April 1, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Monday in the Octave of Easter
Reading (Acts 2:14, 22-33) Gospel (St. Matthew 28:8-15)
We hear in the Gospel reading today about the strategy the chief priests had worked out to be able to say that the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus in order to demonstrate somehow that he had been raised from the dead as he had promised was going to happen. When we hear that story, it would make perfect sense if things were just on the natural level; but when we couple that with what occurred on Pentecost (as we hear in the first reading of Saint Peter standing up and boldly proclaiming the Resurrection of Jesus Christ), that is where we begin to understand, practically speaking, that it does not make any sense. When we hear this story, if we did not see that there was any kind of evidence in the disciples, one might be persuaded to believe in something like that. Since we do not see the resurrection of the dead on normal circumstances, we have no evidence that the Lord has risen. He is gone; He is not there - so we cannot say, "Well, look. There it is! You can see!" because all that is there is an empty tomb.
The evidence lies, then, in the fact that the disciples go through this complete 180° change from being people who are afraid to be united with Jesus to being bold proclaimers of this truth. Peter himself, who denied the Lord three times so that he did not get himself into any trouble, now stands up and is willing to put his own life on the line in order to proclaim the truth. If they stole His body, it would not make any sense that they would be suddenly making these bold proclamations. And that is where we can see, on the practical order, where there has been a change. It is that which we can look to in the disciples to be able to point out that this story just does not hold water because the disciples would have simply gone back and they would have lived their natural lives; they would have done what they did before. Peter would have been fishing and the others would have been doing whatever they were going to do. They would have been brokenhearted because they spent three years of their lives for nothing, hoping in somebody who wound up being just like anyone else who had claimed to be the Messiah Ė and, in fact, was not. Even in the Sanhedrin, which we will probably hear later this week, they said the exact same thing: "Just have nothing to do with these men because if this is of human origin, it is just going to go away; if it is of divine origin, you are going to be fighting against God."
And so we have all of the evidence on that level that we need. For 2,000 years it has been demonstrated that the Church is divine and that Jesus Christ is who He says that He is. When we look at the lives of the apostles, when we look at the lives of the saints, when we look at the holiness of those who are willing to put their life on the line for the Name and the Person of Jesus Christ, there is no more eloquent evidence than that to be able to demonstrate the reality of the Resurrection.
If this were just a lie, no one would be willing to die for it. When 10 out of the 11 remaining disciples are martyred for Christ - Saint John, they tried several times to martyr but it just did not work so they finally threw him out on Patmos - you would think if this was false that they would have said, "No, no, no. Just forget it. We just made it up; itís not worth dying over a lie." But they did not do that. They stood firm in their conviction because they knew the truth, and that is what Peter was pointing to in the first reading: "David made this prophecy, and it wasnít about himself. Davidís tomb is right here in our midst; we know that. No one has ever claimed that David rose from the dead. He was talking about the Messiah, and there is only one." That is what Peter is alluding to in the first reading.
And so our faith in the Resurrection is firm and it is solid. It is not based on any wild tale. It is not based on a lie. It is based on solid truth with evidence in the lives of those who witnessed it to back it up. They witnessed all the way to the very end that they were willing to die rather than to deny the truth that they had known of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.