When a magazine names itself Crisis, you should know not to expect sugar plums and primroses. Our culture is in a bad way, and here at Crisis we’re pretty up-front about that fact. We endeavor to diagnose the problems and determine the appropriate response. Around here, we skip the sugar coating.
As faithful Catholics, we know that we’re engaged in an important struggle. So long as we remain in the Church Militant, we all have to do what we can. Souls hang in the balance, and as Flannery O’Connor noted, the life you save may be your own.
Still, it’s possible for faithful Catholics to become a little too addicted to the grim. We’re so accustomed to bad news by now that there can be a danger of getting our dial stuck on “morose.” That’s particularly unfitting for Christians, who should be the happiest of happy warriors. We of all people should know that we have reason to smile, however bleak things may appear on the political front. We are the children of a Living God. He has assured us that all will be well. With him, all things are possible. The Paschal season is a good time to break your face out of its scowl as you remember the all-important fact that however hot the battle may rage, the war has already been won.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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I always find it interesting at this time of year to reflect on the brevity of the Easter story. For centuries, the Jews waited for their Messiah. His life is narrated to us at reasonable length, but when we get to the Resurrection (which is only the most important thing that ever happened on this planet), a few verses suffice to convey what happened, after which the Gospels wrap the story up almost immediately. We get a quick scene from the road to Emmaus, the tale of Doubting Thomas, and Jesus’ exhortation to “feed my sheep.” The end.
I think it’s probably difficult to describe the reality of salvation to those who are still living with the effects of Original Sin. We can’t fully understand yet what our redemption looks like, so we are simply told that it is out there, made available to us through God’s great sacrifice and love.
The evocative images of the Easter Vigil underscore this same point. We see Abraham on the verge of sacrificing his son before his hand is stayed. Unlike the dark gods of pagan times, our God washes us in the blood of his Son instead of devouring the blood of ours. What unimaginable graciousness!
Next we see the Israelites crying with terror on the edge of the Red Sea as they see the Egyptian army descending to slaughter them. “Were there no graves in Egypt?” they demand of Moses. We know how the story ends, but it’s still amazing to envision the children of Israel marching through the sea, with dark walls of water on either hand as they remain safe on dry ground. It’s a wonderful metaphor for how Christians often feel living in the world today. Though we are beset with dangers, God holds back the sea, and enables us to pass through the fury unharmed.
Of course, complacency is perilous, and we should be wary of the sort of unthinking optimism that would enable us to fall into that trap. At the same time, there is a difference between worldly optimism and Easter optimism. The former denies the reality of worldly evils. The latter recognizes that those evils have ultimately been vanquished.
We should learn from the negative example of the Israelites, and not cry out in fear every time the battle looks bleak. Christians have been in every imaginable sort of peril over the millennia, and yet we still march on under the Paschal banner. We know that all things are held in the Providence of our triumphant God, and that he can turn the tide in our favor at whatever time seems good to him. What is there to fear?
Although the precise shape of our redemption may be left mostly in outline, God has left us in no doubt of his general intentions. He understands our weakness. He knows that we need help. It shall be given.
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “Résurrection” painted by Gerard Seghers in 1620.