Experiencing and Expressing
the Risen Life
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER (Year C)
and Divine Mercy Sunday
What first drew you to appreciate the Church? What supports your faith or enthusiasm now? Is it the expression other people are giving to their faith that inspires you? How much confirmation do you receive from your own experience of grace — from things you do that give you the felt conviction of being alive by grace (the gift of sharing God’s divine life)?
The Entrance Antiphon encourages us, “Rejoice to the full in the glory that is yours.” What is that glory? How do we experience it now? What assures us “God… has called you to his kingdom”? Do we experience his reign over us now? In this Easter season do we feel like shouting “Alleluia”?
In the Opening Prayer(s) we ask God to “increase our awareness” of the blessings that are ours because God “gives us new birth in the Spirit.” We ask God to “increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ” — that is, to let us know it and feel it so that this will “help us grow… toward the fullness of eternal life with you.” We want our religion to be brought alive by the conscious experience of sharing divine life with and in Christ whose body we are.
The Responsorial Psalm instructs us that we become aware of this experience. by consciously praising and thanking God for it: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good… Let the children of Israel say, ‘His love endures forever.’” If we praise him we will become conscious that “his love is everlasting” (Psalm 118).
Signs and wonders:
Acts 5: 12-16 tells us that in the early Church the “glory that is ours” through grace was made visible in “signs and wonders” worked by the apostles. This is still going on, for those who have eyes to see it.
Our writings distinguish between the “apostles,” meaning all who are “sent,” and “the Twelve,” to whom we commonly reserve the word. But we see “signs and wonders” in all of those who “radiate their faith” by basing their lives on “values that go beyond current values.” These are the Christians who live out their baptismal consecration as prophets through a lifestyle that “stirs up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: ‘Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them?’”1
This is Christian witness, and this is the “sign and wonder” that draws people to the faith.
The first Christians “used to meet by common consent in Solomon's Portico” But “none of the rest dared to join them.” In our day even many baptized Christians don’t dare to assemble with the community on Sunday because they are afraid, not of persecution , but of boredom, or of being made to feel uncomfortable, or just of missing out on sleep, a ball game, or some Sunday recreation. To this the answer is that anyone who is bored at Mass is not listening to the words, because the words are exciting, no matter who pronounces them or how. And if we feel uncomfortable in church, this might be because the preacher is rigid and negative, or it might be because God is saying something to us that we don’t want to hear. (St. Ignatius of Loyola says we should pray over anything we read or hear that “turns us on” or “turns us off,” because anything that sparks a reaction could come from God or the devil!)
But even those who were afraid to gather with the first Christians were “loud in their praise.” They saw something impressive in their lifestyle, and because of this “the numbers of men and women who believed in the Lord increased steadily.” This is the fruit of Christian witness, which means living in such a way that one’s behavior cannot be explained without the Gospel.
When we experience this “sign and wonder” in ourselves or in others, that is when we are moved to say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.”
The “Sign of Jonah”:
In John 20: 19-31 Thomas could not “give thanks to the Lord” for the Resurrection, because he said he would not believe Jesus was risen unless he could “see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side.”
He was right in wanting to experience the risen Jesus for himself. He was wrong in assuming he could only experience this by seeing Jesus in the body he was used to seeing him in.
The truth is, Jesus “comes and stands among us” repeatedly every day in the form of his risen body on earth, which is the form he has — as man, woman, old, young, rich, poor, genius or mentally and emotionally challenged — in every person reborn by grace. We “share in the divine life of God” (the definition of “grace”) by being incorporated into the body of Christ by Baptism, which makes us members of the Church, children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who experiences us as we really are experiences the risen body of Jesus Christ alive and acting on earth.
But what does it mean to “experience us as we really are”?
It means to experience the “sign and wonder” of people living, speaking and acting in ways that can only be explained by the divine life of God in them.
When people know and believe truths that they could not know except by sharing in God’s own knowledge of the Truth, that is evidence they possess the divine gift of faith. When people choose to direct their lives toward a fulfillment they could not possibly hope for except on the strength of God’s promises, they must be choosing by the gift of divine hope. And when people love in a way that is beyond all human motives for loving, they must be sharing in God’s own divine act of love. When people’s “values go beyond current values” and cannot be explained without the Gospel; when they show a strength in adversity, a serenity in suffering, and a joy in life that the benefits they enjoy do not justify, this is evidence of a life in them that is more than human. It is evidence of divine life, the “favor (grace) of sharing in the divine life of God.”
This says that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and living in them. He alone is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” We can possess divine life only if we are “in Christ,” united to him like branches on a vine. Jesus is “glorified” by and in those whose lives are evidence that he is alive and living in them, and therefore that he triumphed over death on the cross. Jesus was the “sign of Jonah” to his generation; and in the Church, that sign continues to be visible in his risen body today, to every generation until the end of time.2
The risen Jesus is still saying to us all, “Peace be with you.” He is saying it in and through the Church, his visible body on earth:
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”
To be a prophet is to live in a way that is visibly inspired, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is what Baptism consecrated and commissioned us to do. “As Jesus was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so live always as a member of his body.”3
“I, the Living One”
The Book of Revelation 1: 9-19 presents Jesus as the key to all time: past, present and future. “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last [the Alpha and the Omega}. I am the Living One. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld.”
In the Easter Vigil Mass, after the blessing of the new fire, the presiding priest cuts a cross in the Easter candle. As he traces the vertical arm he says, “Christ yesterday and today;” then the horizontal arm: “the beginning and the end.” Above the cross he traces the first letter of the Greek alphabet, “the Alpha,” and the last letter below, “and Omega.”
In the upper left corner of the cross he inscribes the first digit of the current year, “2,” saying, “All time belongs to him;” the second digit in the right corner: “and all the ages;” the third digit in the lower left corner: “To him be glory and power;” and the last digit in the lower right corner: “through every age forever. Amen.”
All time, all human history, revolves around the cross of Jesus and takes its meaning from his death and resurrection. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.
1Paul VI Evangelization in the Modern World, nos. 21, 41. 2Matthew 12:39-40; Luke 11:29-30; John 5: 21-26; 6:48-57; 14:6, 19-20; 15:1-8, 17:1-10; Galatians 2:19-20; 1John 5:12. 3Ritual of Baptism.
What do I do that cannot be explained except by my faith in Jesus Christ? What would I change in my daily life and lifestyle if I did not believe in him?
Make one change in your lifestyle that cannot be explained except by your faith.