Either He Rose From the Dead…Or He Didn’t
Excerpts from the Weekend Retreat talks of Father Stash Dailey
“Who do you say that I am?” This theme could be gleaned from the words taken from the sixteenth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. But it could also be gleaned from a life that is well lived, the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. The more we spend time with the Lord, the more we seek to dwell in His presence, the more that we hear several questions asked over and over and over again.
In order to hear these questions arise within our hearts, in order to be able to hear Him, we need to be still. And perhaps most importantly, depending on where we are in our lives, we need to want to hear Him. When we are listening, one of the questions we will hear Our Lord ask us, time and time again throughout our lives as His disciples, is the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
In order to understand these words, in order to try to offer an answer to the Lord Jesus in response to this question, we have to have an openness to reality, a desire for truth, and a certain cavity within our hearts for divine love, and only divine love. For in seeking to answer that question, we have to have, at least in some degree, some kind of possession of our own identity. We have to know our own limitations, we have to know our gifts and talents, and we have to know who we are. As this great conversation starts to unfold we begin to realize that the Lord Jesus Christ meets us where we are in our lives.
By asking us this question, “Who do you say that I am?”, He has not only met us but He starts to move us, guide us, and prompt us to a whole new place in our lives. He met us where we were in order to bring us to a new place where He wants us to have a fuller understanding of who we are. That place and that deeper understanding of ourselves is ultimately within Him, within His Heart.
So when we hear that question asked, “Who do you say that I am?”, it is not just a quote from a dialogue that occurred 2000 years ago. It is meant to be a reverberation of a conversation that is still taking place between of the Heart of the Divine and the heart of every human who is alive right now.
We seek to answer this question in the silence of our heart, in the solitude of our room, in the encounter we have with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, in the manifestation of His love that we call the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, even in the beauty of creation around us daily. He is going to come to us in words and through events. More important than how He will come is the fact that He is going to come.
The Lord Jesus comes to each of us in our lives, in every single moment, in every single manifestation of reality, God reveals Himself to us and presents before us an invitation, an opportunity to state, to proclaim, to announce who He is. Not for His benefit. God knows who He is. Jesus knows who He is. Jesus’ identity is not contingent upon our acknowledgement. The Lord isn’t wandering around in some kind of identity crisis. Not today, nor 2000 years ago.
It was only after Our Lord offered the question to His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”, first, did He then ask them, “Who do you say that I am?” The Lord is not in need of some kind of affirmation for the work at hand. He’s not wondering how He is going to ever be able to fulfill the mission that the Father has entrusted to Him. No. He wants to elicit from those who have been following Him, those who know Him, those who love Him, He wants to know what they know, that He is the Christ. Not because He needs it, but because He is trying to build within them the foundation upon which they will be able to stand and profess their faith in Him in all moments, in every day for the rest of their lives.
Now something is drastically different from the first time this question is posed to now when it is posed to each one of us. When the Lord Jesus Christ poses this question to Peter and to the other Apostles, He has not yet died on the cross. He has not yet risen from the dead. But He is asking us now, 2000 years later, post-Resurrection. Whether the question is asked through the proclamation of the Gospel, or by our loved ones who call us onto the carpet for being hypocrites saying “you practice your faith and yet you don’t fully live it out,” or whether it is asked of us in the silence of our prayers when the Lord whispers within the confines of our own heart, “Who do you say that I am?”, the Resurrection has to shape the way we answer the question.
There is a plague afflicting Holy Mother the Church, a disease eating away at the Mystical Body of Christ. That is the ignorance of Resurrection. Too many Catholic Christians, too many Christians at large, too many individuals live their lives in the ignorance of the Resurrection. That is an abomination. You see, either Jesus came back from the dead or He didn’t. One or the other. There is no middle ground. Either He rose from the dead or He didn’t.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis has really shaken everything up a bit. Not within the Church, but in the world. If you actually read what he writes, and listen to what he says, he hasn’t changed anything within Holy Mother the Church. What he has changed is the message we have been proclaiming, he has altered the words adding a bit of severity. He has called the world to task reminding us of the truth that either Jesus came back from the dead or He didn’t. And for those who proclaim the name of the living God, the holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we had better know deep within us the reality of the Resurrection.
The Resurrection is the nucleus of our faith. If He did comeback from the dead, everything has been changed. Everything. We too have been affected by His Resurrection. And once we encounter Jesus Christ come back from the dead we can never be the same. In every encounter we have with the Lord, in every prayer we offer, in every Mass we attend, in every conversation we have with our loved ones who are also Christians we can never be left the same. Some element of who we are whether it is minute in size or great, some element of who we are has to be changed, has to be converted over to the Lord. The way we think, the way we pray, the way we live, the way we enter into silence, the way we use our words, the way we pray through every moment of the day. Some dimension of who we are has to be changed as a result of our encounter with Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
Once we have had that encounter with Jesus, then we start to tap into the source of everlasting life. We start to see that there is a meaning to everything. Our own identity becomes absolutely overwhelmed by the love that God has for us. Even something as difficult as the death of a spouse becomes an invitation to no longer view death as the world views it but rather as Christ defines it. When we have an encounter with Jesus Christ risen from the dead, the moment, the event, the action of the Resurrection completely redefines all of reality and that which is normal. Jesus redefines normal and we gain a perspective on life that no one else has.
Those of us who bear witness to Jesus Christ risen from the dead have an understanding of reality which gives us courage and faith, fortitude, life itself, and even love in the face of events that others find absolutely destructive. Where others find only darkness and despair and turmoil, the Christian sees the light of Christ shining through and this gives us the opportunity to be at peace, to be truly tranquil and to realize that everything is in God’s hands. He will bring something good and beautiful out of even the darkest moments.
Our encounter with Jesus Christ risen from the dead is something that has to once again be at the center of our proclamation of Jesus to the world. All too often, over the past few years, we Catholic Christians in the United States of America have been really in the center of the limelight of the ethical and moral debates of our country, especially as we proceed towards universal healthcare. We are being labeled as a cast of people who have an archaic morality. People begin to identify our morality as who we are, but they don’t see that what we do and how we live is because of Who we have encountered.
Jesus Christ risen from the dead is not a reality that is just real for Catholic Christians. It is real for all of humanity. And it belongs to all of humanity because all of humanity is called to benefit from His Resurrection. God loves everyone. God loves every single human heart He has ever willed into existence. And when Jesus Christ came back from the dead, He came back from the dead for everyone.
Those who dare to acknowledge the truth of His Resurrection then also have the beautiful burden, the beautiful responsibility of sharing the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus with those who we love, those we know, those we meet. Many of us carry the great weight and burden of a broken heart, seeing that our spouses, our children, our parents, our siblings, our neighbors struggle with their faith or perhaps have even left the faith. What do we say to bring them back? What prayer do we pray?
All of us gravitate towards something simple and easy to do to make it work. We always want the perfect little formula to follow. Usually what I offer first in response is not consoling but hopefully in a while it will bear fruit. Whenever the moment arises within God’s providence, you let your loved one know that either Jesus came back from the dead or He didn’t.
Don’t weigh your experience of the faith on our morality first, or on the unfolding of the Holy Mass first, the celibacy of the priest, the male-only dimension of the priesthood, the habits of the sisters, or even on the experience of particular devotions or prayers, practices or disciplines. Don’t weigh the faith on those things first. Experience faith first as an experience of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
The totality of who we are as Catholic Christians is rooted first and foremost in the reality that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There have been many, many, many good men and women who have lived in this world and who yearned to have people follow them so they created groups, they created schools, they created cults, they created movements. But none of them have come back from the dead on their own. Our Lord Jesus Christ has laid a claim on the heart of humanity in a way that no one else has. The Resurrection has to be central to who we are as Christians and how we live as Christians.
In my priesthood, my life as a man has all of its meaning rooted in His Resurrection. As a priest, what good do I serve humanity if He didn’t come back from the dead? People see me as a counselor, a social worker. I am a parish priest for a parish in downtown Colombus, we have the state of Ohio’s largest soup kitchen. We serve anywhere from 570 to 870 meals a day. So sometimes people look at me as if I am a glorified, chaste social worker. I am going to tell you right now, the pay really stinks if all I am is a social worker. But, I am not to be viewed as a social worker or a teacher. I am to be viewed as a witness of the Resurrection. Sometimes young women will tell me their parents say being a sister is a waste of a life. Well, if the life of a sister is a waste, then that means that Jesus did not come back from the dead. The truth is that the value of a consecrated religious is beyond description. They offer us in the here and now a witness to how we will all live in the world to come.
When humanity starts to turn inward and turn away from the Lord that is when He asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Before we can really dare to answer that question, we have to be honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that He came back from the dead. And many times that acknowledgment of His Resurrection takes place within the context of a struggle within the family, a breakdown in our prayer life, trying to figure out who we are and what we are supposed to do to be successful….all of the struggles which take place within the world.
Coming to terms with the idea of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is something that must take place. If He really rose from the dead, we need to be on fire, we have to stop trying to fit into a world that doesn’t acknowledge Him. If I have two groups to try and please, the Trinity on one hand and everyone else on the other, guess who is going to lose. Everybody else. I will not let them keep me from heaven. The Lord is the one who has extended an invitation for everlasting and enduring life. No one else has. Whenever we encounter someone who poses a very strong challenge to our faith, especially if they are filled with angst, maybe even anger, or God forbid hate, we can diffuse it with a good dose of humor. Just say, “You know, I understand that you’ve got issues, you’re in turmoil, you disagree. It all comes back to this basic point…you die, wait three days and come back on your own and I will hear you out. Until then, I am following the One who did.”
There were moments in time where He brought others back from the dead: the son of the widow, the daughter of Jairus, his cousin Lazarus. But notice that He brought them back from the dead. In His Resurrection, He came back on His own. There weren’t doctors and nurses there with paddles shocking Him. There wasn’t anyone there assisting Him up out of the tomb. He came back from the dead on His own to prove a point…that He loves.
All He asks in return is that we love Him. And in the exchange of that love we start to realize that that which is normal is determined not by we who are mortal, but rather by the Lord who is infinite. Whenever we struggle with the discipline of His love, whenever we struggle with the discipline of the Church that He created, let’s always come back to the Resurrection. And seek to ask of the Lord in His mercy and in His goodness, “How does all of this tie into Your Resurrection?” How am I called to sing the glory of Your Resurrection?
As we carry on that conversation with the Lord Jesus Christ, we will start to acknowledge that He is more real than even we are. His love is far greater than our love is. To be in His presence, even if just for one moment, is better than to be anywhere else for thousands of years. He is not talking to someone else, He is not hunting down someone else, He is with me. And just as much as He wants me, I know He wants my loved ones. And so we share His Resurrection with those we love. We offer as a witness to them, all that we have, all that we are, and finally the ability to say who He is in response to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”