Sunday, May 5, 2013

Meditation on the First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ



Yesterday, Saturday, May 4, was the First Saturday of the Month. The First Saturday Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was first mentioned by Our Lady of Fatima on July 13, 1917. After showing the three children a vision of hell she said, "You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace... I shall come to ask for... the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays..." The First Saturday devotion is as follows:
It consists in going to Confession, receiving Communion, reciting five decades of the Rosary and meditating for a quarter of an hour on the mysteries of the Rosary on the first Saturday of five consecutive months. The Confession may be made during the eight days preceding or following the first Saturday of each month, provided that Holy Communion be received in the state of grace. Should one forget to form the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it may be formed at the next Confession, occasion to go to confession being taken at the first opportunity.
We are in the midst of the Easter Season, and therefore I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the First Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. Everything in existence hangs on this one event. I Corinthians 15:17 tells us: "If Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins." This tells us that Jesus' great sacrifice of pouring out His Precious Blood on the cross and all the suffering He experienced for us would have no meaning if He is not raised from the dead. St, Paul goes on to explain in verses 18-19 the consequences of Christ not rising from the dead: "Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ, are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." There is no more important event in the history of all creation than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that is why this event is marked not by just one day in the Church calendar, but the entire week of Easter is considered one long solemnity. Easter is preceded by Lent, which is a 40-day preparation period. The Easter season itself lasts for 50 days, until the Feast of Pentecost, thus comprising 90 days of the Church calendar.

But why was it so necessary for Christ to rise from the dead? St. Paul tells us in verses 21-22 of I Corinthians 15 that, "For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive." When our Lord conquered death for Himself, He also conquered death for each one of us, and freed us from the punishment we inherited from the first man, Adam, who was condemned to death when he and his wife, Eve, disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, as St. Paul tells us in Romans 5:14: "sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned." The One against whom Adam, along with all his progeny - which includes you and me - had sinned, the One whom we all had rejected and thus brought upon ourselves the justly deserved penalty of death, is the same One who came to us in the form of a man, poured out his Life on the Cross and then rose from the dead to free each one of us from death. It is an amazing Truth that we so easily take for granted because we have heard it so many times. Romans 5:15-17 explains it:
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Think of it in these terms. We are all aware of the terrible bombing in the Boston Marathon a few weeks ago. Picture the innocent people who were killed, injured and maimed in that barbaric act somehow being able to take upon themselves the penalty of those who did the bombings and thus spare the guilty. That is analogous to what Christ did for us.

Further, Christ didn't first check with us and say, look, I'm willing to die for you and free you from sin and death, but first you have to promise that you'll make it worth my time and effort by turning from your sins and following me.  As St. Paul tells us in Romans 5:6-8,
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Christ paid the penalty for sinners with no assurance that they would accept this free gift.  Christ came to this earth and sacrificed Himself while mankind was still in full rebellion against Him.  In fact, the ones for whom Christ died are the very ones who put Him to death.  Christ's Love for us is so great that He even allows us to continue to reject His Love and remain in our sinful ways.  The first law of love is freedom, and that is certainly integral to the Love of God.  Christ, the Good Shepherd, always leads us, but never forces us.  The Love our Lord has for mankind is so great that we will never fully comprehend it as mortal human beings.

During His earthly ministry, Christ told His followers many times that He would be put to death but then rise again from the dead.  The only one who truly believed and understood this was Mary, Christ's Blessed Mother.  As one priest explained it, Mary comprised the entirety of the Church from Good Friday through Resurrection Sunday.  When our Lord was arrested, all of his followers fled, with the exception of a handful who stayed with the Blessed Mother.  When they witnessed His agonizing death on the cross, they were convinced, as any rational person would be, that the dream was over.  His words and promises were forgotten.   They buried him and then walked away.  Ironically, as the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed out, Christ's followers were the ones who had to be convinced He was truly resurrected from the dead.  It was Christ's enemies who actually took His words to heart.

The following is from a recorded talk by Archbishop Sheen entitled "Miracles" which you can listen to here.  This is from proecclesia.com, which offers 50 talks Archbishop Sheen had made as a record (this was before CD's), and which are offered free by proecclesia.com.  I highly recommend listening to as many of these as possible.
In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever had a rock rolled before it and a soldier set to guard it to prevent a dead man from rising, and that was the tomb of Christ on the evening of the Friday called Good. What spectacle could be more ridiculous than armed soldiers keeping their eyes on a corpse. But sentinels were set lest the dead walk, the silent speak and a pierced heart quicken to the throb of life.
They said he was dead. They knew he was dead. They said he would never rise again.  And yet they watched. They remembered that he called his body the temple, and that in three days after they destroyed it, he would rebuild it. They recalled too that he had compared himself to Jonas, and said that as Jonas was in the belly of the whale for three days, so would he be in the belly of the earth for three days, and then would rise again. . .
Their request for a guard until the third day [the Pharisees requesting a guard from Pontius Pilate] had more reference to Christ's words about his resurrection than it did to the fear of the apostles stealing a corpse and propping it up like a living thing in simulation of a resurrection. . . .There must be a seal, and the enemies would seal it. There must be a watch, and the enemies must keep it. The certificates of the death and resurrection must be signed by the enemies themselves. . .
The King lay in state with his guard about him. The most astounding fact about this vigilance over the dead was that the enemies of Christ expected the resurrection, but his friends did not. It was the believers who were the skeptics. It was the unbelievers who were credulous. His followers needed and demanded proofs before they would be convinced.
Guards at the tomb of Jesus
As Venerable Fulton Sheen pointed out, Christ's followers did not keep watch over the tomb because they thought he was dead and gone and his message had died with him.  Christ's enemies, ironically, had more faith, although it was in the form of fear, that Christ would rise from the dead than the followers of Christ did.

Our Lord wanted to make sure that there could be no doubt that He had risen from the dead.  He remained on the earth for 40 days in His Glorified Body, appearing to many.  St. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:3-7:
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
There is the famous story of Doubting Thomas (John 20:24-28):
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”


By the end of the 40 days after Easter, on the first Ascension Thursday when Christ rose to heaven to sit at the Right Hand of the Father, all of His Followers were fully and completely convinced that Christ had risen from the dead. The dream was not only not dead, it was more alive than they could have ever imagined. They were hoping for a Savior who would rescue them from the tyranny of the Romans. Instead, they had a Savior who rescued them from the eternal tyranny of sin and death, as St. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:54-57:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Death no longer has power over us.  The bonds of sin have been broken.  As St. Paul concludes:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
There is no power greater than the risen Christ.  No one and nothing can defeat us except our lack of belief in the Risen Lord.  If we are willing to give ourselves to Him without reservation, He will reward us with eternal life in the Presence of the Holy Trinity.  That is the message of the Resurrection.

Christ has risen!  Alleluia!


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