I just can’t get enough. As if the Easter Vigil weren’t enough, I pulled myself out of bed early and went to morning Mass too–my first Easter morning Mass in a very long time.
It was very simple compared to the Easter Vigil Mass, of course, but glorious nonetheless. In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of St. John, we read of the disciples’ encounter with the empty tomb. In this account, there is no astonishing mystical experience. There is no direct encounter between St. Mary Magdalene and the risen Christ. There is not even an angel there to tell her that Christ has risen and gone to Galilee before them. Mary simply arrives to find the tomb empty. She tells St. Peter and St. John, and they race to the tomb to examine it themselves. They find Lord Jesus’s burial linens discarded therein–and I always like the little detail that the cloth that had covered His head was rolled up separately. The apostles “saw and believed” although “they did not yet understand.”
As our priest said in his homily, that is probably the main lesson of St. John’s account: believing even when we do not understand. Believing even if we do not have any mystical experiences or direct encounters–indeed these are quite rare for nearly everybody. Believing even if our emotions or any other consolations may be absent. Believing even if our intellects can produce plenty of reasons not to believe.
This is all part of being Catholic. There are plenty of things we may not understand… anything from why the priesthood is reserved to men or why the Church is so “single issue” when it comes to abortion, to what exactly it means that God is one and yet three Persons or that Jesus is one divine Person with two natures. Good, devout, practicing Catholics struggle with Church teachings. Struggling is a good thing. Struggling is a sign that we do believe, and that we just need to gain understanding. Understanding is a gift of the Holy Spirit–it is good to seek understanding. And believe me, when we ask Him for it, He will give it to us.
The problem is when we stop struggling, or worse, simply make our own judgments and don’t even bother to struggle. That signifies that we do not believe and that we do not seek understanding–and in doing so, we are telling the Holy Spirit to take a hike because we know soooo much better than Him! That’s a sure sign that God and our Catholic faith has ceased to matter to us. That’s when we simply start ripping pages out of the Catechism–to borrow an image from apologist John Martignoni–and perhaps the Bible as well. Anything we don’t believe in or care to understand? Simply get rid of it. And pretty soon we have the Catechism and the Bible not of the Catholic Church but of our own personal religion.
A practicing Catholic can’t bear to live without the Holy Spirit. He is the breath of life and the personification of all divine love and wisdom. He fills our souls with graces and gifts beyond reckoning. He moves us and molds us. He is the guide, guardian, and life principle of the Catholic Church, her supreme teacher and commander. From the first Christian Pentecost until this very day, this very moment, it is He who leads us. If we don’t trust Him, then there is no reason to be Catholic. If our faith is just a bunch of false, man-made doctrine, then there is nothing real for us to believe in. It’s nothing more than an opinion, just one ideology among many other, equally valid ideologies.
If any one teaching of the Catholic Church is wrong, then they might as well all be wrong. If the Spirit of Truth is a liar or else simply not paying attention, then there is no way for us to know anything. Jesus of Nazareth might as well just be a heap of dust in a tomb right now. Our priests might as well just be feeding us stale bread. Confession might as well just be scandalous, sensational talk-show dirt for the entertainment of our confessors, who, after all, have no ability whatsoever to absolve our sins. And “Catholic” might as well be just some ethno-cultural term taken from some crazy cult our Dark Ages ancestors believed in. (Yes, this last one already rears its ugly head all too often among people who identify themselves as “Catholic.”)
Pretty soon, we’re lost in a maelstrom of meaninglessness and absurdity. How can we live–truly live–in such a way? Is it not better to struggle nobly and heroically? To trust in our God? To fight the current instead of drifting aimlessly? Ironically, it is in submitting ourselves to God and to the Church that we are able to swim upstream when necessary. For God and His Church provide our strength.
That is what this Easter Day calls us to do. And it replenishes all the graces and blessings we need in order to do so.
So take courage and peace, all who struggle with our faith. Hear the Gospel and believe. Trust and hope in our risen Lord, and ask the Holy Spirit for understanding. Pentecost may be 50 days away, but Easter Day is a perfect day to open our hearts to Him, whom our risen Lord Jesus Christ sent to care for His Church so that we would never left alone and never struggle in vain.