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April 26, 2019 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. As we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus this Easter, can you give me a short summary of the reasons why we believe that Jesus really rose from the dead? — K.J., via e-mail.
A. Defenders of the Resurrection have usually grouped the reasons for the belief in the Resurrection of Jesus into three categories: The empty tomb, the many apparitions in the forty days after Easter, and the transformation of the apostles. Let’s take a close look at each category.
The Empty Tomb — Everyone agrees, whether friends or foes of Jesus, that the tomb where our Lord had been buried on Friday night was empty on Sunday morning. That fact was attested to by Mary Magdalene and the women with her, by Peter and John, and by the soldiers who had been designated to guard the tomb on Saturday. The soldiers reported back to the chief priests that they had seen an angel of the Lord descend from Heaven, roll back the stone, and sit on it while they lay like dead men on the ground.
After discussing this report among themselves, the chief priests gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them, “You are to say, ‘his disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’ And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy [him] and keep you out of trouble.”
The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed, says the Gospel. “And that story has circulated among the Jews to the present [day]” (Matt. 28:11-15).
There have been other unpersuasive attempts to undermine belief in the Resurrection (an earthquake swallowed up the body of Jesus, or He really didn’t die; He was drugged when taken down from the cross), but the principal objection has been that the apostles stole the body. How likely is that considering what we know about the apostles? They abandoned Jesus after His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and they were locked in the Upper Room, out of fear for their lives, when Jesus appeared to them on Sunday night. Recall that when Jesus appeared to them that night, the apostles thought that He was a ghost.
How likely is it that these frightened men would have gone out in the middle of the night and overpowered armed guards to steal a dead body? And why was the body never found? The chief priests and their servants must have looked high and low to find the corpse so that they could rebut the contention of the early Christians that Jesus had risen from the dead. And why didn’t those who allegedly stole the body take the burial cloths with them? What persons stealing a body would take the time to unwind the cloths and roll up the headpiece and lay it to one side?
The Appearances — During the forty days after the Resurrection, St. Paul says that Jesus was seen by more than 500 people (cf. 1 Cor. 15:6). He was seen by individuals (Peter and Mary Magdalene), by the two men on the road to Emmaus, and by the apostles twice in Jerusalem, at the Sea of Tiberias, and in Bethany where they saw Jesus ascend into Heaven. These appearances took place in and around Jerusalem and in Galilee seventy miles away. They took place in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Jesus showed them His wounded body, dined with them, and instructed them about their mission.
The usual objection to these appearances is that the disciples were having hallucinations, that they wanted to believe that Jesus was still alive and, over time, their imaginations transformed a myth into reality. There might be some substance to this theory if the appearances took place under certain conditions, say, to a certain group of people, in a certain area, and only at night.
But that is not the way it happened. To suggest that all of these people, in all of these places, at all of these times, were seeing things is much less credible than the Resurrection. And if all of these people were crazy, how come they all stopped being crazy exactly forty days after Easter? Since when do deluded minds display such unanimity?
The Transformation of the Apostles — Only the bodily Resurrection of Jesus could have transformed the apostles from timid, frightened, and confused men to zealous, courageous, and articulate missionaries who, along with their disciples, converted the hostile Roman Empire to Christianity in less than 300 years, while undergoing vicious persecution and death. People do not suffer these kinds of assaults for a lie.
The apostles would never have preached the risen Christ openly and fearlessly unless they truly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter was crucified upside down, and Andrew and Philip were also crucified. James was hurled from the top of the Temple, Bartholomew was flayed alive and beheaded, and Paul was a man of awesome courage.
Rather than renounce Christ, he endured at least five floggings, one stoning, three shipwrecks, numerous imprisonments, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, before he was finally beheaded.
The apostles could have denied Christ and escaped persecution and death. But none of them ever wavered. They preached the word of Christ, performed miracles in His name, and changed the course of human history.
Millions upon millions of Christians down through twenty centuries have cheerfully given up their lives as a witness to the risen Christ. They offer the greatest testimony to Jesus’ promise: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Q. Why do Catholics begin each prayer with the Sign of the Cross, when Protestant churchgoers do not? What is the origin of the custom? Is it proper for Catholics to begin prayers without making the Sign of the Cross? I ask this because I am encountering more instances of my fellow Catholics beginning prayers without this gesture. — J.G., Wisconsin.
A. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, once said that “the most basic Christian gesture in prayer is and always will be the Sign of the Cross.” Its origins go back to the early years of the Church. For example, Tertullian (160-222) wrote the following in the second century:
“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever task occupies us, we mark our forehead with the Sign of the Cross.”
In his book Signs of Life, Scott Hahn said that one of his favorite explanations of the importance of this gesture comes from St. Francis de Sales:
“We raise the hand first to the forehead, saying, ‘In the name of the Father,’ to signify that the Father is the first person of the Most Holy Trinity, of whom the Son is begotten and from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. Then saying, ‘and of the Son,’ the hand is lowered to the breast to express that the Son proceeds from the Father, who sent him down to the womb of the Virgin. Then the hand is moved from the left shoulder or side to the right, while saying, ‘and of the Holy Spirit,’ thereby signifying that the Holy Spirit, as the third person of the Holy Trinity, proceeds from the Father and the Son, that he is the love that unites both, and that we, through his grace, partake of the fruits of the passion.
“Accordingly, the Sign of the Cross is a brief declaration of our faith in the three great mysteries of our faith: in the Blessed Trinity, in the passion of Christ, and in the forgiveness of sin, by which we pass from the left side of curse to the right of blessing” (p. 27).
Knowing this about this holiest of all signs, why would any Catholic fail to begin each prayer with the Sign of the Cross? That’s how Holy Mass begins, that’s how all the sacraments begin, and that’s how the rosary begins.
“Making the Sign of the Cross,” said Pope Benedict XVI, “. . . means saying a visible and public ‘yes’ to the One who died and rose for us, to God who in the humility and weakness of his love is the Almighty, stronger than all the power and intelligence of the world” (Hahn, p. 29).

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