by Fr. Colman Grabert, OSB
Given at the Alumni Board Meeting
on April 17, 2023
I am grateful to Tim for the invitation to offer to the Board some reflection on Easter. I must say, however, that the theme is more than a challenge; it is daunting. The Paschal Mystery of Christ is the realization in history and so the revelation of “the Mystery hidden in God from before all ages but made known to us in the life, death, resurrection of Christ.” I confess that I was, for a moment, tempted to bring in a recording of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and let it go at that.
For good or ill, I thought better of it. So let me set a more manageable context for remarks on the Resurrection of Christ. I start with a reflection on the dispersed community of alums of St. Meinrad, of “the Hill.”
The 1894 founding declaration of purpose is, without question, a concrete implementation of the central message and example of Christ. The class of that year intends to form a small community binding each to the other. What binds them is charity. Their community is formed around the shared experiences, meanings, values, aims, not just of the seminary years, but of the future of their shared ministry. Their commitment is mutuality in their priestly life and mission in which each is committed to carrying the burdens of the other (“Alter alterius onera portare”) for success in ministry and for the spiritual growth of each. They are friends in Christ. It is gratifying to note the continuation of this initiative in the present-day mission statement of the Alumni Association and in such a way that can inform lives other than those in active ministry of whatever kind.
Of course, like any such alumni/ae association there are other, tangential, aims: to promote cooperations between alumni and institution that are mutually beneficial; to ensure open communication in both directions between the institution and the community of alums; to foster the identification of the alumni with the institution. It is this last that is most palpable. The association keeps vibrant the peculiarly deep sense among of alums of St Meinrad as a haven, a place offering stability and endurance, a “home” where one is known, accepted, can find compassionate and honest wisdom. It occurs to me repeatedly that alum reunions are never exercises in nostalgia, but rather the recharging in one’s present self of what, from the past life-experiences on Hill, now make up the person each is. From generation to generation, the Meinrad experience instills in those who live it an indivisible connection of community, prayer, theological study, and ministry. Just so, does the association today “foster mutual love and respect; to ensure success in [their] vocation; and to effect spiritual advancement.”
Such a resource is particularly needed in our day. The community of faith is increasingly met, if not with overt hostility and contempt, at least with easy dismissal as irrelevant to today’s world. Those who have discovered “The Chosen” will recognize themselves in the fish graphics of the series’ opening. To be a person, a community of faith is to turn from the horde hurtling downstream to swim against the current, against the vast shoal. It is, of course, the case that the church has in our sinfulness earned such contempt and dismissal. The great Urs von Balthasar has an essay entitled “The Chaste Whore” (Casta Meretrix). Repeatedly do we pray in the liturgy, “look not on our sins but on the faith of your church and grant her peace and unity You have promised.” With that prayer, we come to the Paschal Mystery of Christ – to the faith of the church.
We cannot speak of the Resurrection without speaking of the Cross. I must remind us that the death on the cross of the Son of God incarnate is a mystery that is beyond human comprehension. After developing five ways of understanding the cross of Christ (sacrifice; expiation; satisfaction; redemption; cause), St. Thomas remarks that however many other analogies there might be, not one nor all together will yield comprehensive understanding of the suffering and death of Christ for us and for our salvation. Here I would like to underscore two aspects of Christ’s redemption by the cross.
First, the suffering and death of Christ is God’s Infinite Love reconciling His creation to Himself. The otherwise intractable impasse of the sin of all times is once for all remedied by the cross of Christ, The remedy consists in the cross, and the cross is not some punishment of God, some vengeance of God demanding the death of the Incarnate Son. Rather, the cross as an historical fact is suffering from the evils of the Jewish hierarchs, of the mob, of Pilate and Herod, of the soldiers in their hatred to arrest, try, condemn, torture, and kill the Son of God. It consists in betrayal by one disciple and denial and flight by the rest. It is all this horror of evil bearing down on him that accounts for the agonizing prayer of Gethsemane. Were this all, Jesus’ mission to bring to birth the Kingdom fails in the announcing and signs. “We had hoped . . .” said the disciples headed to Emmaus.
Had the cross as (all) suffering imposed by fallen humanity been “all there is to it,” nothing would have changed for human history. But the Wisdom of God, the weakness of God, wills that Jesus endure the cross to reconcile humanity to Himself, make available once for all time the forgiveness of sin, defeat death, Within all the sufferings and the death by which his life is ripped from him, by which “Satan” succeeds in killing the Son of God, Jesus turns the robbery into a self-gift of love “for us and for our salvation.” “Son though he was,” says the Letter to the Hebrews, “he learned obedience through what he suffered and so became the source of eternal life to all who call on him.”
The way of Christ’s obedience becomes for the church and each Christian the “Law of the Cross.” Suffering, all suffering abounds in this world. It is the consequence of sin, evils, natural evils, of a creation yet longing to be completely free. As Paschal wrote: “The passion of Christ proceeds forward unto the end of the world.” Without faith, the response of humankind to such suffering is the mobilization of aggressivity in its various modalities to combat suffering with violence, willfulness, retaliation, revenge. With faith, the believer embraces the suffering (patience), does not sin, but works to turn evil to the good. Such patience is the dying to self repeatedly.
Second, every embrace of the law of the cross is and shared participation in the cross of Christ, a mutuality between the individual and Christ, between the church, “His body, and Christ. Christ died for all, for each and all. His self-gift to us and for us (consider the Eucharist), means that He lives in us, or rather we in Him such that, as St. Paul exclaims, I live by faith in Him who loved me and gave Himself up for me and so, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me”. Because of this, with Paul Christians are to “make up in my body the sufferings of Christ yet lacking for the Church.”
We come finally to Easter, to the Resurrection. Christ’s Resurrection from being dead and in the tomb three days, from being dead among the dead (as the Apostles’ Creed has it – the descent into Sheol – the completion and triumph of Christ’s work of redemption. The Father, through the Spirit, raises the dead Christ to life as the first fruit, the first full realization of the death of Death, of a the new heaven and a new earth, of the breakthrough of the Kingdom of God, of the in-gathering of all of humanity into Christ, of the subordination of all things to the sovereignty of the glory of Christ, of the handing over of Christ and all things to the Father – God, All in the all.
The Resurrection of Christ, then, absolutely validates and in principle renders universal the Redemption of the creation in Christ. Again from St. Paul: “If Christ be not raised from the dead, you are still in your sins, your faith is in vain. But Christ has been raised from the dead.”
That is why we dare to swim upstream. That is why we dare to care for each other in self-gift. That is why we have the courage to suffer for the good and resist all evil responses to evil. That is why we give ourselves in service of others. Because Christ has made us his friends who share in his work of reconciliation, we make ourselves friends with the other and even our enemies. Perhaps, unspoken though it be, that is why we as alums love a place and the people where, at one time, we learned something of the great gift of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.