April 15, 2004
 
Friar Jack's Catechism Quiz:
The Resurrection

by Julie Zimmerman

The Resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate this Easter season, is the center of our faith. But understanding the meaning of the Resurrection is not always easy. What does Catholic tradition tell us about it? What about the evidence handed on to us in Scripture? In today's Catechism Quiz we'll examine these issues and discuss how, through the eyes of faith, Christians know that the Resurrection is true.

We are also happy to share responses to The Passion of the Christ, Friar Jack's most recent musing. Read Friar Jack's inbox.

Q U I C K S C A N

This Month's Quiz: (peeking encouraged!)

What happened when Jesus was raised from the dead?
What do we know about the nature of the Resurrection?
How do the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection differ from each other?


Friar Jack's Inbox:

Readers reflect on Friar Jack's musings


What happened when Jesus was raised from the dead?

It is noteworthy that none of the Gospels attempt to describe the Resurrection. They do describe the crucifixion, for that is something that humans did to Jesus and as such it is a part of human history and therefore capable of being verified empirically. The Resurrection, on the other hand, is something that God did and therefore not a part of human history in the same sense. It is something that truly happened, but it is a trans-historical event, that is, a divine intervention into human history, and therefore an event that the historian as historian can neither prove nor disprove.

God's actions are not the subject of a historian's study. Historians can study only what humans do, not what God does. They may believe or disbelieve the Resurrection. But when they make that choice, they have moved out of their field of expertise. They have left the discipline of history.

Adapted from Catholic Update.

What do we know about the nature of the Resurrection?

We can look to Paul's attempt to answer such questions in writing to the Corinthians: "But someone will ask: 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' You foolish man," Paul replies (1 Cor 15:35-36), but he does not stop there. He tries to contrast the risen body with the earthly body: "What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body" (15:42-44). Then he tells them a "mystery": "We shall all be changed...for this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this moral nature must put on immortality" (15:51-53).

Taking Paul's contrast as a norm and as a guide, we can say that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the old and the new. It was the same Jesus of Nazareth who was raised from the dead, but he has been changed and transformed. Paul says that the earthly body was physical, and the new body is not physical, but spiritual.

The same is true, of course, of the Resurrection as an event. What was experienced in the Resurrection was the already risen Jesus. No one in the New Testament claims to have seen or witnessed the actual Resurrection, or even to know what a resurrection is. They know of the Resurrection by way of an inference from their experience of the risen Jesus. This is not to question whether it actually happened; rather, it is to say only that there was no one who had a direct experience of it and could have described it literally.

Adapted from Scripture From Scratch.

How do the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection differ from each other?

Mark's Gospel reminds us that Jesus' first disciples were struggling human beings like ourselves. Throughout the Gospel Mark emphasizes how difficult it was for those who followed Jesus to believe in him fully because they did not understand that suffering and rejection were an essential part of the identity of God's Son. But pain leads to light. The added ending (Mark 16:9-20) recognizes how an encounter with the risen Jesus brought about faith. We also hear how those whom Jesus upbraids for lack of faith and hardness of heart are entrusted with preaching the gospel to the whole world.

As always, Matthew, although he draws on Mark, is the more skilled teacher, kinder to readers who do not always see implications. One of the tragic elements in Matthew's Christian experience is a hostile relationship between synagogue authorities and Christian believers. Matthew reminds us that the Christian proclamation of the gospel will not be without struggle. Matthew describes what Mark only promised: the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. From a mountain in Galilee the risen Jesus sends his disciples forth to teach "all nations," making them disciples by baptizing them.

Like Matthew, Luke follows Mark in the basic story of the empty tomb, but then goes his own way in the appearances he reports. Luke sees the Resurrection as fulfilling the Scriptures. The risen Jesus teaches the Eleven about his death and Resurrection by explaining the Scriptures, "All the things written about me in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms must be fulfilled" (24:44).

Luke spotlights Jerusalem as the setting for Jesus' appearances and ascension. For him the Gospel began with the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah in the Jerusalem temple; it ends with Jesus' disciples in the temple blessing God. Jesus' return to God begins the life of the Church that starts in Jerusalem (Judaism) and extends to Rome (the Gentile world).

John's Gospel narrates a series of encounters as character after character comes to meet Jesus and reacts to him. Peter and the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, the disciples and Thomas encounter the mystery of Jesus' Resurrection.

The last word of Jesus is about the Beloved Disciple. He is given no role of authority, but he retains a primacy in being loved, which is more important in this Gospel. To this disciple is held open the possibility of being there when Jesus returns. Symbolically that would be the final fruit of the Resurrection: a believing community of Christian disciples that would remain until the last days.

Adapted from Reading the Gospels With the Church.


Friar Jack's Inbox

Friar Jack Comments on Flood of E-mails: You sent more than 150 responses to my thoughts on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It was the largest and most amazing response ever, with lively comments both pro and con. It was clear that the film touched hearts with lightning-like effect and prompted very many of you to feel very deeply the immense love of God. I was surprised at the large number of you who saw the film three or more times—so great was its meaning and appeal to so many of you!

I would estimate that the number of those who disagreed with my point of view was a little higher than those who agreed, but opinions were fairly evenly divided. I was grateful for your highly personal and energetic responses and for those who said they appreciated my thoughts even though they did not agree. My own words are brief, so that we can present more of your comments.

"Dear Friar Jack: I would like to comment on your position that the movie was "too graphic." Jesus suffered and died a death for us in the most cruel manner ever thought of. The Father could have picked a host of other methods to accomplish the same end for Jesus' human form, yet did not. I firmly believe he chose this most violent and horrible method to demonstrate how horrible the sin of the world really is. And how unbelievably painful for a father to bear. It is politically correct to minimize the sufferings. It "desensitizes" us to what the reality of the crucifiction was to portray it as anything less that what it truly was—the most horrendous and painful way to die that HUMANITY has ever conceived. And it is also my understanding that the gruesome details are derived from inspiration received by a visionary. While I'm sure the Church has not approved this vision, I'm sure that Satan wouldn't want us to realize the sufferings of Christ more vividly. We all need to quit candy-coating the reality of what happened, and what WE have done and still do with our sins."—Kevin

"Dear Friar Jack: Many thanks for your columns, which I really enjoy reading. I am a new subscriber to your web pages. You are undertaking great works for God at St. Anthony's. I just want to say a big thank you to Mel Gibson for the most wondrous film that I have ever seen in my entire life. The terrible suffering of Jesus depicted in The Passion of the Christ has stirred me more than any Church service has done for many years. This authentic movie version of the Gospel’s depiction of the suffering of Jesus has had a very profound effect upon my thinking and faith about this beautiful person in history called Jesus. Mel brought to life the terrible suffering of a loving man, truly the Son of God."—With best wishes, Stephen

"Dear Friar Jack: My husband and I have gone to see the movie, The Passion of the Christ, three times so far. We loved everything about the movie. The actors were very believable. We felt as though we were there at Jesus' side all during the passion. We've been reading everything that's been written about this movie. We have also read the two books by the visionaries that Mel Gibson read to help make this movie. We will buy the DVD as soon as it comes out."—Roger & Debra

"Dear Friar Jack: While I agree that there was too much beating of Christ I want you to know that the film has enhanced my mediations on the Stations of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. I felt as though I was really there. The movie has also made me more aware of the suffering Christ today in every suffering person on earth today. Thank you."—Deacon Tony, SFO

"Dear Friar Jack: I have a very brief statement to add to your comments. Yes, I left the theater in tears…but I was moved to emotion because of Mary losing her son, Jesus. That is not to diminish anything about the Passion, the horrors that Jesus suffered. More so it enhances the pain and anguish that Mary suffered. I have lost a son to an accidental, unexpected death. I felt Mary's pain. Meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Way of the Cross have always kept me in touch with the agony that Jesus suffered. Gibson's movie reminded me of the anquish of a Mother losing her child in such a horrific manner."—Sincerely, Kathy
(In memory of Pat my only son and second of four children)

"Dear Friar Jack: I teach middle school children (6th-8th grades) who are going to make their First Reconciliation and First Communion this year. Most of them have seen this movie and we've had a couple of discussions about it. Your last few paragraphs have really helped me to figure out how to explain why God, who loves us beyond measure, would inflict that type of suffering on his Son. My problem was figuring out how to put it into words that they would understand. You've helped me figure out just how to say to them that it was the "anti-God forces," the "enemies of God" who caused Jesus to suffer so and not his Father. Thank you for your insight and your assistance."—Cindy

"Dear Friar Jack: I enjoy your articles and especially appreciated this one on a film I have, unbelievably, seen twice. (Went with my son, returned with my husband; don't think I can make it the third time for my elder daughter.) The film had an incredible effect on my son and me the first time. It made connections for me that were stunning and brought to life, above all, the incredible reality that someone endured that for me.

I imagine Gibson's decisions highlight the fact that all of us have different threshholds of tolerance and distress. My husband, who curiously can tolerate all sorts of violence in film that I cannot, did not respond positively to the film.

Anyway, I appreciated your words and reflections. Isn't this what we are supposed to do with art, with conversation? Aren't we supposed to reflect thoughtfully, independently and in good faith, knowing that each of us will respond uniquely and learn from each other? I have found that my Catholic and otherwise faithful friends have had wildly different responses to the conversation, and there have been many surprises. It's good to have calm and thoughtful voices available, though, and you have been one for me."—Happy Easter, Susan

"Dear Friar Jack: Thanks for the review of the Passion movie. The severity of the suffering that you say is over the top can be explained by the demonic influence of the crowd and roman soldiers. Satan and demons were in full force to tempt and possess those around Jesus to inflict more pain and torture than would be given to a normal criminal. I suggest reading The Dolorous Passion which inspired the movie. The events of the movie are very clear after reading the visions of the stigmatist Ann Catherine Emmerich. Keep the Faith!"—Marc

Dear Marc and others: In my review, I was not raising questions regarding Jesus’ actual passion and death (which was unquestionably severe, violent, intense and dramatic evidence of God’s incredible love for us) but regarding one human artist’s (Mel Gibson’s) rendition of Jesus’ passion. Despite my questions and concerns, it is apparent that Mr. Gibson achieved something amazing and inspiring for millions. And I salute him for that!

Even if the Church beatifies stigmatist Anne Catherine Emmerich (whose cause is up for beatification), the Church, wisely, will not “beatify” or officially endorse her private revelations or devout imaginings regarding Christ’s passion, even though it allows individual Christians to make their own evaluations regarding the same. Because of the Church’s long history of dealing with mystics and seers, however saintly, I’m sure the Church, again very wisely, will present the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) as the safest and most dependable communicators of the meaning of Jesus’ passion and death.

Rather than add anything more at this point, let me recommend for your interest the following review of The Passion of the Christ, which comes from Catholic News Service. I consider this review very sane, balanced and sensitive.

Send your feedback to friarjack@franciscanmedia.org.

 
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