Did you wake up on Easter Sunday with all of your sufferings gone like Jesus did? Perhaps on Good Friday you were taking on fasting, and…financial troubles, betrayal by a spouse, a lost job, addictions, contradictions, misunderstandings, family members who left the faith and/or divorce. And, when Easter came, all of your sufferings ended. Right? Of course they didn’t. The loneliness, disease and unforgiveness continued, making it a little bit hard to sing “the strife is o’er, the battle done” with a full-tank. Maybe you got home—thought—yeah, it’s a nice point of faith that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. Maybe you even believe it. But perhaps you feel like asking: Why is Easter really any different from Lent? (Except for the fact you gorged yourself with candy, beer and meat and had a little less guilt than you did on Lenten Sundays.)
This isn’t a Groundhog Day lesson about being kinder to people in order to find meaning in life. It’s about the triumph of Easter Sunday when you get stuck on Good Friday in a way like I did a few years ago. You see, as a city paramedic 15 years ago, I saw a lot: gun shot wounds, suicides, heart attacks, a mother with a dead child…and yet I never doubted God’s omnipotence and power. I knew and believed in the message of the Cross and Resurrection, that God allowed evil to turn it into good. (In fact, one of my partners on the ambulance told me she didn’t believe in God anymore because her “grandpa had died.” That’s it. No more reasons. I silently thought, “That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”) And I still think it’s ridiculous, especially since one need not be a theologian to know that “God did not make death, nor does He delight in the death of the living”—Wis 1:13. Indeed, I knew as a paramedic that God didn’t make my nightly car accident patients drunk, even if they crashed into innocent people. I still believed basically: “God is good, and man is bad.” Even at 20 years in the pro-life movement, I didn’t lose faith. I’ve wept in front of abortion clinics at the thought of those babies ripped up, alive, inside a legally functioning building within the country where I was born. But still, I never doubted the power of God’s mercy for those women and men or His love for those unborn children.
But, about 8 years ago, I encountered the reality of child sex-slavery. I’m not only talking about Southeast Asia. I mean I discovered that there are 2,000,000 child sex slaves the world over, and 100,000 children are right here in the United States of America, raped up to 20,000 times before their 15th birthday. The FBI has rescued girls as young as 6 years old. There are more slaves now than during the trans-Atlantic slave trade (20-40 million including labor-slaves of all ages.) Even then, I never entered into doubt of the divinity of Christ…but my despondency reached such a low that I had believed that humanity had fully lost God’s favor. Not to sound blasphemous, but Jesus—haven’t these girls suffered more than you? If so, there is no hope. I really began to believe that. If God the Father was going to sit back and watch, I would go Boondocks Saints on these monsters who tortured 12 year olds in almost every American city.
Well, I never went Boondocks, even though I owned a gun. Eight years later, I found myself gun-less and on the board for Children of the Immaculate Heart, a Catholic home for teen survivors which should open late 2015. I recently went out to California for our fundraising event, and I met a chaplain who is working with these girls in juvenile hall. (Yes, though innocent, these precious children are kept in “juvy” until more homes are opened.) He shared this poem that came from a young girl who had been rescued from sexual slavery, here in America. This is just an excerpt:
But I am a survivor
I found myself in Jesus
I carried His cross, and He carried mine
I am a survivor
I was down, but not out
I fell but got up
They beat me but I didn’t quit
I am a survivor
I am a worshipper
I am strong
I am determined to reach the top
I am brave to go through all that
I am a survivor
Did you catch that part? I carried His cross, and He carried mine. She wrote that about when she was “just a kid,” as another line from her poem goes. If anyone would have a desire to say either God was not-good, or God was not-powerful, it’s her.
But she didn’t. She believes in the Cross and the Resurrection and she keeps going in life. That was clearly not the poem of someone brainwashed into Christianity at a vulnerable point in her life. For me, it became living proof that only the Cross of Jesus Christ could bring hope and meaning to a girl who was raped probably thousands of times. She saw that God the Father had not abandoned Jesus; He had not abandoned her. They both suffered unjustly. She had not suffered more than Jesus, because Jesus had suffered every drop of it in her. She taught me, by her poem, what I had failed to see. It was I who was stupid, or at least blind in my faith, when compared with her.
So, why did God wait so long to vindicate His own Son on the Cross and even longer to rescue His daughter who wrote that poem? As the late, great Fr. Groeschel would say: “God’s not in the business of stopping evil, but He is in the business of turning evil into good.” I have to wonder: What would this “business of stopping evil” really look like from God’s point of view? I think He would have to incinerate our entire planet (at least as long as free-will continues.) But there’s another option. Jeff Bridges as The Giver explains why free-will-gone-awry is still worth the risk for human beings to live free: “If you could only see the possibility of love, of love…” he says, as the camera pans between a baptism and a dying man, a wedding and a war scene. In other words, man’s ability to choose war is a necessary prerequisite to be able to choose to dance at a wedding. Yes, for God too, apparently the love that is chosen by a few saints and poets is somehow worth enduring the evil perpetrated by the wicked. “If you could only see the possibility of love.”
In Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, we see a long and gruesome death. Then, Jesus rises from the dead. Jesus gets up out of the tomb, and the sun pours its streaming light precisely through the very points of the enormous nail wounds. His triumph is precisely where the devil had thought he had won. If that teen in juvy’s suffering was not beyond the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, then neither is mine. What needs to change at Easter? Already most of you believe Jesus rose from the dead, physically. What needs to be added to this is personalized Resurrection—that circumstances can not inhibit God from giving you a life of “power, love and self-control.” (2 Tim 1:7) I am a worshipper/I am strong.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life”—CCC 324. Even abortion? Yes. Even child rape? Trembling, I say yes. The Resurrection showed all of earth that Satan doesn’t have the last word: Love has the last word. I mean it. Look at the lives of the saints and see what they suffered. And now they’re canonized and in heaven forever. Jesus, Your Church shows that Love is the Triumph of the cross when the world thinks it has won.
What changes in Easter from Lent? If you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, He gives you the strength to live, since nothing could be worse than a Roman crucifixion, and yet God still wins everything in the end (except the reprobate curmudgeons who refuse Him by their own sins.) At Easter, God hasn’t ended all suffering; He has transformed it. That girl who was raped thousands of times taught me that nothing—absolutely nothing—is outside the purview of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ on this blue planet. Yes, many of her sufferings continue even though she has been rescued. I’m sure she recognizes that the Resurrection doesn’t take her PTSD and nightmares away. But it does take a lot of them away, and more importantly: It makes her love with Jesus’ own crucified love. “Love makes all savage and difficult things totally easy, and almost nothing”—St. Augustine, Sermon #70.
You see, when we bring our sufferings to Jesus, He is the only person who can turn suffering into love. No other world religion has any similar claim. Suffering becomes love. That’s not sentimental talk. No one would ever put suffering becomes love on a cat-poster. But the cross does that, if we go there. Even for Christians, our suffering either becomes bitterness (the natural way) or our suffering becomes a love both crucified and risen (the supernatural way.) Maybe risen always implies crucified. Consider at the two thieves next to Christ crucified: same suffering, two-attitudes. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This reality is not only spiritual, but also physical. Because Jesus has a resurrected body, we know that the Father has set the pattern through Him for the resurrection of our bodies on the last day. Yes, our bodies will return from the dust, and this time we’ll be impassible (def.—unable to suffer any more, not Chicagoan for “impossible.”) For the resurrection of the body, we look to “Christ the first fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ”—1 Cor 15:23.
This means that at the General Judgment, when Christ comes again, that former-sex-slave’s body will be returned to her, by Jesus, and it will be as pure as the day she was born. She will live in it forever, with streams of light pouring out of the very wounds she sustained on this hostile planet, both spiritually and physically. However, on the new earth (that’s a Bible term, not a New Age term), she will be safe in that body, where every tear will be wiped away. God promised the same triumph to His little ones as He did to His Innocent Son. May you be numbered among those little lambs who follow Him after the healing waters of baptism. And then, if you lose your innocence again, may you run to the blood of Jesus in the confessional where even pimps and johns can be created anew.
Perhaps the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the triumph of mercy—the triumph of God’s love over man’s cruelty. Perhaps the resurrection is the triumph of justice. The world had its judgment on Jesus: Good Friday. The Father also gave His judgment of Jesus for the world to see: The Resurrection. So also the Father is not going to let his sons and daughters be trampled down forever, as we hear in the ancient Greek Paschal Troparion:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs—Bestowing life!