A central feature of Bishop Barron’s entire ministry as a preacher, teacher, and witness to the Gospel has been an emphasis on the Resurrection of Christ crucified. In every sermon and talk, he is in communion with the great tradition of the saints and martyrs of the early Church who preached the subversive message of Christ risen from the dead and what it implies. This bold preaching and teaching stands at the heart of the New Evangelization and is, in part, a response to modern reduction of the Resurrection to a symbol or analogy. When this reduction happens, Bishop Barron rightly argues, the revolutionary message of Christianity loses its salt and savor.
So what does a renewed faith in the Resurrection look like? What difference might it make to our efforts to evangelize today? Here, I probe four ways that might be helpful.
1. Prayer and Spirituality
Too often we think of the Resurrection of Jesus as something external to us. We also think of it as a mystery that has only to do with Jesus. The truth is that because of the bodily Resurrection of Christ, all of the material world has been raised to a new level of being, including our own souls and bodies. Because of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, humanity and the created world have been transformed by God’s Spirit. Furthermore, although Christ is the one who has risen from the dead, he shares that new life with us. Because we have been baptized into Christ’s death and Resurrection, the explosive power of the Resurrection is not external to us but now resides deep within us (See Rom. 8:11). This theology has major implications for how we pray—or, rather, how we allow the Spirit to pray in us. It also reveals the power of God’s Spirit active in our nature that seeks to conform us to God’s nature, maturing us in the art of love and shaping us to become an image of Christ himself. It is the Spirit of God that revives anything dying inside us, illuminates any darkness, heals every wound, and forgives every sin.
2. Death and Dying
The mystery of the Resurrection speaks to the mystery of death that touches us all. We all grieve the death of a loved one, and one day we will die too. As a priest who has the privilege and responsibility to preach God’s Word at many funerals, I often find myself tempted to scramble for scraps of comfort for the grieving family, especially if it is a tragic death. Another option of approaching this challenge is to highlight the positives from the person’s life, remember the good times, name the gifts of the deceased, and honor their contribution and legacy to their families and the community.
All of this is legitimate, provided that the Resurrection is not reduced to a symbol of positivity that helps us to feel better. For example, we often hear it said at funerals that “he/she will live on forever in our hearts.” But while this means that the deceased will be remembered by those who grieve them, the truth of our faith in the Resurrection is much more breathtaking in its bold hope that the person who has died is not just alive in human memory but actually alive in God. The desire to console people at funerals, however important, must not be the central focus, which must always be the proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead and our hope that the deceased shares in that new life that Christ won for us. What ought to stand at the center of every funeral liturgy is not the person who has died but Christ and the deceased’s share in his new life because of their faith and baptism. Here is a great opportunity we still have as a Church to be bold and to proclaim the hope that flows from Christ having conquered death. Outside of the funeral liturgy, the spirit of the risen Christ unites us permanently to loved ones who have died, to the communion of saints, and ultimately to God himself. In the words of St Paul: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” Love never dies, and it is the Resurrection that has made this hope possible.
Some find suffering to be almost as mysterious and incomprehensible as God himself. Nevertheless, because Christians believe that Christ was God incarnate, then through Christ and his cross, God has not taken away suffering but taken it to himself to be transformed from bitterness into love. While people continue to suffer horrendously every day, the Resurrection of Christ invites us to endure suffering with the Resurrection and eternity in view. The cross is a moment, but the joy of the Resurrection lasts forever. For many of the great saints, the experience of suffering was always linked to love and being made more perfect in love. For St. John of the Cross, the Christian’s participation in the suffering of Christ is nothing less than “the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover” (Dark Night, 6). Saints like John testify that suffering and death do not have the final word but are mere preludes to an even greater joy that awaits us in the fullness of resurrected life.
Finally, believing anew in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the source of all our hope. For the first disciples, the death of Jesus and the manner of his death was the end of their hopes and dreams. With the death of Christ, the worst thing that could happen did happen—the Son of God was killed. But God raised him high and by doing so showed that God’s love is the most powerful force in the universe, stronger even than death. Therefore, the resurrection is the source of our hope, the hope that saves. Hope is not believing that bad things will happen to us. Rather, it means that if and when they happen, the love of God that is present and active in all the events of life is working all things for the good of those who love him. In the words of St. Paul, hope does not disappoint us, because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). None of us are spared from suffering and struggle. We might have a health problem, suffer a broken relationship, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or some other event that uproots us and raises many questions and doubts. What do we hope for when these things happen? What is our hope when all hope is gone? Our hope is that because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and that, despite the worst that can happen, his love endures forever—the love that is our strength and life.
Christianity stands or falls on the truth of the Resurrection. We must allow the Resurrection stories in the Gospels to speak for themselves, on their own terms. We must proclaim them in all their power and newness. Just as a large stone could not contain the presence of Christ in the tomb, no symbol, metaphor, or analogy of the Resurrection can capture the explosive power of Christ’s person, truth, and love, risen from the dead. May we not be lacking in the boldness and courage needed today to proclaim the Resurrection of Christ with the same joy and conviction as the Apostles, saints, and martyrs.