The two central doctrines of Christianity are the incarnation and the resurrection, namely: the entry into time of God as true man and the bodily resurrection of that Man. The Church, founded by Jesus Christ, and the sacraments that stimulate and provide life through that Church in His Name are the means by which we achieve the eternal life for which we were created.
For most of my life, I have pondered the central doctrines of our Faith as manifestations of God’s willingness to open Himself to us in a loving expression of the divine sense of humor. I find it fascinating that God should open Himself in such a grand display of His love for His creation that He would do something that no other artist could ever do—even if he/she could dream of it—become the creation. God chooses to become man. Exciting and mind-boggling in the minute! From the human vantage point, I think of the pleasure that this action must have brought to God. God knows, of course, that this action has one desired effect—the union of the creature with the Creator.
“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Is 55:11 ff)
Thus, of course, the plan for the incarnation is to restore unity—the fulfillment of creation, and, it brings pleasure to God. This undeniable fact of revelation was held open to us through the Second Vatican Council, especially through the first verses of the Letter to the Hebrews: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” (Heb 1:1-2)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also supports this by saying: “Christ the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In Him He has said everything; there will be no other word than this one.” (CCC 65)
This fact brings us to the reflection that leads more deeply into the second central doctrine of our Faith: the resurrection—the bodily resurrection—of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pondering the incarnation leads us, of course, to the actual person of Jesus. The Gospels lead us to His story and define for us, His disciples, the mission of His Church. Our Faith is based on what is identified as the Paschal Mystery. This is the action of our redemption and our salvation through the Passion, Death, Resurrection and sending forth of the Holy Spirit. Our concern at this point centers on the resurrection. St. Paul reminds our Corinthian ancestors and all of us about the necessity of belief in the resurrection of Jesus: “… and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:17 ff.)
As young religious in the Franciscan novitiate, one of the things we were encouraged to reflect upon was the passing of time and the reality of our own mortality. An exercise to develop our thoughts in these matters involved writing our own obituaries. What would we be “remembered for”—our legacy. Ultimately, of course, like Jesus, we would want some piece of us to endure for good. Thinking about “ultimates” was supposed to help us to establish some sense of the realities of life and how we would and should live each day as believers in Jesus Christ and identifiable as His disciples in the Church and the world. Such exercises seem strange to us today—detached from what our lives are all about in these all too self-centered days.
Among the more challenging facets of the current age is the tragic and growing loss of religious belief, especially true Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of humanity. Hence, our reflection here, centering on Jesus as True God (Risen from the Dead) and True Man (Son of the Immaculate Virgin Mary). Belief in both of these central mysteries of the Faith has been reduced in the current age to a kind “religious myth” of little or no practical or objective reality in one’s life. This is sad and, even more so, dangerous. It robs humanity of its heritage and its hope—people of God and people with a destiny guaranteed by God’s direct action in their lives.
The Catholic Church stands as the protector and guarantor of that heritage and destiny by the faithful proclamation of the incarnation and the resurrection. What joy it gives humanity in knowing God has walked with us in our flesh and, in that flesh, He has suffered with us in all things but sin.
The Second Vatican Council offers us so many things to consider about our lives of Faith, and there is so much we have NOT taken from the council teachings. As we complete this reflection on the mystery and gift of the incarnation and the resurrection of the Son of God, I offer this quote from Gaudium et Spes as a proper response for all of us as we consider our destiny in Christ: eternal life with God in heaven.
The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man’s dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness. She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives. By contrast, when a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man’s dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.
Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life’s major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing.
Above all, the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message, nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” O Lord, “and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”
The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers, received “the first-fruits of the Spirit” (Rom 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love. Through this Spirit, who is “the pledge of our inheritance,” (Eph 1:14) the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of “the redemption of the body.” (Rom 8:23) “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the death dwells in you, then He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11) Pressing upon the Christian to be sure, are the need and the duty to battle against evil through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death. But, linked with the Paschal Mystery and patterned on the dying Christ, He will hasten forward to resurrection in the strength which comes from hope. (GS 21-22)
Blessings filled with Easter Truth and Joy be with you. May your hope be based on this Truth every day of your life.
MOST REVEREND WILLIAM PATRICK CALLAHAN is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
Published in the April 2021 Catholic Life Issue