Sunday, April 04, 2010

If Jesus Really Did Rise (and I Truly Believe It), Then . . .

Chuck Colson

(Easter 2010: This homily was given on April 4, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Romans 6: 3-11; John 20: 1-9.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Easter 2010]

Chuck Colson was chief counsel to President Richard Nixon during Nixon’s first term of office (which began back in 1969, for those not old enough to remember). At the time, he was disdainfully referred to as “the White House hatchet man,” and was once quoted as saying, “I’d walk over my own grandmother to re-elect Richard Nixon.”

I don’t think his grandmother was too happy about that—but that’s another story.

Needless to say, he was a ruthless and power-hungry individual.

And then came the Watergate scandal. Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to one to three years in federal prison.

In the midst of all that political and legal and emotional turmoil, Chuck Colson experienced a personal conversion to Jesus Christ—a conversion, incidentally, that was scoffed at by most people in the secular media.

They didn’t believe that he would change; they didn’t believe that he could change.

But he did! So much so that many years later, when Mike Wallace asked him during a 60 Minutes interview, “Chuck, how do you now look back on Watergate?” the former hatchet man responded, “Mike, I thank God for Watergate, because I learned the greatest lessons of my life. The teaching of Jesus is true. He who seeks to save his life will lose it. He who loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

I mention Chuck Colson today because of something he once wrote about Easter. You see, when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday only one thing matters: Is it true? Did it really happen historically? Or did the apostles make it all up and take the lie with them to their graves?

Well, ironically enough, it was Chuck Colson’s tragic experience with Watergate that helped to solidify his personal faith in the resurrection. Here’s what he said on the matter:

“One of the things I told Mike Wallace during [my] interview [with him] was I know [the resurrection] to be a fact and Watergate helped to prove that [to me]. [And] how do I know it? [Well], the evidence is that twelve men were with Jesus. Twelve men testified that they had seen him bodily raised from the dead. They were with him. They touched him. They doubted. They put their fingers in the hole in his side to see if he was who he said he was. After he ascended to heaven they went about the sands of the Holy Land for forty years proclaiming that Jesus Christ had been bodily raised from the dead. Never once denying it. Every single one of them beaten, tortured, stoned, and put in prison. Could they have done that if it weren’t true?

“I was in the Watergate. There were twelve of the most powerful men in the world sitting around the desk of the President of the United States. All of you will not remember all of these details, but just for the quick summary: it was in March of 1973 that John Dean, the President’s counsel, walked into his office one day and said, “Mr. President, there’s a cancer on your presidency.” [He] told him what was going on. That was the first time we really knew it was a criminal conspiracy. In less than three weeks John Dean writes in his book that he walked into the prosecutors’ office to make a deal. To bargain. As he put it in his book, to save his own skin he offered to testify against the President. The moment he did that everybody went flying in to make a deal with the prosecutors. Twelve of the most powerful men in the world couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks! You’re going to tell me that those twelve apostles for forty years would go about the sands of the Holy Land proclaiming they’d seen Jesus raised from the dead [when they hadn’t]? Absolutely impossible. . . .You see, the truth is that people will give their lives for something they believe to be true. They will never give their lives for something they know to be false.”

In Romans 6, St. Paul says, “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.”

Paul and the other apostles were convinced—absolutely convinced—that they had encountered Jesus Christ in his risen, glorified body after his death on Good Friday.

They believed that with all their heart.

Do you?

If you do, then certain things should logically follow in your life.

Put it this way, if I—like the apostles—am absolutely convinced that Jesus Christ is risen and alive and with us, then that should influence in a powerful way how I think and how I act.

If it doesn’t, then I probably don’t really believe.

If he did rise, for example, it means that I have value as a human being and should never call myself “worthless”. I should never embrace the kind of self-loathing that Fr. Mike Sisco spoke about in his mission talks. After all, the divine Son of God thought that I was worth dying for!

If he really did come back from the grave (and I truly believe it), then I should never feel alone—because I never am alone! Even when everyone else abandons me, he—Jesus—the risen Jesus—is still with me.

If Jesus did rise from the dead, then the whole human race has the potential of getting to heaven—which means that I should treat every single human person with dignity and respect, from the moment of their conception to the moment of their natural death.

If Jesus rose from the dead (and I’m convinced that he did), then I should always have hope and never despair.

If Jesus rose from the dead, then I’d also better take the sacraments seriously, since he instituted them and then infused them with his risen life! (And, of course, taking the sacraments seriously means that I will never miss a Sunday or holy day Mass without a very good and legitimate reason!)

If Jesus really did rise from the dead for the forgiveness of my sins (and I believe that), then I should definitely take advantage of the gift and seek his forgiveness often! (Speaking of forgiveness, when was the last time you went to Confession? If it’s been a long time, do you really believe that he’s risen and present in that sacrament? As Catholics we should!)

And finally, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then his teaching is forever backed up by his identity (in other words, what he said is backed up by who he was—and is!)—which means I had better take his words seriously, since they’re the words of a God-man who actually came back from the grave!

Today at this Easter Mass our prayer should be simple and focused: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, help me to believe that you rose from the dead—help me to believe it like the apostles did 2,000 years ago: with all my heart—and then help me to think and to act like I believe it. Amen.”