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EPISODE#226
OC CATHOLIC RADIO: WE ARE AN EASTER PEOPLE

It is always an honor, pleasure and privilege for host Rick Howick to welcome Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer to our studios (high atop the

Tower of Hope). In this lively conversation, we will be talking about what it means to be an ‘Easter People.’

It is all about the resurrected Christ.

HE IS RISEN!

Listen and SHARE this podcast!

 

 

 

 

 

Originally broadcast on 4/10/21

EPISODE #272
EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT: EASTER JOY!

If you are a frequent listener to the Empowered by the Spirit radio broadcast, you know that our host, Deacon Steve Greco, is a man of great enthusiasm for his Catholic faith. And when it comes to Easter, that can be quite infectious!

On today’s offering, Deacon had the chance to sit down with our very own Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Orange, Timothy Freyer. This session was recorded in more of a “living room” setting, rather than the studio. I think it adds more of an intimate ambience of sound quality.

Listen in, and I guarantee you will find it to be time well spent!

 

 

Originally broadcast on radio – 4/4/21

EPISODE#53
CATHEDRAL SQUARE: SPECIAL EDITION FOR HOLY WEEK

On this memorable edition of Cathedral Square, Fr. Christopher Smith shares the Gospel readings for Palm Sunday and Holy Week. He then offers reflections that will both challenge and bless you.

In addition, you will hear glorious music weaved throughout the program (The Lamb of God by Rob Gardner).

Our prayer is that this program will greatly enrich your Holy Week experience.

Listen, and SHARE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Original broadcast on 3/27/21

RESURRECTION AMID THE 2020 PANDEMIC

For Catholics and all Christians, the Easter season celebrates the most joyous time of year, the feast of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But how can we be joyous when living in isolation enduring the slow ache of loneliness? What is the timeline for returning to normality? No one really knows. This uncertainty may leave our already frayed anxieties sinking into depression. Gnawing desperation grips us wondering what will happen next. And even if we forgo such challenges, we might just be really bored, every day with the same sludge as the day before. Besides how can we be joyful while the coronavirus’s epic death and its consequences scourge our global, national, and local communities? All this is why, this Easter season, I ask you to think back once again to the reactions of the apostles and his disciples, both men and women, who witnessed the devastation of Jesus’s horrific death. They were quite clueless about what was to burst forth from that obscurity. In the four Gospels, the details of the resurrection narratives illuminate the witnesses’ utterly fascinating experiences. These narratives reveal the nature of the resurrected Jesus. And they invite us to share the Easter faith. 

The apostles, Mary Magdalene, and many others who witnessed the resurrected Jesus were initially left fearful, confused, and—if truth be told—doubtful that Jesus had really come back to life. The Gospel of Mark says, “[The women] made their way out and fled from the tomb bewildered and trembling” (Mk 16:8). These reactions preceded any Easter joy. The resurrected Jesus was too much for them to grasp. The Evangelists go to extremes to show that the risen Jesus was not just spiritually, but also physically alive. Jesus had a body! For instance, Jesus hungers and asks for something to eat. John’s Gospel specifically points out that Jesus is breathing. And, of course, the apostles and Mary Magdalene all touch him. The famous scene of doubting Thomas is not just about a faithless apostle, but also about a physically resurrected Jesus. Thomas says, “I will never believe … without probing the nail prints in his hands, without putting my finger in the nail marks and my hand into his side” (Jn 20:25). Luke’s Gospel recounts, “In [the apostles’] panic and fright they thought they were seeing a ghost.” Jesus responds, Touch me, and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do” (Lk 24; 38, 40). Neither a ghost nor just a “spirit,” the resurrected Jesus had a body that had died and was alive again. This was shocking! 

The present coronavirus challenges are real. Yet, so too was the resurrected body of the risen Jesus—this is the whole point of the Evangelists’ writings and Christianity itself. The resurrection is neither an abstraction, nor solely a spiritual reality—though the latter would have been enough. The resurrection is the saving of both our physical and spiritual selves. Our entire persons. And of all of creation, as Saint Paul reminds us (2 Cor 5: 17-21). If this is not true, for Catholics and Christians, our faith is a sham—downright absurd. The resurrection stands as the most radical truth, unable to be solely grasped by reasoning of the mind but accompanied by an enraptured heart—the two united in burning faith. This is why this Easter season must be more than about mere survival of our current and grave physical, psychological, and spiritual challenges. Instead the resurrected Jesus—and a focus on his resurrected body—means that Jesus experienced all our human joys and sorrows. He shared our lives; he transformed our lives. Everything we now bear possesses a greater, deeper, and new meaning. Jesus’s resurrection offers us abounding hope. And even in these times—or because of them—this can make our heart leap for joy. 

EPISODE #239
EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT: WHAT IS THE REAL MEANING OF EASTER?

Even amidst the COVID-19 crisis we are all dealing with right now, we must remember that we are an EASTER people!

Deacon Steve Greco is delighted to welcome our very own Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange for our Easter program.

Be sure to share this podcast with a friend.

 

 

 

 

Originally broadcast on 4/12/2020

WHY CHRISTIANS BELIEVE IN RESURRECTION, NOT REINCARNATION 

Denver, Colo., Oct 24, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA) – Every time Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed, they affirm their belief in what will happen to them after death: “’I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

The belief in the resurrection of one’s physical body at the end of time is central to Christian theology, and finds its basis in the resurrection of Christ, who rose in body and soul three days after his passion and death.

But according to a new Pew survey, 29 percent of Christians in the US hold the New Age belief of reincarnation – the belief that when one’s body dies, one’s soul lives on in a new and different body, unrelated to the first.

The percentage of Catholics in the US who said they believe in reincarnation was even higher – 36 percent; just shy of the 38 percent of religiously unaffiliated people who said they believe the same.

However, according to Catholic teaching, belief in anything other than the resurrection of the body is completely incompatible with a Christian theology and anthropology of the human person.

 

Where did the belief in resurrection come from?

Even before Christ, the belief that the body would rise at the end of time was becoming a more common, though not universally held, belief among certain groups of Jews, such as the Pharisees.

The Sadducees, for example, “were dubious about the authority to be given to the Prophets and other writings…(which included) skepticism about spiritual realities like the soul or even angels,”  said Deacon Joel Barstad, who serves as Academic Dean and associate professor of theology at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

“From New Testament evidence it would seem they were particularly hostile to the idea of a future resurrection of the dead,” he told CNA.

“The Pharisees on the other hand believed in angels and spiritual souls and the general resurrection of the dead,” he said.

As they became more convinced of the “radical faithfulness of God,” he noted, belief in bodily resurrection took root, paving the way for the acceptance of the resurrection of Christ.

“The resurrection of Jesus from the dead confirmed that belief, but it also gave it a deep and solid foundation,” he said.

 

What does belief in resurrection mean for Christians?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The ‘resurrection of the flesh’ (the literal formulation of the Apostles’ Creed) means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our ‘mortal body’ will come to life again. Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings. ‘The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live.’ How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

The Christian confidence in bodily resurrection comes from Christ himself, and the New Testament promise that salvation comes through follow Christ in everything, including his death and resurrection, Michael Root, a professor of Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America, told CNA.

“Salvation is unity with Christ, Christ brings the kingdom of God, and that kingdom is realized in the resurrection,” Root said.

There is a great deal of “fuzziness of thinking” regarding death that many Christians hold besides reincarnation, Barstad added, such as believing that after death one dies and goes to heaven and stays there forever, rather than joining with their resurrected body at the end of time. “The vague notion that something called a soul or a spirit or a shade lingers after death in some kind of place or condition where it can be more or less happy is not Christian,” Barstad said. “A human soul without a body is a tragedy. Think about what a body is to the soul. It is the instrument, the nexus, the node, the vessel through which, by which, in which a soul establishes and sustains contact with reality,” he added.

A body, he said, has concretely experienced everything that a soul has gone through in its lifetime. It is the actual mode through which the soul has related to others. It makes that person who they are – the father of a particular son, or the daughter of a particular mother, the wife of a particular husband, or the friend of a particular person.

“A soul stripped completely of its body is literally nobody. Who cares whether such a nobody lives forever! A Christian is someone who wants to be this somebody…now and after death and unto the ages of ages. But for that to be possible, I’ll need my body resurrected along with the bodies of everyone and everything I have a relationship with,” he said. “I have to die completely and be dissolved back into the dust from which I came; and then I have to be put back together again in a new kind of life,” he said. “The trouble is I would cease to exist at the midpoint of this process. Someone else has to hold me in being as I pass over from death to new life. Only because Christ loves me am I held in being, not just my soul, the nobody, but the somebody I am because I have this body.”

 

Why Christians should reject reincarnation

The two main reasons that a Christian should reject reincarnation is that it is opposed to the way of salvation offered by Christ, and because it goes against the nature of the human person, Root said.

“It contradicts the picture of salvation that we have in the New Testament, where our participation in Christ’s resurrection is what salvation is all about,” Root said, “and it gives us quite a different picture of what it is to be a human being – a disembodied self that isn’t related to any particular time.”

“Christianity takes very seriously that we are embodied beings, and any notion of reincarnation means that the real self only has a kind of accidental connection to any specific body, because you’ll go on to another body and another body and another body, and bodiliness ends up being kind of at best side point about who you are,” he said.

The belief in the resurrection is bound up with a Christian view of the human person, Root said, which is that a person will only ever have on particular body, and what happens in that particular body matters.

“There’s very little formal Catholic dogma about the resurrection details, but one that there is is that we will rise in the same body we now have. There’s no official definition of what ‘same’ is here, and there’s a big transformation, but nevertheless it is official Catholic dogma that we will rise in the body we now have,” he said.

The transformation of the body can be seen in the resurrected Christ who, once resurrected, was able to walk through walls, appear or disappear suddenly, and seemingly control who was able to recognize him, though he maintained his body, Root noted.

The Christian view of the human person also means that what happens with each person’s body matters. In the document “Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life” by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican said that belief in reincarnation is incompatible with Christianity because it denies the freedom and responsibility of persons who act through their bodies.

Reincarnation is “irreconcilable with the Christian belief that a human person is a distinct being, who lives one life, for which he or she is fully responsible: this understanding of the person puts into question both responsibility and freedom,” the document states. A Christian occupies a body, which is able to be judged for its sins, but is also able to participate in Christ’s redemptive work through its suffering, the Vatican noted.

“In bringing about the redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the redemption. Thus each man in his suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ,” the document states.

Barstad noted that the New Age belief in reincarnation as something positive even contradicts most traditional religions that believe in reincarnation, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, which ultimately view reincarnation as something to be escaped.

“I am not aware of any robust doctrine of reincarnation, whether that of Western Platonists or Eastern Buddhists, that regards reincarnation of a soul as a good thing; maybe certain Hindus or a Stoic could see it as a benign cosmic necessity, like the physical laws governing the conservation of energy,” he said. “But certainly the deepest aspiration of Platonists and Buddhists is to dissolve the nexus of temporal, bodily relationships once and for all; that is, to dissolve the relationship to body so completely that no further embodiment is possible for that soul. The goal is for the soul to become completely and permanently nobody.”

 

The hope of the resurrection

Christian hope lies in the belief that Christ has conquered death, and Christians will be able to be known and loved fully as themselves in eternal life, which will include their resurrected bodies, Barstad said.

“(A) Christian wants to continue to exist as himself. He knows that he is loved by his Creator and Redeemer who wants him to exist always. Consequently, he can have the courage to love himself enough to want that self, this somebody, to exist forever,” Barstad said.

While Christians may experience wrongs and sufferings in this life, they can have the hope of knowing that “they have been loved by Christ who through his own divine-human dying and rising can take them apart, to the very dust, and refashion them, making something beautiful out of the tangled mess,” he added.

Christians also have the hope that not only will they be resurrected individually, but that they will rejoin their loves ones, “living in a renewed and refashioned heaven and earth,” Barstad said.

“This is why we evangelize, this is why we repent and make amends for our wrongs and forgive those who wrong us, this is why we pray for the dead, and this is why the saints who already enjoy the (beatific) vision of God nonetheless still pray for us. They are still invested in this world and await with us the final revelation of Christ that will bring about the resurrection of everybody.”

RISE UP, OH CHRISTIANS

It’s easy to capture the spirit of Easter on Resurrection Sunday. With Jesus risen, our spirits soar, we sing the “Alleluia” and enjoy a joyous meal at the altar in His name.  

The celebration keeps going when we return home to find that chocolate bunnies await. 

Brand-new feelings of renewal and new growth that begin on Easter Sunday are perfectly matched with spring – the leaves are sprouting, the birds are singing, and flowers are beginning to bloom. 

Still, it can be tricky to keep the spirit alive, so to speak. We need not think that lightheartedness must elude us, however, just because the calendar marches on. Indeed, keeping the Easter spirit alive in our hearts and prayers is critical for Catholics: Christ’s rising on the third day is the lynchpin of our faith. 

Daily prayers acknowledging the season seem to ‘spring forth’ easier when we can look out the window to gaze at our blooming garden. We sing “Alleluia” knowing that Jesus recognizes our happiness and gratitude for His Easter resurrection.  

The resurrection of Jesus makes all things new, notes Loyola Press in a recent story. “The Easter spirit is a spirit of renewal that enables us to show up at work with a positive attitude, to renew relationships that have been taken for granted, and to express appreciation and affection to those closest to us,” the article notes. “It means to see the world through new eyes – God’s eyes.” 

While the passion and resurrection of Jesus teach that suffering is transformed through faith in the Risen Christ, Loyola Press says, our faith means we can retain our sense of joy even when life gets in the way. The loss of a loved one, failure to achieve an important goal, or a setback during recovery from an illness are bearable. We recognize Jesus’s suffering. His rising is freshly imprinted in our minds. 

“The resurrection teaches us that God can overcome anything, even death,” Loyola Press declares. “When the Risen Christ appears to the women at the tomb and later to His disciples, His first words are ‘Do not be afraid!’ Our faith allows us to trust that God can overcome our most serious problems.” 

Beyond permeating our spiritual lives, the risen Christ inspires us to make small changes in our lives.  

Right away we can regain the born-again emotions sparked by Easter Mass by exploring the outdoors in glorious spring weather. Take a picnic to the park. Feel the breeze and smell the flowers. 

Prune hedges and flower beds and consider planting fresh vegetables and fruits to welcome summertime. Enjoy the new buds as flowers begin blooming. 

Beyond producing hot cross buns as an Easter tradition, why not continue baking into the spring months? A colorful frosted cupcake is a way we show someone special that we’re thinking sweet thoughts of them. 

Change your menu from heavy winter dishes to lighter fare. Think pasta primavera instead of meatballs and spaghetti. Use springtime to try new recipes featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables. 

Chocolate bunnies won’t last long. Yet our long Lenten sacrifices yield a spectacular new coming for our Savior – and a new day for us all.  

POPE URGES CATHOLICS TO BE MOVED BY JOY OF THE RESURRECTION

Rome, Italy, Apr 15, 2018 / 10:28 am (CNA/EWTN News) – On Sunday Pope Francis visited a Roman parish, telling Mass-goers to allow themselves to be moved by the immense joy of the resurrection, which overcomes sin and renews believers, allowing them to have a youthful heart.

Noting how the disciples had a hard time believing it was really Jesus who appeared to them in the day’s Gospel, Francis asked “why didn’t they believe? Why did they doubt?”

“There is a word in the Gospel that gives us an explanation: While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed.”

The disciples, he said, couldn’t believe it was Jesus because “they couldn’t believe that there was so much joy, the joy that brings Christ.”

He said the same thing happens to each person when they receive news that seems too good to be true, and urged Catholics to allow the joy of Christ’s resurrection to enter their hearts and to be transformed by the renewal he offers.

Pope Francis spoke during his April 15 visit to the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in the western quarter of Rome. After arriving around 4 p.m. local time, he was greeted by the Vicar of Rome, Archbishop Angelo de Donatis; Bishop Paolo Selvadagi, auxiliary bishop for Rome’s western sector, and the pastor Fr. Roberto Cassano, among others.

During his visit, the pope met with and took four questions from youth involved in catechesis at the parish. He then met with the elderly, sick and the poor before hearing the confession of three parishioners and celebrating Mass.

In his homily, which focused on the day’s Gospel reading from Luke in which Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection, Francis noted that even though they doubted, the disciples knew Jesus had risen.

They knew, he said, because by that time they had heard the testimonies of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, yet they still had a hard time believing Jesus when he appeared to them in the upper room.

“They knew…but that truth didn’t enter into their heart. That truth, yes, they knew, but they doubted, and the preferred to have that truth in the mind,” he said, noting that perhaps “it’s less dangerous to have truth in the mind than to have it in heart.”

Eventually the disciples believed, he said, explaining that this faith and the joy of Christ’s resurrection is “the renewed youthfulness that the Lord brings us.”

Sin makes the heart grow old and tired, he said, whereas faith makes the heart grow young. However, referring to the day’s second reading from the First Letter of Saint John, he said that when a person sins, “we have an advocate with the Father.”

The Father, he said, “forgives,” and Christ in his death and resurrection wants “to defend us” and make each person young again with the joy of being freed from sin and death.

Pope Francis closed his brief homily asking for the grace to believe that Jesus is truly alive and risen, because “other things are secondary” in life.

If a person does not believe that Christ is risen and present in the world, “we will never be a good Christian, we can’t be,” he said, and prayed for the grace to encounter the Risen Jesus in prayer, the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sins.

“Let us ask for the grace to be a joyful community,” he said, asking that each person would be “sure in the faith of encountering the Risen Christ.”

In his Q&A with youth before Mass, Pope Francis said his favorite bible verse is the calling of Matthew, because it shows “the strength Jesus has to change the heart.”

He also told the children that even if someone is not baptized, they are still a child of God. This, he said, goes for the good, the bad and even the mafia, who he said need to be prayed for “so that they return to God.”

When asked about how he felt after being elected pope, Francis said he didn’t feel anything special, but he had a strong sense of peace. “When the Lord calls you, he gives you peace, and you feel it when there is a true call from the Lord,” he said, explaining that this is also true when God calls one to a consecrated vocation.

Finally, the pope embraced a young boy named Manuele whose father recently died, and who was an atheist, but allowed each of his four children to be baptized in the Catholic Church. In his question, Manuele said his father was a good person, and asked if he was in heaven, even if he didn’t believe in God.

Pope Francis answered by praising Manuele’s courage to cry and to ask the question, and said that if a man can raise a child the way that Manuele’s father had, then this man is indeed a good person, and good people are never far from God.

“It’s a great witness that the child can say [his father] was good,” he said, explaining that God never abandons his children, and encouraged Manuele to talk to his father, because “surely God loved him.”

He then prayed an Our Father with the children before meeting briefly with the elderly, sick and poor of the parish, telling them that they are “the center of the Gospel.”

“I know that each one of you have many problems, sicknesses, pains, the family, each one has their own pain, their own wound, everyone, but may this not take your hope or your joy, because Jesus came to pay for our wounds with his wounds,” the pope said.

He closed his brief greeting by encouraging them to do good to those around them and led them in praying a Hail Mary. He then spent time greeting them personally before hearing confessions and saying Mass.

ON THE THIRD DAY

Picture the remaining 11 apostles, on a cold spring evening, fugitives huddled together, afraid to stay put, afraid to go out. It seems like an eternity since they shared the Passover meal with Jesus. Now He is dead – delivered to a gruesome crucifixion by their own High Priests at the hands of their Roman conquerors and oppressors. Early the next morning, the women would go out before dawn to the heavily guarded tomb, somehow hoping to gain entry to perform the ritual anointing. All their hopes and dreams of a Messiah seemed buried in that cold dark tomb.

Then the world changed. Standing at the open and empty tomb, the women were the first witnesses to the fulfillment of a promise made at the dawn of mankind by the one almighty God. The truth of this moment is fundamental to Christian faith. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17 “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” St. Paul, sensing that the Corinthians, let alone future generations might need more proof, goes on to state that the risen Jesus appeared to 500 brothers, Cephas (St. Peter), St. James and eventually to St. Paul. Other accounts cite many appearances over the next 40 days.

But two thousand years later, how do we know empirically that the cornerstone of our faith is in fact true? Did the apostles hide Jesus’ body, and make up the Resurrection story as a cover to start a new religion? Or maybe it was just a “symbolic” resurrection in spirit, a case of mass hysteria or hallucination?

The first step in evaluating hoax theories is to look at the historical setting and the serious trouble the apostles were in with the Temple and the Romans. There was a reason why Peter denied Jesus three times – he was scared to death to admit he had anything to do with Him. None of the apostles except John were at the foot of the cross for the same reason. They were in hiding from the Roman soldiers and temple guards who, in trying to nip any thoughts of revolt in the bud, might easily round up Jesus’ followers and subject them to a similar fate.

According to Catholic author and radio host Patrick Madrid, “If Jesus’ literal, bodily Resurrection didn’t happen, the Apostles would have disbanded, given up, and gone home. What would have been the point? If Jesus did not really rise from the dead, as he had repeatedly promised he would, then why bother? He would have been just another failed, dead wannabe Messiah. And the Apostles and the other disciples who followed Jesus certainly would not have been willing to risk their lives (as they did) and suffer bloody martyrdom (as they did) for some dead guy who had an inspiring message. But the Resurrection proved that Jesus is God, and that he’s our Lord and Savior, whose person and message is worth living for and, should it come to that, worth dying for. That’s what we believe as Catholics about the Resurrection. It’s that life-changingly, world-shakingly important.”

Another theory is that all the stories about Jesus’ appearances can be explained away as mass hysteria or hallucination. According to Catholic Answers’ Apologist Karlos Broussard, “How can so many different people hallucinate the same thing or have the same vision at different times and in different places and draw from it the same erroneous conclusion? It doesn’t make sense. With respect to hallucinations, clinical psychologist Gary Collins explains: ‘Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people…Since a hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.’”

One of the more controversial proofs is the shroud. The Gospel of Luke states, “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.” Lk 24:12. Both Luke and John specifically mention the burial cloths. The fact that the cloths were there does not necessarily prove the Resurrection, but was there something about the cloths that indicated Resurrection? The empty cloth didn’t send the Apostles out looking for a body, it sent them home, amazed and presumably joyful. Ian Wilson, one of the most prolific authors and historians on the subject of the Shroud of Turin postulates, “But why the excitement, even on the part of an Agnostic? Although many may wonder why anyone would find a few stains on an old piece of linen so fascinating, it is the character of those stains which is so compelling. The plain fact is that no normal human body leaves behind an image of itself, certainly not one with the extraordinarily photographic characteristics that is on the Shroud. Can it be by accident therefore that this phenomenon has happened uniquely in the case of Jesus, the one man in all human history accredited with breaking the bonds of death? If the shroud really is two thousand years old, would whatever happened at that moment in time quite literally have flashed itself on the cloth that we have today, a now permanent time capsule of how Jesus’ body looked at the time of resurrection?”

There are many other proofs historic, contextual and cultural that testify to the truth of the Resurrection, but Father Christopher Smith, Rector of Christ Cathedral Parish points out, “The declaration of Easter is that the resurrection of Jesus broke through the finality of physical death and destroyed the power of sin which deadens our spirits. The promise of Easter is new and everlasting life.”

AN EMPTY TOMB AND A BODILY RESURRECTION: WHY IT MATTERS

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholics and other Christians have grown up believing in the Resurrection, but the Apostles themselves were among the first who were skeptical that Jesus arose from the dead.

They didn’t believe it at first when they were told by the women who had come to anoint the crucified Jesus’ body but instead found an empty tomb.

“To be fair, you can say the men didn’t believe the women, but who could believe that story? Let’s be fair to the men. They would have to see for themselves,” said James Papandrea, a Catholic who is associate professor of church history at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois.

“I think anyone would want to see for themselves. We believe what we see, we believe our senses, and it’s only natural that if somebody says the Lord is alive and you knew he was dead, you’d say, ‘Show me.’ The disciples, even after all of Jesus’ teachings and all his hints about death and resurrection, they seem not to have expected him to rise from the dead. They automatically went into skeptic mode. We have Peter and John running to the empty tomb, to see that it’s empty,” Papandrea said.

“For believers, the significance of the tomb is that when Christians were talking about the Resurrection, they weren’t just claiming Jesus’ soul went to heaven. Or that Jesus lives on in our heart,” said Brant Pitre, a Scripture professor at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. “They’re saying something happened to Jesus’ corpse, Jesus’ body. That’s the other essential story of the Resurrection.”

Some skeptics, Pitre told Catholic News Service in an April 11 telephone interview, talk about the concept of life after death as being just “the immortality of Jesus’ soul. They would have said that about anybody in the Old Testament.”

That is what makes the Resurrection not just different, but unique, according to Pitre, author of “The Case for Jesus.”

“The empty tomb is a necessary condition for the Resurrection, but it’s not sufficient,” Pitre said. The other element is Jesus’ appearances to the Apostles. “They needed to see in the flesh that he was alive again in his body, but in a transformed and glorified state,” he added, citing the account in Chapter 24 of St. Luke’s Gospel in which the Apostles initially think “they saw a spirit — which shows you the Apostles believed in ghosts.” But Jesus tells them, “Look at my hands and my feet,” which had been pierced with nails when he was crucified, “for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, but I have.”

Even though the Apostles — even doubting Thomas — came to believe, it was not easy to convince others. “One of the things skeptics will say: ‘The Apostles were simple fishermen. They would believe anything, out of their simplicity,'” Pitre said.

The case even holds true for the women who found the empty tomb. “In the first century A.D., the testimony of women in a courtroom was not considered reliable,” Pitre said, adding that for more believability, “you’d want the chief priest to find the (empty) tomb.” As Papandrea told CNS, “If something is in the Gospels, it’s in there for a reason. If they were ashamed of the fact that the women were the first ones to find the tomb, they could have easily left it out.”

The Apostles at first “met with opposition, mockery and even doubt on the part of the disciples,” Pitre said. “Even as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, the Resurrection was one of the stumbling blocks,” he added, noting that St. Paul preaching about Christ in Athens to the Greeks had his audience “until he says Christ was raised from the dead. They mock him. It’s impossible; even ancient people knew that dead people stayed dead.”

“Many of us have the advantage where it’s normal to believe in the Resurrection,” said Papandrea, whose books include “Handed Down: The Catholic Faith of the Early Christians.” “We grew up and our parents believed it, and why wouldn’t we?”

He added that popular culture now holds up many Christ figures. “If you watch the superhero movies, they make liberal use of Christian themes, death and resurrection. These themes recur, but they also use themes from Greek and Roman mythology, Nordic mythology, as if they have equal cultural value. A lot of people treat the story of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ as just one more myth.”

The real difference about Jesus and superheroes, according to Papandrea, is that “the resurrection of Christ is not something that happened on top of Mount Olympus before time, but God broke into time.”

The bromide that “you can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday” is true as far as it goes, but “it would be just as valid to wear a little gold empty tomb around your neck,” Papandrea said, noting how Protestants tend to wear a cross rather than a crucifix “because they know Jesus didn’t stay on the cross. Both make perfect theological sense.”

“Without Easter Sunday,” Pitre said, “Good Friday would just be one more tragic death, one more tragic execution of one more poor Jewish man crushed by the Roman Empire. Easter Sunday is the vindication of what happened on Good Friday — the atoning death of the son of God for the whole world.”