Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Advent, Day 3: Confessions of a Seventh Grade Catechist: Eucatastrophe

Still teaching religion classes to sixth and seventh graders, but I'm upgrading myself to seventh-grade catechist because my small discussion group is seventh-graders. This is a recent teaching, reconstructed from memory because the other week seems like an eternity ago, and someone threw out the notes that I'd carefully saved in the most logical of spots, the top of the toaster oven.


Anyone know what a catastrophe is? A disaster. A terrible thing that happens suddenly, right. Something awful and destructive. 

Has anyone ever had a family member die? You don't have to raise your hand. This person you loved is gone, and you can't see them or talk to them or spend time with them anymore. It seems like the end of the world. Death is a catastrophe.

Imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus died. For three years they'd followed him and listened to him and lived with him. They believed that he was the Messiah, that he was going to lead Israel to great things. They'd built their lives around his promises. They'd seen his miracles and listened to his teaching. They'd seen him enter Jerusalem with the crowds shouting praises. 

Then Jesus is arrested. He's tortured. Remember how we talked about the whips the Romans used? They tied bits of bone or razor sharp stones onto the ends of the thongs, so that the whip sliced skin off of Jesus's back. They pounded a crown of thorns onto his head. Who knows how you die by crucifixion? Yes, by suffocation. Your ribcage is pulled up, and you can't get a breath unless you push up on the nail in your feet. That's why Jesus's words on the cross are so important. He has to support his whole body ON A NAIL THROUGH HIS FEET to get enough breath to gasp out a few words. Read them sometime.

So now he's dead, this man the apostles hoped would set Israel free, would set them free. He said he was God, but they saw him die on the cross like a criminal. Their hopes were shattered, and now they're afraid that they too might be arrested. Their hearts are broken. This is a catastrophe, the end of everything.

And then strange things happen. Some women come running in, saying they've been to the tomb, and the huge stone that should have been closing it off has been rolled away. And the tomb is empty. And they've seen Jesus, and he's not dead. And then, when the apostles are confused and shaky and filled with wild, conflicting thoughts, Jesus walks into the room through the locked door and says, "Peace be with you." Their friend, the one they'd seen die an excruciating death, whom they were mourning because they'd never see him again, shows up grinning at them and says, "Look, you think I'm a ghost? Give me something to eat."

Suddenly, everything that was wrong has been turned upside-down. At the darkest hour, suddenly good has triumphed in the most stunning, unexpected way, and it's better than they ever could have dreamed. This is a eucatastrophe. "Eu" comes from the Greek. It means "good".  Euphoria. Euphony -- that means a good sound. Yep, Eucharist! The Resurrection is a eucatastrophe. It restores everything.

The early Christians told and retold each other about this eucatastrophe. It was handed down as Tradition by the Church, and written about by many different writers, and eventually some of these accounts were codified into Scripture by the Church. The Church proclaims the Resurrection over and over again, every Sunday, every day. It is the turning point in history, and the Church commemorates it until Jesus comes again. It guards the deposit of faith Christ gave us, and it celebrates the Resurrection not just in the words of Scripture, but in action, through the Mass. And that's what Jesus told us to do! We preserve and pass on the greatest news the world has ever heard.

But why is the Resurrection good news for everyone and not just for Jesus's friends in the first century? For one thing, it proves that Jesus is who he said he is: God. Plenty of people were raised from the dead throughout the Bible, but someone else always performed the miracle. No one raised Jesus from the dead; he raised himself. He brought himself back to life, through his own power. Only God can do that.

And because Jesus raises himself, he defeats death. He frees us from bondage to sin. Sin leads to death. The first sin brought death into the world. And sin in bondage. St. Paul says, "Why do I do what I hate?" Sin traps us, and it pulls us toward death. The Resurrection shatters the power of death. We're all going to die, but now we know that death isn't the end for us. Now death is a beginning, our transition from this life into eternity with God. This life is short. What is 80 years compared to forever and ever, amen? And when Jesus offers us eternal life, it's not so attractive to risk eternity for 80 years -- or less! -- of sin.

The Resurrection also means Jesus is always present with us. His glorified body is not bound by time or space. He passes through locked doors, he can be recognized or not as he prefers, he can turn up when and where he wants to, and he wears the marks of shame and death as if they were precious jewelry. And he eats, too! And he makes himself present to us now in the Eucharist, and we eat, too. We consume him, and he is part of us, inside us, as we are part of him, inside him, as members of his body. The Resurrection means that now every single one of our actions can have eternal significance, because death doesn't limit love. The smallest thing we do from love -- not love the feeling, but love as an action, an act of the will -- leads us to God, because God is love and every time we love, we are participating in the life of God. We cannot love without God. What's St. Therese's Little Way? Even the tiniest things done for love of God matter. Her example was picking up a pin, but we don't have tons of those laying around these days. But there are plenty of small things we can do. Obeying your mom the first time, without rolling your eyes. Not making that rude comment. Smiling instead of snapping back. Being gentle with someone who is annoying you. Little things, right? But little things done in love are magnified by the power of the Resurrection, and they change the world. And love is a eucatastrophe.

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