There is only one basic reason why Christianity exists and that is the fact that Jesus Christ truly rose from the grave.
The disciples never expected the resurrection. The unanimous testimony of all four Gospels is that the terrible death of Jesus on the cross entirely dashed all their hopes about Jesus and about his message. He was dead, and that was the end of it. They looked for nothing more, and they expected nothing more.
So as much as they had loved him, in their eyes Jesus was a failed messiah. His dying seemed to entirely rob both his teaching and even his miracles of any lasting significance.
And they were clearly terrified that his awful fate, at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans, could easily become their awful fate. So they hid, trembling with terror, behind shuttered windows and locked doors.
When the Risen Christ suddenly appeared in their midst, their reaction was shocked incredulity. They simply could not believe their own eyes.
Reality only very slowly began to penetrate their consciousness when Jesus offers proof of his resurrection. He shows them the wounds on his hands, his feet, and his side. Jesus even allowed them to touch him. He breaks bread with them and eats with them. And only then could they admit to themselves what had seemed absolutely impossible – the one who had truly died had truly risen! The Crucified now stood before them as their Risen, glorious, triumphant Lord.
His rising from the grave was every bit as real as his dying on the cross. The resurrection was the manifest proof of the invincible power of Almighty God. The inescapable fact of the resurrection confirmed every word Jesus had ever spoken and every work Jesus had ever done.
The Gospel was the truth. Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel. Jesus was the Savior of the world. Jesus was the very Son of God.
There is no other explanation for Christianity. It should have died out and entirely disappeared when Christ died and was buried, except for the fact that Christ was truly risen, and that during the 40 days before his Ascension, he interacted with his Apostles and disciples, and on one occasion even with hundreds of his followers.
Today’s appointed Gospel reading for this Saturday in the Octave of Easter is taken from the 16th Chapter of Mark. It concludes with a command from the lips of Jesus, given to his disciples, given to the whole Church, given to you and me assembled here today: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
We heard in today’s Second Reading from the Acts of the Apostles that the same Sanhedrin that had condemned Jesus was amazed at the boldness of Peter and John. Perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they recognized them as companions of Jesus. They warned them never again to teach, or speak to anyone, in the name of Jesus.
But the elders and the scribes might as well have tried to turn back the tide, or hold back an avalanche. Peter and John had seen the Risen Christ with their own eyes. Peter and John were filled with the Holy Spirit. They asked whether it is right “in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”
And Peter and John and all the Apostles, starting first in Jerusalem in Judea and Galilee and then to the very ends of the earth, announced the Resurrection and the Good News to everyone they encountered.
According to the clear testimony of the Scriptures, these Apostles had once been rather ordinary men – like you and me. Their faith hadn’t always been strong. They made mistakes. They committed sins. They were often afraid and confused.
But meeting the Risen Lord had changed everything about these first disciples, and knowing the Risen Lord should also change everything about us.
You know, it has never been easy to be a Christian and it’s not supposed to be easy! The world, the flesh, and the devil will always love their own, and will always hate us. As Jesus once predicted, they hated me, they will certainly hate you.
But our Faith, when it is fully lived, is a fighting faith and a fearless faith. Grounded in the power of the resurrection, there is nothing in this world, and nothing in hell, that can ultimately defeat God’s one, true, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
For 2,000 years the enemies of Christ have certainly tried their best. But think about it. The Church survived and even flourished during centuries of terrible persecution, during the days of the Roman Empire.
The Church survived barbarian invasions. The Church survived wave after wave of Jihads. The Church survived the age of revolution. The Church survived Nazism and Communism.
And in the power of the resurrection, the Church will survive the hatred of Hollywood, the malice of the media, and the mendacious wickedness of the abortion industry.
The Church will survive the entrenched corruption and sheer incompetence of our Illinois state government, and even the calculated disdain of the President of the United States, his appointed bureaucrats in HHS, and of the current majority of the federal Senate.
May God have mercy on the souls of those politicians who pretend to be Catholic in church, but in their public lives, rather like Judas Iscariot, betray Jesus Christ by how they vote and how they willingly cooperate with intrinsic evil.
As Christians we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, but as Christians we must also stand up for what we believe and always be ready to fight for the Faith. The days in which we live now require heroic Catholicism, not casual Catholicism. We can no longer be Catholics by accident, but instead be Catholics by conviction.
In our own families, in our parishes, where we live and where we work – like that very first apostolic generation – we must be bold witnesses to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We must be a fearless army of Catholic men, ready to give everything we have for the Lord, who gave everything for our salvation.
Remember that in past history other governments have tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches like the first disciples locked up in the Upper Room.
In the late 19th century, Bismark waged his “Kultur Kamp,” a Culture War, against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany.
Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century.
Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.
In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.
Now things have come to such a pass in America that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.
This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries -- only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down. Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the instrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.
No Catholic ministry – and yes, Mr. President, for Catholics our schools and hospitals are ministries – can remain faithful to the Lordship of the Risen Christ and to his glorious Gospel of Life if they are forced to pay for abortions.
Now remember what was the life-changing experience that utterly transformed those fearful and quaking disciples into fearless, heroic apostles. They encountered the Risen Christ. They reverenced his sacred wounds. They ate and drank with him.
Is that not what we do here together, this morning at this annual men’s march Mass?
This is the Saturday of the Octave of Easter, a solemnity so great and central to our Catholic faith that Easter Day is celebrated for eight full days, and the Easter season is joyously observed as the Great 50 Days of Easter. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ – risen from the grave – is in our midst. His Holy Word teaches us the truth. His Sacred Body and Blood becomes our food and drink.
The Risen Christ is our Eternal Lord; the Head of his Body, the Church; our High Priest; our Teacher; our Captain in the well-fought fight.
We have nothing to fear, but we have a world to win for him. We have nothing to fear, for we have an eternal destiny in heaven. We have nothing to fear, though the earth may quake, kingdoms may rise and fall, demons may rage, but St. Michael the Archangel, and all the hosts of heaven, fight on our behalf.
No matter what happens in this passing moment, at the end of time and history, our God is God and Jesus is Lord, forever and ever.
Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!
Christ wins! Christ reigns! Christ commands!