Week 11 - Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Return (p.168-197)

We have come in the Creed to "He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried."

This is of course the heart of the Catholic faith. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand everything - and conversely, to get this right will make it difficult to go wrong elsewhere.

POP QUIZ: According to Catholics, who killed Jesus?
A. The Jews
B. The Romans
C. Everybody - but most especially you and I.

If you answerd "C", you're on the road to Catholic Confirmation. The Catechism explicitly states,
"we cannot lay responisbility for trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole... [in fact] our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews [for] we profess to know him... and when we deny him by our deeds,. we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him... it is you [Christians] who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins"(p.168-170).
The Catechism then explains that the Passion is the capstone of project-Universe. This is the reason all things exist - so that God could display love for sinners by dying for us on the cross. The event is so universal that
"There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer"(p. 172).
This event, according to the Catechism, was a real death by a real man who was also really God. He was really innocent, but he really chose to bear our very real sins. On the cross he really suffered and really was buried. It may seem tedious to have to insist on these points, but in the history of the Church they have all been denied, leading to the necessity to clarify.

"He descended into Hell"

By this the Catechism explains that Christ's soul entered the realm of the dead (Hades in Greek, Sheol in Hebrew) not to abolish hell and free the damned, but to free the righteous who died before Christ's work was complete.

"On the third day He rose again."

This again is a real resurrection - an historical and yet transcendent event.
"Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles' encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history"(p. 185).
This resurrection, which was both physical and spiritual at the same time, establishes several things:
1. It is the confirmation that Christ actually was who he said he was, that is God (see point 651).
2. The fulfillment of the Old Testament (see point 652).
3. The ratification of all that Christ taught (see point 653).
4. The promise of our future resurrection (see point 655).
NOTE: In Plato's Phaedo Socrates says, "It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body – the soul in herself must behold things in themselves... I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us." Though there are certainly commonalities between this and Christian belief, this is not Christian belief. The Church teaches that like Christ's, ours will be a bodily ressurrection - not just our souls going to heaven as Plato suggested. Unfortunatley many Christians are more Platonic than Biblical in this regard!
If you have difficulty believing the fact of the resurrection, you are not alone - even the disciples after hearing the witness of the women who first saw the resurrected Christ did not believe, and as you know Thomas did not believe until he stuck his finger in the wound. But keep in mind that St. Paul wrote "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain"(1 Cor. 15:14). If you are struggle with believing this, that is fine - keep struggling and praying! But if you dismiss this outright as an impossibility - then you may want to consider not joining the Catholic Church!
Carravagio's Doubting Thomas 1597

"He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."

This event, the Ascension, which is celebrated forty days after Easter is often forgotten but is quite a big deal - for it celebrates the moment when resurrected human nature is exalted bodily into the Trinity! Again, the Catechism affirms this as a historical, yet transcendent event.

"From thence He will come again to judge the living and the dead."

Christ is exalted and reigns from heaven, and the Church is the place that lives under that reign before it becomes impossible not to. Although Christ does come to us concealed in the Eucharist, one day he will come in glory to establish his reign on earth that will not end - a day on which the whole world, especially the Church, will be judged. How this will happen is a mystery. Interestingly, one physicist/priest has said that he expects the "Second Coming of Christ to be as surprising in its form as the first."

In the meantime we wait and watch so that this will not happen to us unaware. Although the Catholic Church is not among those who interpret Revelation literally, still she takes the warning Scriptures regarding the Second Coming quite seriously. The Catechisme is also quick to warn agains any ideology that promises utopia in this lifetime, including Christian versions.
"The kingdom will be fulfilled not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancey, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil..."(p.194).
Lest we get too complacent that the Second Coming will not occur in our lifetime (which it very well may not), do remember that our judgement by Christ happens de facto for each of us individually at our own deaths.

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