurrection cannot be metaphorical in a real Christianity:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Indeed, let us not mock God with metaphor. Let's allow ourselves to be embarrassed by the miracle. The resurrection, in reality, is the driving force of Christian charity and courage. It gives us joy and makes demands on us. Our joy in the resurrection makes us want to share love with the rest of the world; that joy propels saints like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Maximillian Kolbe, and John Henry Newman, through lives that are often full of suffering. Joy propels our charity. 
Though the Catholic Church argues that the existence of God is a logical certainty, it does not make that claim with regard to the resurrection of Jesus, though it does argue there are good reasons to believe in the resurrection: the New Testament witness, the existence of the Church itself, the personal experience of the living Christ, and if that experience is weak in us, then by the example of the saints--people transformed into what human beings ought to be. We know Christ through the Church, in the Eucharist, through the Unity of the Holy Spirit, in moments of prayer.  
Without the resurrection, it's all dress-up and make-believe. But finally, we know deep down that it's not dress-up and make believe. In some ways, make-believe would be a relief. We could expect so little of ourselves. But its for real.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday, 2012

The bible is undoubtedly the most influential book in Western literature. Painting, sculpture, music, literature--It has left its dominant mark on all of these these for the past 2,000 years. It's influence turns up in surprising ways. Consider this famous passage from Isaiah, the Old Testament reading from today's Good Friday mass:

Isaiah 52:12 to Isaiah 52:13, The Suffering Servant:

52:13 Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14As many were astonished at him--his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men-- 15 so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.

53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; 11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Now consider this song, which would have only been familiar to blue grass fans before the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. Dan Tymanski (with Alison Kraus playing backup fiddle!):

An exact translation? Of course not. But it shows one way that Christians read the bible and are meant to read it--by making it the story of their own lives. The suffering of Christ is meaningful to us. Our suffering is meaningful to Christ. And therefore, our suffering is meaningful to ourselves, so we can write songs about it.