My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
You don’t have to be an avid golfer to know the name Tiger Woods. For years, Tiger Woods was the most dominant golfer in the world, winning tournament after tournament. He won the U.S. Masters at Augusta in 1997 with a record score at age 21, making him the youngest man ever to earn the title. Woods won another 13 major tournaments and was named the PGA Player of the Year 10 times over the next 12 years. Then it all fell apart. He had knee surgery in 2008, marital problems led to divorce in 2010, and back surgeries in 2014, 2015 and 2017 left him sidelined from competition for long periods of time. With his victory at the 2019 Masters this past April 14, Woods claimed his first major title in nearly 11 years.
Some news stories have called this the “resurrection of Tiger Woods.” While his return to top form is indeed an amazing comeback, the use of the word “resurrection” is obviously meant as a metaphor, in that his golfing career had been left for dead, but had been remarkably revived.
I mention this because it seems that some people, including a good number of Christians, think the reference to Christ’s resurrection is just a metaphor, that is, they would say that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, but was “resurrected” only in the metaphorical sense that he was kept alive in the memories of his followers.
The problem with this understanding of our Lord’s resurrection is that it does not make sense in light of the experience of the first Christians, especially their martyrdom. People do not die for metaphors. The first Christians went willingly to their deaths rather than deny the truthful reality that Jesus had physically risen from the dead. If they were simply speaking metaphorically that Jesus was still alive in their thoughts and memories, and that the life they hoped for after their own deaths was only a figure of speech, I do not think they would have been so hopeful and confident about the implications of their dying as martyrs.
This is essential to keep in mind when we think about the deaths of our loved ones or even anticipate our own deaths. When my mother died last month, just as when my father died 21 years ago, I did not have just an abstract notion that my parents would simply remain in my thoughts and memories. I have a firm hope of seeing them again in the presence of Almighty God in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is what we mean when we say in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the “resurrection of the body” and in the Nicene Creed we profess at Mass every Sunday when we say that we believe in the “resurrection of the dead.”
This teaching is explained more fully in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where we read the following in paragraphs 989-991: “We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and He will raise them up on the last day. Our resurrection, like His own, will be the work of the Most Holy Trinity … . The ‘resurrection of the flesh’ (the literal formulation of the Apostles’ Creed) means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our ‘mortal body’ will come to life again. Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings.”
This doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is clearly taught in the Bible, where we read in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:12-14).
This promised resurrection of our bodies is a great gift of God’s divine mercy, hence we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. The last written words of Pope St. John Paul II, which were read on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3, 2005, the day after he died, called for a greater acceptance and understanding of Divine Mercy. The Holy Father had written, “As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness, and fear, the Risen Lord offers His love that pardons, reconciles, and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!”
May God give us this grace. Amen.