The first letter of St. Paul to the members of the Church in Corinth includes a harsh correction. The apostle had learned that there were among them those who did not believe in the resurrection of the body. Paul’s response provides a theological perspective of Christ’s own bodily resurrection and the five consequences had it not taken place:
But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all (1 Corinthians 12-19).
Paul is saying that if there was no possibility of the resurrection, then Christ was not raised and the Corinthians must adhere to the logical consequences that follow:
- Preaching is a waste of time and we are false prophets.
- Our faith is misguided.
- We were never forgiven for our sins.
- Souls of Christians who have died have perished.
- Christian believers are to be pitied above all others.
Since we do not deny the resurrection we can reverse Paul’s five negative assertions into positive affirmations about Christ’s victory over death.
When asked the question of why he was so convinced Europe would once again return to Christianity, the late Otto von Habsburg (1912-2011) answered simply, “Because we have the truth”. He was a member of the European Parliament and envisioned its return to Christendom. Jesus Himself taught,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
There is no other source of religious truth but the Catholic Church. It’s one thing for members of different religions to engage in dialogue as a means of promoting peace, but quite another to disregard their disparate and competing claims to the truth and declare them equally valid. It’s intellectual anarchy.
The foundation of the Christian life if faith, trusting in the providence of God in all circumstances; it is a gift:
I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me (Galatians 2:19b-20).
The resurrection of Jesus completed the work of our justification, the obliteration of our sins through sanctifying grace:
…[Jesus] was handed over for our transgressions and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25).
The Catechism explains that this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit:
The grace of the Holy Spirit confers upon us the righteousness of God. Uniting us by faith and Baptism to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, the Spirit makes us sharers in his life (CCC 2017).
The Dead in Christ are Alive
One of the many beautiful doctrines of the Church is the Communion of Saints, including those who have died as well as the living. This allows for their intercession on our behalf or for those in purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) defines it as follows:
The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices.
Catholics assume a Christian name at confirmation, someone who is in Heaven with God, a real person to whom we can ask for intercessory prayers.
Christians are Blessed
Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church quoted at the beginning of this article continues:
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. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end… (1Cor. 15:20-24).
Firstfruits is a reference to the Hebrew festival known as Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, an agricultural event in which the first yield of the harvest is presented to the temple. Jesus was the first to be resurrected, and we will follow as long as we “belong” to Him.