APRIL 23, 2006, OCTAVE OF EASTER: ACTS 4: 32-35; 1 JOHN 5:1-6; JOHN 20:19-31
WHO, THEN, IS THE CONQUEROR OF THE WORLD? THE ONE WHO BELIEVES THAT JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD. The three texts we have just heard are a celebration of Jesusí victorious resurrection. His rising from the dead is the victorious outcome of a great struggle in which divine life defeated death. The resurrection of our Lord is the victory of love over fear that isolates those whom it dominates from one another. Belief in him as our risen Savior is the victory of faith over doubt that leads to despair. This living faith then becomes a source of love among those who in faith receive the life of the Holy Spirit who is given by the Lord of glory. In Johnís Gospel Jesus, we are told, himself ascribed this same victorious power to faith with no less impressive terms: "Amen, amen, I tell you that the one who hears my words and believes in him who sent me has eternal life; he is not condemned but passes from death to life"(John 5:24). If faith has such life-giving power it is because it includes a yielding of oneís whole self in trust to God. The faith Jesus refers to is more than an act of the intellect; it is a decision that engages the whole of life. What we become as we pass through life is the fruit of our belief. Trusting faith is the force arising from the most intimate center of our very self that permeates our motives and guides our decisions. It is active at all times, not only when we consciously advert to it or make an act of faith. The human person, as a moral and spiritual center, invariably lives and acts from faith of one kind or another. The world we live in, the persons we deal with and are related to, are too complex and mysterious for us to master fully and control. All our choices, all our actions, are expressions of a faith by which we are living and in which we have committed our self to a final goal.
However, we do not spontaneously view faith as a victory. We think of a victory as the fruit of a courageous act made in confrontation with a dangerous foe who presents us with an immanent threat. Belief, on the other hand, is commonly thought of in our culture as a rather passive acceptance of what one has been told; it is the obedient response to a respected authority. At best, modern opinion has it, faith is a surrender of the intellect based on unprovable conceptions concerning transcendent matters that escape the domain of science. Such is the distorted, skeptical manner of envisaging religious belief based on faith, a view held by many who influence public opinion and especially the climate of thought in the Universities in this country and in Europe. This skeptical climate that exalts reason is not altogether a new development, though the media try to give it a modern look. Its origins go back beyond the 18th century rationalism of the Enlightenment, and further back still, as we read in the book of Wisdom.
Unbelief, doubt, skeptical denial are rooted in the human heart. They are the fruit of an overpowering need that is at the center of every human personality: the need for assurance of love that is true in the sense of being solid, authentic and imperishable. Without this assurance of being intimately known and loved the human person is vulnerable and so is fearful. We fear to be fully known until we are convinced by some one or some situation that we are respected and loved. Everyone who has lived beyond the first years of life has experienced some measure of this loving acceptance. An infant cannot survive without such a relation. However, this fundamental requisite for such assurance does not disappear with age. As we pass through the succession of stages that mark human development, only the expressions of such loving truth alter; the need abides, only assuming new forms. At the deeper levels of our person, in fact, the demands on love not only remain, they grow stronger. We must be sure we are not deceived. We learn by experience that not all that appears to be what we seek is authentic. Self-interest has many masks; even the show of real affection and friendship somehow fall short after a time, as helpful and satisfying as they are up to a point. There is always some elusive portion of our deeper self that remains open, its need and desire unmatched by any measure of success in our search.. Hope of finding it drives us on. The intensity of our need, while remaining largely unconscious, increases. We are led to continue to look for its satisfaction in such forms as our condition in life allows: success, comfort, friendships, distractions, pleasures.
Our awareness of the limited possibilities of happiness increases as we come to realize the restrictions imposed on our desires by death. Yet our heart tells us there is an answer that transcends even death. The good news of the Easter Gospel is that this unquenchable yearning that responds to an undying hope is matched by the appearance of the risen Lord Jesus. Death does not have the last word; the limits of love are not subject now to the restrictions imposed by passing time. Death that seemed to hold the certainty of loss of those we love proves to be a passage to a fuller life, shared with all who, by putting their faith in the cross of Jesus, live by the power of the Spirit in whom he rose from the dead.
Faith is, in all truth, a victory over cynicism, over the frustration of partial fulfillments, a victory over passing time itself. Faith, finally, is a victory over death. It is a gift of the Spirit of the Risen Lord. Faith, then, is a door that opens to eternal life, for it establishes us in a trusting union with the risen Lord Jesus who gave himself for us on the cross and rose to be our hope of life eternal. By faith in his resurrection we are joined to the Father and, united with all who belong to him, forever gratefully proclaim the praise of his glory. This faith is the substance of our Easter joy.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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