Experiencing and Expressing the Risen Life
April 16, 2023, Divine Mercy Sunday
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
When do you experience yourself as most alive by grace? Does this usually depend on some expression other people are giving to their faith that supports and inspires you? How much of your experience of grace depends only what you yourself are doing? What have you done that has given you the experience, the felt conviction, of being alive by grace?
The Entrance Antiphon counsels us, “Like newborn infants, long for pure, spiritual milk, so that through it you may grow into salvation.” One way to experience life is to eat food that energizes us. The readings will show us what that food is in our daily lives.
The Opening Prayer reminds us that we are reborn: that God “gives us new birth in the Spirit.” We ask God to “increase our awareness” of the blessings that are ours because of this new life — not so that we will rest complacently in them, but so that we will long for more. We pray, “Renew your gift of life within us.” We ask for divine energy to “grow… toward the fullness of eternal life.” We want our religion to be brought alive by the experience of Christ’s life within us.
The Readings show us how we become aware of this experience. The Responsorial Psalm declares the spontaneous response it evokes: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting” (Psalm 118).
A visible stance:
Acts 4: 32-35 speaks about experiencing the grace (favor) of divine life through the stance we take toward money and possessions.
We may not have great experiences in prayer or feel a lot of devotion when we are at Mass or doing “spiritual” things. We may even feel “turned off” by religion and indifferent to God. But feelings are not a good gauge of how religious we are. Feelings come and go. Feelings are produced according to the laws of cause and effect; not by free will. We cannot measure our personal, our real, response to anything by the way we feel about it. Love is shown — and experienced — in deeds.
The problem with experiencing our love for God through deeds is that there are not a lot of things we can do that touch God directly. Also, God is invisible, so we can’t see what effect our actions are having on him. The way to “see” the stance we are taking toward God is to take a stance toward people and things on this earth — a visible stance that can only be explained or understood as resulting from a stance toward God.
For example, in the early Church, when “all who owned property or houses sold them and donated the proceeds…. to be distributed to everyone according to each one’s need,” this was pretty strong evidence of real belief in the teachings and promises of Jesus. Why else would anyone do that?
The stance we take toward money and possessions is a pretty good indication of the stance we take toward life in this world — and toward life in the world to come. The “eternal life” Jesus promises does not begin when we die; it is ours from the moment we accept it here on earth. The eternal life of heaven is simply the eternal life given to us on earth extended and brought to fullness. To believe in eternal life promised is to experience eternal life given — if our belief is embodied in action.
The way to experience eternal life — divine life, “grace” — given to us is to do something we could not do without it. The way most ready to hand is to take a stance toward treasure on earth that makes it very clear that our hearts are set on treasure in heaven. This is what the early Christians did. It is what Christians still do — in a variety of ways. And when they do they experience freedom, reassurance and joy. They speak from personal knowledge when they say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.”
Faith in the flesh:
John made the point in his Gospel: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son… who has made him known” (John 1:18 ). Jesus did that by “taking flesh,” taking a human body and becoming a visible member of the human race. This has been the pattern of Christian spirituality ever since. Our religion is faith made flesh, hope embodied in physical human choices, love empowering physical human actions.
“Who [indeed] is the victor over the world?” 1John 5: 1-6 tells us it is those who are “begotten by God” by believing that Jesus, the “only begotten Son of the Father,” became flesh in a physical human body and physically died to give us spiritual life.
Jesus came “through water and blood… not by water alone, but by water and blood.” His own baptism was not just the symbolic gesture of being washed in the Jordan river. The “baptism” toward which his life was bent was a washing in his own blood (Luke 12:50).
On the cross Jesus proved (and experienced) the “breadth and length and height and depth” of his love for the Father and for us by a physical action, his passion and death, that left no doubt about his love. If we want to experience our real, our live union with him in that love, then our love too must be embodied in actions. These are not just any actions: they are actions that could have no other motivation than faith: “The victory that conquers the world is our faith.” Whatever we can do, conquer or achieve without faith is not an unambiguous proof of the life and power of God within us.
This is Christian witness. We bear witness to Jesus Christ as prophets through actions that are both the expression and the experience of his divine life active within us. Through our visible human choices we reveal the invisible life of grace enlightening our minds to believe what Jesus said, converting our desires into hope for what he promises, strengthening our hearts to love beyond the limits of this world. Then we can say and inspire others to say with us, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.”
Unless I see and touch…
When the risen Jesus appears to his disciples in John 20: 19-31 his opening words are always, “Peace be with you.” Where does that peace come from? Jesus’ first words after the greeting tell us. The first time, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” He showed them the proof of his passion and death so they would know that the living man in front of them had truly risen from the dead. The first source of our peace is in the fact that Jesus is risen and is living still. He is still with us.
After his second greeting, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” The second source of our peace is in the fact that we are sent and empowered by the Spirit to continue Christ’s work on earth. We have a meaning and purpose in life. We know what we are here for, and what we have to do. And we know that the light and strength to do it are coming, not from us, but from the gift of the Spirit within us. In other words, we know that the risen Jesus is living and acting in us. We are the risen Jesus.
Jesus said that he would go down into the grave to rise multiplied through resurrection in every living member of his body on earth: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Our peace is in the fact that Jesus is risen and living in us.
But Thomas could not find this peace just from the other disciples’ report that they had seen Jesus. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands” and touch his wounds myself, “I will not believe.”
Thank God for hard-headed disciples! Thomas voiced the need we all have to see flesh-and-blood evidence that Jesus is risen and real. Where do we find it? In the flesh-and-blood reality of his body on earth — in the flesh–and-blood experience that we and others are living the life of grace, the risen life, the divine life of Jesus living in us. Every time we act in a way that expresses our faith, and especially when nothing but faith can explain it, Jesus in us is saying to anyone who doubts, “See my hands. Touch me. And do not be unbelieving but believe — that through this belief you may have life.”
Insight: What do I do that cannot be explained except by my faith in Jesus Christ? Are there things I do that I know I would not do unless I were motivated by faith, even though other people might do them for other motives?
Initiative: Take God’s words seriously. Make some choices consciously based on them.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry