With Pope Benedict’s renunciation and Pope Francis’s election, there has been a lot of talk over the past two months about the controversial issues facing the Church. MSN News ran an article by Eli Epstein last month speculating about where Pope Francis stands on five “controversial” issues: gay marriage, same-sex adoption, baptizing children born out of wedlock, abortion, and euthanasia.
Based on what then Cardinal Bergoglio did in Buenos Aires, Epstein finds that the Pope pretty much agrees with all the other cardinals. Should this come as a surprise to anyone? What Epstein and others don’t understand, is that there is not a controversy within the Church about whether the union of two men can be called marriage, nor were the cardinals going to elect a pope who thought abortion was morally acceptable. With the exception of the issue of baptism, Epstein’s list of controversies amounts to a list of issues that put the Church at odds with our contemporary political situation. These are not controversial issues for the church but for the world. They concern teachings of the Church that some find difficult to accept because they don’t see the truth about human nature that underlies them.
While the Church’s stand on social issues can put it at odds with the prevailing culture, we are not ultimately a political organization. Our position on marriage and life issues is not what really makes a Christian different from the world. The one assertion of the Church that puts all of the others into perspective is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead!
“[I]f Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith,” Paul tells the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:14). The central mystery of our faith, which we profess every Sunday, is that “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Our annual eight-day long celebration of the Day of Christ’s Resurrection is a good time to remind ourselves of the most important Truth: Jesus Christ. We are pulled away from the battles of the present age to refocus on eternity. The liturgy reminds us of why we are Christians. We have a chance to once again be astounded by the empty tomb (cf. Lk 24:22).
As we see seismic shifts in popular culture and opinion, we can easily lose hope. But as Jesus asks the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26)
Christ by his resurrection has given us more than any rhetorical victory ever could: He defeated death. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.” (1 Cor 15:20-21)
The empty tomb should mean more to us than all the praise we could ever receive by agreeing to the values of this world. We have plenty to be afraid of, but even more to hope for. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor 15:57).
Image: Sebastiano Ricci, The Resurrection