View all Novenas | November 3, 2023
Part 4 – God the Son – Week 6
Part 4 – God the Son – Week 6
He rose again from the dead
What does belief in the Resurrection of Jesus mean for us as Christians?. At its core, Ratzinger tells us in today’s reading, the Resurrection is God’s answer to our desire to live, our desire for immortality, our desire for a love that is stronger than death itself and that in defeating death will give us true life, eternal life, eternal love. All throughout history man has constantly been searching for a way to escape death and continue to live, he tells us, and the desire to have children and ‘live on’ in the memory of others are just examples of this fundamental yearning. But the problem is that these solutions are inadequate: we exist only as ‘echoes’ in the hearts and memories of even our loved ones, and even the most authentic of human love is itself subject to the law of death and thus unable to guarantee our true immortality. That is why only the love of God which truly conquers death in the Resurrection of Jesus, which internally and eternally converts death into life, can fulfill our deepest dreams, he concludes. Only the Resurrection can truly answer our cry for an absolute and perfect love, for life, for eternity.
“To the Christian, faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is an expression of certainty that the saying that seems to be only a beautiful dream is in fact true: “Love is strong as death” (Song 8:6). In the Old Testament this sentence comes in the middle of praises of the power of eros. But this by no means signifies that we can simply push it aside as a lyrical exaggeration. The boundless demands of eros, its apparent exaggerations and extravagance, do in reality give expression to a basic problem, indeed the basic problem of human existence, insofar as they reflect the nature and intrinsic paradox of love: love demands infinity, indestructibility; indeed, it is, so to speak, a call for infinity. But it is also a fact that this cry-of love’s cannot be satisfied, that it demands infinity but cannot grant it; that it claims eternity but in fact is included in the world of death, in its loneliness and its power of destruction. Only from this angle can one understand what “resurrection” means. It is the greater strength of love in face of death.
At the same time it is proof of what only immortality can create: being in the other who still stands when I have fallen apart. Man is a being who himself does not live forever but is necessarily delivered up to death. For him, since he has no continuance in himself, survival, from a purely human point of view, can only become possible through his continuing to exist in another. [Of course, man understands this, and has tried to remedy the situation in two ways.] First, living on in one’s own children: that is why in primitive peoples failure to marry and childlessness are regarded as the most terrible curse; they mean hopeless destruction, final death. Conversely, the largest possible number of children offers at the same time the greatest possible chance of survival, hope of immortality, and thus the most genuine blessing that man can expect. Another way discloses itself when man discovers that in his children he only continues to exist in a very unreal way; he wants more of himself to remain. So he takes refuge in the idea of fame, which should make him really immortal if he lives on through all ages in the memory of others. But this second attempt of man’s to obtain immortality for himself by existing in others fails just as badly as the first: what remains is not the self but only its echo, a mere shadow. So self-made immortality is really only a Hades, a sheol: more nonbeing than being. The inadequacy of both ways lies partly in the fact that the other person who holds my being after my death cannot carry this being itself but only its echo; and even more in the fact that even the other person to whom have, so to speak, entrusted my continuance will not last—he, too, will perish.
This leads us to the next step. We have seen so far that man has no permanence in himself and consequently can only continue to exist in another but that his existence in another is only shadowy and once again not final, because this other must perish, too. If this is so, then only one could truly give lasting stability: he who is, who does not come into existence and pass away again but abides in the midst of transience: the God of the living, who does not hold just the shadow and echo of my being, whose ideas are not just copies of reality. I myself am his thought, which establishes me more securely, so to speak, than I am in myself; his thought is not the posthumous shadow but the original source and strength of my being. In him I can stand as more than a shadow; in him I am truly closer to myself than I should be if I just tried to stay by myself.
Before we return from here to the Resurrection, let us try to see the same thing once again from a somewhat different side. We can start again from the dictum about love and death and say: Only where someone values love more highly than life, that is, only where someone is ready to put life second to love, for the sake of love, can love be stronger and more than death. If it is to be more than death, it must first be more than mere life. But if it could be this, not just in intention but in reality, then that would mean at the same time that the power of love had risen superior to the power of the merely biological and taken it into its service. […] If the power of love for another were so strong somewhere that it could keep alive not just his memory, the shadow of his “I”, but that person himself, then a new stage in life would have been reached. This would mean that the realm of biological evolutions and mutations had been left behind and the leap made to a quite different plane, on which love was no longer subject to bios but made use of it. Such a final stage of “mutation” and “evolution” would itself no longer be a biological stage; it would signify the end of the sovereignty of bios, which is at the same time the sovereignty of death; it would open up the realm that the Greek Bible calls zoe, that is, definitive life, which has left behind the rule of death. […]
That is precisely the meaning of the biblical statement that his Resurrection is our life. The—to us—curious reasoning of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians now becomes comprehensible: if he has risen, then we have, too, for then love is stronger than death; if he has not risen, then we have not either, for then the situation is still that death has the last word, nothing else (cf. 1 Cor 15:16f.). Since this is a statement of central importance, let us spell it out once again in a different way: Either love is stronger than death, or it is not. If it has become so in him, then it became so precisely as love for others. This also means, it is true, that our own love, left to itself, is not sufficient to overcome death; taken in itself it would have to remain an unanswered cry. It means that only his love, coinciding with God’s own power of life and love, can be the foundation of our immortality.”
- Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 , 301-306.
Meditate on the reality of death, on the reality that everything I possess and even everyone I love will one day be snatched from me. Now contemplate how the very concept and fear of death have been irrevocably changed by the fact of the Resurrection. Try to imagine what life would be like without the knowledge in faith that in spite of the darkness, insecurity and fear that death necessarily implies, I will not be abandoned, that I will participate in Christ’s Resurrection, that His love for me is strong enough to carry me through the gates of death to eternal life.