Third Sunday of Easter, May 4, 2014

May 4, 2014 Father De Celles Homily

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, VA

For the forty days of Lent the Church of Jesus Christ prepared to celebrate
the solemn feasts of Our Lord’s death and resurrection.
And when Easter Sunday came this church was packed to standing room only
with people who came to rejoice that the Lord has risen.
And for 8 more weeks the Church continues
the celebration of the Easter Season.
In fact, all 52 Sundays of the year are a continuation of this commemoration
of Easter Sunday.
So the Church, year in and year out,
echoes the voices of the first disciples of Jesus in today’s Gospel:
“The Lord has truly been raised!”

Yet, there are some in the world who call themselves Jesus’ disciples
who would choose not to echo that claim.
Instead they would seem to say,
“The Lord hasn’t been raised!”
or, “Maybe he was raised, maybe he wasn’t–who knows?”
Every year around Easter these doubters of the historical reality of the Gospels
get a lot of coverage in the media,
which seems to relish reporting their various so-called “scholarly studies”.
Inevitably the studies cited conclude by rejecting as false or doubtful such Gospel stories as the Virgin birth and the Nativity,
all of Jesus’ miracles, and the crucifixion.
But their most outlandish claim is that Christ didn’t really rise from the dead.
Of course, all of these claims are dead wrong.

Some of these studies’ errors are based on ideological prejudice
that eliminate any possibility of trusting in the accuracy of the text.
For example, they begin by presupposing that miracles don’t really happen
–so they find “scholarly” reasons to throw out all of Jesus’ miracles.
And since they dismiss his miracles,
they immediately dismiss his resurrection,
pointing to such things as the slight differences between the 4 Gospels
in their descriptions of the resurrection
as “proof” that the resurrection was a fraud or hoax.

On the other hand, some of the errors are due to poor scholarship
–either in the area of science or history.
For example, some studies claim to have determined
–based on “scientific analysis” of things like grammar and vocabulary–
that the Gospels were written decades or even a century
after the death of the Apostles.
And they point out that while Jesus and the apostles spoke Aramaic
as their primary language,
all of the oldest texts of the Gospels that we have are written in Greek
–which was the almost exclusive language of most of the Church
in the 2nd century, 100 years after the death of the apostles.
So, by dating the Gospels so many years after the death of the apostles
they can then argue that the Gospels were written
not based on facts and eyewitnesses accounts,
but by later writers who made up stories
to make Christianity more attractive to converts.

The problem is, the conclusions of these so called “scientific analyses”
just don’t hold up.
For example,
recent scientific scholarship is showing more and more convincingly
that the Gospels were actually written down on paper
between as early as the year 40 and 60 AD
–in other words within 10 or 30 years of the death of Christ
and within the lifetimes of most of the apostles,
including Peter and Paul.
Also, there’s a fascinating study which seems to prove
that the Greek versions of Mark’s Gospel
are really just a translation of an original Aramaic text written about 50 AD.
These and similar studies obviously contradict the conclusions of the doubters.

Many of these skeptics also base their so called scholarly theories
on a contorted reading of history.
Consider the fact that the Gospels represent
4 separate more or less contemporaneous biographies
of a peasant who lived 2000 years ago.
This kind of documentary evidence is not very common
in the study of ancient history.
And though the doubting scholars point to various differences in the Gospels,
the fact is that they overwhelmingly agree and support each other.
On top of that, the facts laid out in those Gospels–especially the resurrection–
are also attested to by the 23 other books of the New Testament,
not to mention in other non-Scriptural writings of Christians
and nonChristians from the 1st and 2nd centuries.
Remember, the New Testament is a combination of letters written by at least
7 different men from various far-flung parts of the Roman Empire.
What the doubters are suggesting is that there was some kind of mass conspiracy
between all these various writers strewn from Rome to Egypt.
This doesn’t make much sense–and they have no proof for such a theory.
And remember that the center of Church life in the 1st and 2nd centuries
were the actual communities established by the various apostles,
like Rome and Antioch
–communities which have always had a strong sense
of the unwritten tradition of the apostles.
How could these supposed “new lies” of the Gospels
survive the scrutiny of those true believers?

I could go on and on, but I won’t.
Because historical and scientific evidence
will never be able to completely satisfy the skeptics.
The miraculous signs of Jesus will always be the target of organized doubters,
simply because its so easy to reject them.
Its hard for a rational person to accept
that a man actually died and rose from the dead 3 days later.
But a rational person should also recognize that if there is a God,
and if that God did choose to come to earth as a man,
then that God could and probably would work miracles
–and the resurrection would make all the sense in the world.

In the end, it’s not a merely a question of science or history.
Certainly those play there part.
But in the end it comes down to faith.
You believe in Christ, not because scholars tell you to,
but because something has moved your heart
to accept Christ as someone to believe in.
And this movement in your heart doesn’t tell you to believe
in just any theory about Christ,
but in the reality of Christ, who has chosen to reveal himself to you
by the witness of his Church,
especially the testimony of the 12 apostles and their first disciples,
which is handed down to us in Tradition and Scripture.
As the Second Vatican Council told us:
“[T]he four Gospels…whose historical character
the Church unhesitatingly asserts,
faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men,
really did and taught for their eternal salvation
until the day He was taken up into heaven.”

It should, however, be no surprise that some of those who say they believe in God
doubt that God has revealed himself.
In today’s 1st reading St. Peter stands before God’s chosen people
in Jerusalem on Pentecost,
and tells them that they did not recognize Jesus
even when God revealed him through signs and wonders.
And today’s Gospel tells us of how Cleopas and his companion
—2 of Christ’s own disciples–
walked 7 miles with the resurrected Jesus
as he explained all the Old Testament prophesies of the resurrection
–and still they didn’t recognize him!

No amount of scholarly studying can bring us to believe in Christ.
Scholarship can help us to understand what we read and believe
–but it will never prove a thing for us.
The only proof that we have is the proof in our hearts.
And the only one who can bring us that proof is Jesus Christ himself.
As Cleopas says today,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
It is Christ who leads us to faith in the Scriptures,
and the truth they reveal about him.

When the disciples and Jesus reached Emmaus
it was in the breaking of the bread that they finally recognize Jesus.
As we gather today to celebrate that same Eucharist,
allow Christ to reveal himself to you.
Have faith in his revelation, both in his Scripture and in his Eucharist,
and pray to him that he may give you whatever faith you may lack.
What does it matter what those with little faith believe.
We are disciples of Christ!
And just as the first disciples in Jerusalem,
we lift our hearts in faith and proclaim:
“The Lord has truly been raised!”