May 19, 2005
Einstein is well known for his genius. Yet he was not able to complete basic algebra on a college entrance exam. Lincoln failed to be elected many times before he finally won the presidential election. What made these individuals great was their persistence. They knew they had something to offer and they refused to recoil from contributing to the good of society. Failure is a fact of life. No surprise that human failure should be part of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus failed to be accepted at the end of his Galilean ministry and his entire life ended in failure on Golgotha. When he commended himself into his Father’s hands on the Cross, he did so rejected by his enemies and deserted by his friends.
From the side of man, the Cross is failure. From the side of God, it is the ultimate victory. It is the outpouring of love that refuses to stop loving even when despised. It is the obedience of the Son to the will of the Father even in suffering and death. We look at the crucified Christ and we see what our sins do. We peer into the empty tomb and we know what God does. The men had fled. They could not face the failure of the cross. The women had come to the tomb to pay a final tribute to the dead. They too accepted the cross as the end. They too failed.
But the stone was rolled away. The gaping hole in the earth became a hallowed reminder of the persistent love of God. He brings love where we have sown hatred, forgiveness where we decide vengeance; and where we choose death, he offers life. The Lord has been raised up. This is the
kerygma. And its consequence is vital. It means that human failure is no longer the final word.
In the light of the Resurrection, Christians can look back on their failure in discipleship. The Lord is risen. He appeared to the women at the tomb and Peter, to the apostles behind locked doors, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to the apostles along the Sea of Tiberias. In repeated resurrection appearances, the Risen Lord breathed the Holy Spirit on his Church. And he continues to give the Spirit to His Church. Easter and Pentecost are one mystery. By the gift of His Holy Spirit, the Lord strengthens his disciples to move beyond failure. Truly there is something more to his Church than the past failure of his disciples. There is more to her mission that the failure of a particular age to recognize her worth. The Church is the very sacrament of the Lord’s power transforming the world.
In recent times, the Church herself has been experiencing a type of failure. A failure to be recognized for the good she accomplishes. A failure to be appreciated for the gift she makes in caring for the poor, in struggling to enrich society with Catholic schools, in voicing moral principles that guide human behavior for the common good. The overwhelming contribution of the Church has been overshadowed by the failure of some. The Church is constantly under public scrutiny. Some are all too ready to point out failures and condemn weakness. Stories from the distant past continue to make front-page news. As Benedict XVI pointed out in his
Regina Coeli remarks on May 8, the “important instruments of communication can favor reciprocal knowledge and dialogue or, on the contrary, fuel prejudice and contempt…”
But intense public scrutiny has achieved some good effect. I dare say we have set a very high standard for society in one area. The protection of God’s children. Painfully, tearfully we have sown a new beginning. Joyfully we will reap the benefit of our commitment. As a city set on the mountain, the Church is visible. The Church must be seen. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill top cannot be hidden...your light must shine in the sight of others… (Mt 5:14-16). In all areas of life, Christians need to be seen -- in soup kitchens, in court cases, in hospitals, in the halls of the legislature. Resurrection faith means witness. No one can believe in the Risen Lord and hide their belief in the goodness of all life and the dignity of every person from the moment of conception to natural death. Jesus is the way we preach because He is the Way we follow.
The resurrection of Jesus is not a truth we simply affirm with the mind. It is the truth we live with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength (cf Dt 6:5). As members of the Church, we cannot be silent. The necessity to announce this Gospel follows from the very nature of the Church. “It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection. It forms part of her very identify” (
Evangelii nuntiandi, 14). Every Christian is an evangelizer, the bearer of the good news.
Mary ran from the empty tomb. Peter left the upper room and stood in the temple precincts. Paul climbed the hill of the Areopagus. Each one of them had failed. But failure was not the end. “He was raised to life on the third day”(1 Cor 15:4).
The third day is a new future that includes the recovery of the past. The Risen Lord still bears the wounds of the Cross. And his Cross is greater than any monument we set up to remind us of our failures or any memorial we place to remind us of our victories. The Cross is the Gospel. It is failure and fidelity; defeat and victory. The Cross is death to sin; resurrection, new life.