Today, Palm Sunday, and throughout the rest of Holy Week, we devote ourselves to the central mysteries of our faith as Christians: Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The Last Supper, which instituted for us the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. The suffering and death of Christ on the cross. His resurrection on the third day.
These miracles are the very center of our faith. As Saint Paul said, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith is in vain. Or to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor’s use of rather more modern parlance, “If it isn’t true, to hell with it.”
This central miracle, Christ’s death and resurrection, is the miracle which gives our faith meaning and sets it radically apart from the “he was a good man killed by the authorities for standing up for the poor” substitute which some propose. For if Christ was not God, if He did not rise from the dead, if He did not offer to us eternal salvation, then “he was a good man” is no half-way-there substitute. The resurrection is a miracle so unlikely, so scandalous that we must either embrace it wholly or reject Christianity with scorn. The events of Holy Week are not something we can accept half-way, and by accepting them we accept something which goes utterly and completely beyond the natural and predictable world. A miracle.
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Part II of my presentation of the four sermons on the Anti-Christ given by John Henry Cardinal Newman during Advent in 1835 before his conversion. Part I is here.
In this second sermon Newman concentrates on what we can glean of the Anti-Christ from Scripture and from the writings of the Fathers of the Church. One thing stands out in this sermon for me. The idea that the reign of the Anti-Christ may involve both ferocious atheism and a return to paganism. This seems like a contradiction, but Newman points to the French Revolution:
In that great and famous nation which is near us, once great for its love of CHRIST’S Church, since memorable for deeds of blasphemy, which lead me here to mention it, and now, when it should be pitied and prayed for, made unhappily our own model in too many respects,-followed when it should be condemned, and admired when it should be excused,-in the capital of that powerful and celebrated nation, there took place, as we all well know, within the last fifty years, an open apostasy from Christianity; not from Christianity only, but from every kind of worship which might retain any semblance or pretence of the great truths of religion. Atheism was absolutely professed; -yet in spite of this, it seems a contradiction in terms to say it, a certain sort of worship, and that, as the prophet expresses it, “a strange worship,” was introduced. Observe what this was.