Christ’s Resurrection and his subsequent appearances are the revolutionary events in human history. The Apostles, Resurrection witnesses, boldly set out to conquer the world, proclaiming the Truth of Christ’s own repeated proclamation that he, the “Resurrection and the Life”, would be killed then rise on the third day.
Yet those Apostles, handpicked by the Lord, who lived intimately with him and shared in the Eucharistic meal, didn’t believe he had risen when Mary Magdalene and others who first saw Jesus told them. Mary’s testimony to them “seemed like nonsense and they refused to believe.” (Luke 24:11). They needed a loving rebuke from Jesus to open their hearts.
The two disciples heading for Emmaus disheartened by unbelief needed a Scripture Lesson from the Lord and the breaking of bread, the Eucharist, to open their eyes and know the risen Lord.
Jesus tenderly scolded Thomas, as well, who refused to believe unless he put his hands into Christ’s wounds which is what the Lord allowed him to do. Thomas then burst out, “My Lord and my God.”
After Jesus told Thomas that those who have not yet seen, yet believe are more blessed, he headed for Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) where Peter and four other disciples had gone fishing.
During our 50 days of Easter alleluias and joyful celebrations launched by the brilliance of the Vigil Mass in the Paschal Triduum, I’ve been spending some time thinking about this temptation to doubt.
We live in the age of the Holy Spirit who asks us to believe without seeing. Sometimes I feel his apparent absence amid the digital noise of social media and agonizing advertisements everywhere.
Furthermore, the Church’s voice is intentionally silenced in the mainstream media. If we look to the news for what’s happening with the Coronavirus Pandemic our minds are lured by rapid-fire warnings and predictions which don’t match the data compiled by sites like Our World In Data
Absent in print and digital media are quotes or references to the Church’s hope found in Christ, the cornerstone of any planning and building within COVID-19. For the disease to hit us in the heart of Lent and the Paschal Triduum seems like an extraordinary move from Providence.
With every Church in the universe locked, how many have streamed the beautiful Masses, prayers, and adoration hours everywhere? The numbers are harder to find, but there’s evidence that the Master of drawing hearts is at work.
Ellen Teague, reporting for The Tablet, April 6, wrote, “Parishes in England and Wales are reporting a surge in the number of people attending Mass…” Fr Rob Esdaile, a parish priest in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton told her that “attendance at weekday Masses had increased from 10-20 people to more than 100.”
I’ve enjoyed ‘visiting’ Cathedrals to hear our Bishops speak boldly about our everlasting hope in the Resurrection. Click here for Toronto’s Archbishop Thomas Collins’s words during the Easter Vigil.
My struggle isn’t with belief in the Lord’s Resurrection, it’s with persevering prayer to my Lord and my God who I can’t see and touch. It’s like endless sprints between the blue lines or keeping a steady pace on the bike up a long, steep hill. Training is the route to improving the on-ice game.
Through persevering prayer the Lord takes possession of our weak trust gradually building a heart steadfast in trust and love prepared to sprinkle His mercy and ‘play’ amid those who silence his voice, perhaps not even aware of it.
Sometimes the temptation to discouragement creeps toward my heart, though, like rising water in spring, set to overcome the river’s banks. Together, we have the great gift of a longing heart that moves us away from discouragement toward the One who fills the longing.
We long for the new Jerusalem, the “…holy city Jerusalem coming down from heaven …The city had the radiance of a precious jewel that sparkled like a diamond…The city had no need of the sun or moon for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.”(Rev 21: 10-11, 23).
Rising In Christ
I returned to a book I read in 2005 called Rising in Christ: Meditations on Living the Resurrection, by John Paul II. The editors Jo-Garcia-Cobb and Keith E. Cobb compiled excerpts from John Paul II’s homilies, addresses, encyclicals, etc. in which he pointed to the Resurrection as the decisive event in human history and indeed the Church’s history.
One of his most penetrating messages on the Resurrection he gave in Germany, 1987 when he visited the Ruhr area to heal the deep wound of unemployment and loss of a way of life there.
The Ruhr Valley, the most densely populated and industrialized region of Germany with its coal mines and steel mills covering the landscape, powered Germany’s economic recovery after World War II. Once the dominant coal mining and steel manufacturing center in Europe the Ruhr faced a steady and painful decline of coal mining beginning in the 1950s, reaching top gear by the seventies and ’80s, and finally ending completely with the last and largest coal mine of Europe shutting down in 2018.
John Paul first had them reflect on the faith and hope of their ancestors:
The beginning of the Church in your country dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. The oldest tombs of the martyrs, which you keep in some churches of your great homeland date back to Roman times.
He then highlighted a few of Germany’s great achievements and witnesses to the Truth embodied in the heroic life of many such as Edith Stein.
Miraculous Catch At Lake Tiberias
Aiming to steer the coal miners away from discouragement and resignation, the Pope shared his piercing insight into the miraculous catch of fish on the shores of Lake Tiberias.
In order to give witness to Christ and his new life, we ourselves must first let ourselves be completely possessed by him. However, like the disciples at Lake Tiberias, we too are time and again tempted to become weak in faith and give up. Although they had already heard the message of Jesus’ resurrection from Mary Magdalene, although they had met him several times, they returned to their boats as if nothing had happened. It sounds like resignation: ‘I’m going out to fish…we will join you.'(John 21:3).
He then emphasized their lack of success at what they’re good at, catching fish. They didn’t catch anything all night.
John Paull II: This experience of failure that easily leads to discouragement is shared by many today in society, in the world of work, but also in the church.”
It appears that the Lord must take our goods, our means away from us so that our vision is cleared for him. For he seeks our company. As we read in the good news of today’s Gospel: “Just after daybreak Jesus was standing on the shore…” First He needed an honest answer from his disciples, an admission of their own hopelessness and powerlessness. He said to them: “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” “Not a thing,” they answered.” Then came God’s help: “Cast your net to the starboard side,” he told them, “and you will find something.” So they made a cast, and took so many fish they could not haul the net in.” (Jn 21:3-6). Suddenly the risen Lord became a living reality in their lives, transforming them and giving them a new meaning to everything, filling them with unexpected satisfaction and joy.
The Pope then threw his net to the whole world:
“Jesus is also on the shore of our time, on the shore of the life of each of us.”
Pope John Paul II went deeper saying many do not recognize Christ, whose
“redemptive presence can no longer be ignored. Without him, there is no support or hope. Without him, all man’s efforts are in vain and the hunger of the human heart cannot be satisfied.”
Final Call To The Ruhr Valley Workers And Us
John Paul finished his homily by calling those living and working in the day to day life of the Ruhr to feed on the Eucharist and never let the fire of the Gospel be extinguished in their lives:
Dear brothers and sisters!… What the Gospel tells us does not belong to a distant past, but is a living present. “Jesus said to them: Come and eat!… Jesus approached, took the bread and gave it to them (and the fish)”. This happens here and now. As imposing as the coal fires in the Ruhr area are, the mysterious Gospel fires continue to burn on all continents and at all times because love itself is broken in the humble form of bread.
Do not freeze in selfishness…and the pursuit of pleasure, but come to the Easter fire of Holy Mass; let Sunday, the Lord’s day not become empty of meaning…Believe in the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who assured us that he is always next to us every day until the end of the world.
Amid the amazing universal restrictions, suffering and death caused by a coronavirus, we have all in some way been affected. Pope St. John Paul II’s message to those living in the Ruhr Valley can easily apply at this time,
“It appears that the Lord must take our goods, our means away from us so that our vision is cleared for him.
He stands on our shore calling to each of us. He is the beautiful horizon on that shore shining with a radiant light more brilliant than the “radiance of a precious jewel that sparkled like a diamond.”