The Life of Faith in the Light of the Resurrection by Fr. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.
Faith in the risen Christ, glorious yet unseen, is no less crucial for us than it was for the Lord’s first disciples. We who live centuries after the historical fact of the resurrection also want its power to compel us into the world as fearless witnesses, just as it did for them. But although the same experiences enjoyed by the Apostles at the time of the Lord’s rising may not be ours, we have to live as though they were. And this presents us with a problem.
It is invariably by personal contact with the Savior that the reality of the resurrection penetrates the disciples’ hearts. They are skeptics until seeing, hearing, and touching the reality. Reports of Jesus risen and alive are initially met with decided disbelief—so was Mary Magdalene’s story of an empty tomb and dazzling angels just an “idle tale” until the tale’s Hero appeared and called the apostles to faith. At the Savior’s urging, they both contemplate and handle His risen body with its five wounds and so arrive at a joyful recognition of their Lord (Lk 24:36-40).
Short of extraordinary visits from the Savior, such as are enjoyed by select Saints, we do not have contact with Christ under the natural appearances of His humanity. But whatever disadvantage we might suffer living many generations after the apostles, we should recall our Savior’s blessing pronounced upon those who, like ourselves, live by faith in Him who loved us gave Himself for us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29).
Since the vast majority of Christians must live without sight of the Lord, then faith is the Christian’s domain—and we’re never more in our element than when we’re walking by faith, choosing by faith, venturing life and reputation on our faith in Him whom we love but have not seen. Faith in the risen Christ means living with the resurrection as the radical hope that underwrites everything we do (or do not do) in the name of the Gospel.
Blessed John Henry Newman makes this a point of examination in a particularly challenging sermon from his Parochial and Plain Sermons (vol. IV, no. 20). In “The Ventures of Faith” he asks if our faith so roots us in Christ that our fortunes rise or fall along with His:
“Let every one who hears me ask himself the question, what stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise? The Apostle said, that he and his brethren would be of all men most miserable, if the dead were not raised. This is the question, What have we ventured?
Of all of our Lord’s promises, eternal life enjoyed with Him is surely the greatest. But our hope for this is grounded upon the historical reality of Jesus’ passage from death to life. The Lamb once slain and laid out dead in a tomb, rising up through His stained burial shroud, passing through the sepulcher’s wall, and then interacting with His disciples in the most human ways—the resurrection is as concrete as all of that. Our response to it in faith must be as equally concrete.
Do you conduct your life as though Jesus had never left the tomb? Are you sad or lethargic in your Christian journey? On the other hand, is your path to Christ too comfortable?
Look not only at the choices you make each day, but more significantly at the faith or hope or love that underlies your aspirations. Because in truth, every minor or “mundane” choice we make reflects a deeper conviction about the general direction of our lives. How we treat our neighbor, the integrity with which we work, the time we set aside for prayer, each reflects a conviction about what is ultimately important to us. Just as our Lord tells us that our heart and treasure are in the same place, so do our choices reveal our hidden, but true, desires.
How and where do you spend your time? Do you neglect duty for the sake of pursuing an ambition that takes you away from Jesus, or which you would still pursue if He had not risen? Whether Jesus is alive or dead means everything; it is truly a matter of life or death for us. Do our lives reflect that He lives forever, that we are slowly but surely approaching our own death, and that afterward the only works that will survive will be those done in God, for the sake of our hope in Jesus?
Newman soberly concludes in the same sermon:
I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolve, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, nothing we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolve, and do, and not do, and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, … would go on almost as they do, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable.”
This conclusion need not be true of us, although Newman’s sadness at the prospect of its truth shows how possible it is. Taking an honest look at our lives, tracing out the steps of each day, looking at the milestones of our decades, we can rid ourselves of those interests that are not those of Christ. We can measure our desires and hopes against the death and resurrection of Christ and the hope of eternal life, and see where we stand. Does our life stand or fall on the promises of Christ? Would we be most miserable if Christ had not risen and we “believed Christianity to be a fable”?
Name what you have ventured for Christ and you will find the answer.