The Grace of the Resurrection Breaks Through Quarantines and Death

The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a shock. The idea that he would truly rise from the dead seemed far from the minds of the disciples and the Roman and Jewish authorities. Even though Jesus had told his disciples that he would rise on the third day, they did not believe it. The women who went to the tomb expected to find a body. The disciples locked themselves away fearing persecution. The Jews and Romans thought they had finally dealt with an apparent threat to their power. And it was amidst this atmosphere of fear and defeat that Jesus rose from the dead.

The days following the crucifixion and death of Jesus were an unusual and uncertain time for the early Church, somewhat like these days of quarantine and isolation for us now. As we celebrate Easter in this environment, we can discover spiritual growth in ways that we might have missed in previous years and be reminded of Easter’s eternal impact on us.

Before Jesus rose from the dead, he went through several experiences of isolation. First came the experience of embracing the Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane while the apostles fell asleep. Then he was betrayed by Judas, followed by his condemnation for blasphemy in front of the Sanhedrin. His Passion was filled with moments of desolation, isolation and pain, culminating in his death on the cross.

Throughout the Scriptures we see how God uses experiences of solitude to cause a revival in a person’s faith, such as Elijah in the desert, David fleeing Saul, Joseph in prison in Egypt or Paul being held in Rome. In each of these stories, God used the circumstances to help each person see their own sinfulness and repent of it, drawing good out of their suffering and bringing them closer to himself.

During his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi address and blessing on March 27, Pope Francis reflected on the story of the disciples being frightened by a storm while on the Sea of Galilee and compared it to the coronavirus epidemic:

“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. … The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”

When the disciples were being tossed about on the waves, it was  Jesus waking up that saved them. Even more importantly, we are saved from Hell and our sins through Jesus’ death on the Cross and his Resurrection. As Pope Francis reminds us, “…with God life never dies.” Whether it is part of God’s plan for us to come through the coronavirus epidemic or to go to meet him, this holds true. And this is the Good News of Easter — we are saved through Jesus’ death and Resurrection! In our encounter with Jesus, we place our complete trust in him as our Lord and also our Savior, who chooses to become our brother and friend!

Once again, Pope Francis beautifully expresses this truth. “The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love” (March 27, 2020 Urbi et Orbi address).

So in spite of being confined and participating in the Easter celebration from a distance this year, the life-changing impact of our participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection, through our Baptism, is the same. My sisters and brothers, receive in your hearts the truth that you are beloved daughters and sons of the Father in Jesus!

After Jesus rose from the dead, the Apostles were still in hiding and fearful, but Christ appeared to them on several occasions, saying, “Peace be with you.” During these uncertain times, we too, should pray for the outpouring of Holy Spirit and the peace he brings, so that when this contagion passes we are spiritually strengthened by our time in isolation and prepared to give witness to the ends of the earth like the disciples.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).

COMING UP: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.