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What Catholics Believe - Chapter Eight

The Passion, Death, Resurrection of Christ

People always laughed when a seminary classmate of mine said: "Things always look darkest, just before they get pitch black." They chuckled because they appreciated the irony of the statement. One normally anticipates a different conclusion: "Things always look darkest, just before dawn." The journey through night should, by rights, conclude with the birth of a bright new day. The heart distressed takes delight in hope.

I am not a sports fanatic. I seldom watch sporting events on the television, but I make it a point to tune in when the Olympics are in session. Olympic athletes are frequently introduced as individuals who have struggled with suffering, loneliness, adversity, and sacrifice along the path to Olympian celebrity. The more difficult the passage from the depths to the mountain top, the more profoundly moving is their saga. It is a universal theme that is central to salvation history.

Christians never celebrate the resurrection of Christ without reference to his saving passion. The brightness of Easter dawn bursts out of the black hole of Good Friday. Furthermore, that paschal dawn is more effulgent and radiant than any the world has ever seen. Day itself has been transformed, changed.
The broken, bruised, tortured body of Jesus is the human body agonized and deformed by sin. The body taken down from the cross is humanity deprived by sin of its life-giving relationship with God, the author of life. Nothing short of a total transformation, a rebirth from the most intimate structures of each human cell can restore human dignity and, in fact, elevate it to a new stature. At the same time, a broken, battered world, from the smallest molecule is refashioned in the Risen Lord.

All of us who have been reborn in the waters of baptism, have embarked upon a rite of passage modeled after the transforming passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our sufferings are His sufferings, our death, His death, and His rising is our rising to eternal life. Although each of us lives out that paschal mystery in different details, and each one faces a unique unfolding of God's plan in his or her earthly journey, it is completed in communion with the dying and rising of Christ, and His body, the Church.
It is uplifting to read a novel in which the principle character has weathered tragedy successfully, and been renewed in the process. It is even more exhilarating to hear of actual human beings, like us, who have faced adversity and won the victory. The passion, death and resurrection of Christ is so much more than a thrilling and invigorating legend, it is the true pattern for the life of each Christian. We can all say: "It is my flesh and blood, my spirit, the unfolding of my days. It gives meaning to my suffering, incentive to my struggles, peace in my passing. It is Christ in me."

Rev. Richard McLaughlin

What Catholics Believe is an ongoing Harvest series on the United States Catholic Catechism of Adults. Click below to read continuing articles.