Why Be Catholic? 4: Resurrection
Though I take it up as the fourth in this series, surely the Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the first and most obvious reason to be both a Christian and a Catholic, for it is Christ’s Resurrection which bears ultimate witness to the truth of the relationship between man and God which He both revealed and accomplished. Question: How do we know Christ’s teachings are true? Answer: Because He rose from the dead.
Christ himself argued that we should believe in Him because of the works He did. His miracles were a proof that He came from God and, therefore, that His words were true. Indeed, when he drove the money-lenders out of the temple, claiming that it was his Father’s house, he replied to those who challenged his authority by referring them to a stupendous miracle still to come: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again” (Jn 2:19). In several places, Scripture makes clear that He was talking about “the temple of His body” (cf. Jn 2:21)—that is, His own Resurrection from the dead.
The Resurrection, then, is the culmination of all the signs which validate Christ’s authority, the truth of His teaching, the reliability of His message, the reality of His Divine sonship, into which he would incorporate all of his followers. But note that there is a double significance to this formidable proof. In the first place, again, it is the guarantee of the Divine authority behind all of Christ's sayings and everything He instituted. Apostles, bishops, priests, sacraments, the Church: all are guaranteed by the Resurrection to be Divine institutions, established by the One who proved He came from God. The first great significance of the Resurrection, then, is that it directly or indirectly guarantees not only the truth of Christ’s own words but the authority of the Church, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and the efficacy of the whole order of grace.
This is, if you will, the Resurrection’s macrocosmic significance. But what of its microcosmic significance? What of the significance of the Resurrection in that microcosm of the Christian mystery which is my own personal life, my own being? St. Paul addressed this question specifically when he rebuked those who denied the resurrection of the dead:
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 have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:16-22)
In other words, Christ’s Resurrection is the guarantee of our own resurrection, our own personal immortality, not just as disembodied souls but as complete human persons, body and soul united to God. An inkling of what this means may be gained by reflecting on the aging process. As we get older, we sometimes look in the mirror with surprise. We don’t think of ourselves as “old”. We think of ourselves as simply ourselves—the same as ever, the same self we were aware of when we first reflected as children, not necessarily the young self, but certainly the very same self. We find it strange, even a little disturbing, that the body can betray through change, growth, and decomposition this self, this me whom I permanently understand myself to be.
In Christ’s Resurrection, this “permanent me” is guaranteed to enjoy the fullness of life forever: Elevated, purified of sin, perfected, living in unlimited love—but always essentially myself. No other philosophy or religion offers so much or, to put it differently, no other philosophy or religion captures so perfectly what we instinctively understand about ourselves, about our difference from the rest of nature, about the essentially permanent and potentially glorious character of our own being. The reason is simple, for no other philosopher or theologian boasts a resurrection, and when it comes to being Christian and Catholic, all the difference is made by that single, solitary, concrete and miraculous historical fact.
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