I arose, and am still with thee, alleluia: thou hast laid thy hand upon me: thy knowledge is become wonderful, alleluia, alleluia. (Psalm 138:18)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
My very dear sons,
In the beginning of the world, as we read in the book of Genesis, God’s first fiat, His first particular creation, was that of light: “And God said: ‘Let there be light (fiat lux).’ And light was made.” (Gensis 1:3) The sacred text goes on to state that “God saw the light that it was good,” or as the ancient Greek version would have it, that the light was beautiful, καλόν.
Surely, after the dreadful darkness of Good Friday, with its specter of Judas’ treason and the fearful shadows that came upon the natural world at the moment of Christ’s death on the Cross, the morning light of Easter is both good and beautiful. After the weeks and months of conflict between Jesus and the Sadducees and Pharisees in Jerusalem, with the endless and, finally, deadly verbal jousts rising to a crescendo in the shouts of the mob on Good Friday, a divine peace is felt in the rising of the sun on Easter morning, accompanying the coming of a great spiritual light and a new age for the world. In today’s Introit, Christ the Messiah says to His Father after this definitive victory, Thy knowledge is become wonderful. Wonderful, indeed, this knowledge of “the breadth, and length, and height, and depth…of the love which surpasses all knowledge,” knowledge that now fills human kind through the redeeming work of Christ. (Eph. 3:18-19)
“Wonder is the proper of children,” writes Cardinal Sarah in his recently published book. “The disillusioned old man no longer wonders at anything; he is no longer enchanted by anything. The Western world often resembles an embittered greybeard. It lacks the candor of the child. Spiritually speaking, the continents which have received the Gospel more recently still wonder and are yet enchanted by the beautiful things of God, and by the marvels of His action in us.” (Le soir approche et déjà le soir baisse [The Day Is Now Far Spent])
Thou hast laid thy hand upon me. We take these words of the liturgy to mean the power that the Father has over the human nature of Christ, in raising up the Messiah’s body. It is the Three Divine Persons together who perform this miracle, but we can attribute the action to the Father in a special manner. This is the work of His hand. Very often the image of the hand of God has to do with Creation. “When I consider Your heavens,” muses the psalmist, “the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained…” (Psalm 8:3) Elsewhere it is about God’s power over His enemies. “O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.” (Psalm 97:1) But sometimes it is a saving power, as is the case here. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.” (Psalm 137:7)
In the book mentioned above, a book which he hopes will be “a call to lucidity and to wisdom,” Cardinal Sarah looks to a certain saving power exercised by God over the Church in our day. “The Church goes through a great crisis,” he says, “and so I wished to author a book for the faithful who are discouraged by the daily scandals coming to light. It is the Resurrection of the Son of God, which gives hope in the midst of darkness.”
We members of the human race are rather pitiful. Even in our best moments we are all too ready to take the easier path, the lesser prize, the quick solution. While upon the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Apostles were willing to accept as eternal life the presence of Christ manifested there. “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias.” (Matthew 17) But God had and has a greater idea about eternal life for the human race, for those who would be saved and live the blessed life of Heaven. The purpose of the Transfiguration was to provide a mere glimpse of Christ in His glory, in order to make these very mortal men, Peter, James, and John, proof against the terrible hour of the Passion. The end envisaged by God in His eternal wisdom is more considerable: it cannot be realized upon this earth in its present condition, not even upon the slopes of Mount Tabor.
It is only in view of the good of eternal salvation and of the immensity of the beatitude promised to God’s elect that the horrors of the Passion and of all the evils that still afflict us can be understood. God never wills evil in a positive manner, as our theologians remind us, but He allows it so that a greater good may come from the evil He permits. This is the meaning of the much cited expression used last night during the Exsultet: O felix culpa…O truly necessary sin of Adam, which the death of Christ has blotted out! O happy fault, that merited such and so great a redeemer. But in the heat of our battles on earth we forget this and, so too often see only the darkness that enfolds us.
On this special day of Easter, on this “day of days,” as the holy liturgy calls it, this day that we celebrate for an entire week, we will do well to open wide the doors and windows of our soul to the light of the Resurrection, to the brightness communicated to us through the liturgical feast and through each brightness that God sends to us by His Grace, all of which is the certain promise of the noonday brightness of the Heavenly Jersusalem, the vision of peace. May wonder fill our souls, as it once filled the Virgin of the Annunciation in the presence of the Holy Archangel and the Holy Apostles in their encounters with the Risen Lord. The inability to wonder is the sign of a soul that is languishing and of a civilization that is dying. The capacity to wonder at the Resurrection of Christ and the great plan God has for humanity is a promise of eternal life.
I arose, and am still with thee, alleluia: thou hast laid thy hand upon me: thy knowledge is become wonderful, alleluia, alleluia.