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Raise your eyes to the gaze of Jesus Christ

Crucifixion

Visible sign: Love is visible when we look at the story of Creation as painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; God stretching out His hand to give Adam life. Photo: Andrea Picanza.

“CHOOSE Life”.

Those were the words, which the readings at Mass addressed to us the day after Ash Wednesday, taken as they were from Moses’ lengthy exhortation to the people of Israel from the Book of Deuteronomy.

And all the chocolate eggs that will be consumed on Easter Sunday are a delicious and eloquent witness to the New Life that has been granted to us with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yet for many of our contemporaries there seems to be a marked lack of clarity – even ambivalence – as to what ‘life’ means; what “life” is; what a choice of “life” would entail.

I once caught a lift from Hamburg to Berlin – a journey of some three hours, depending on how lead-footed the driver happens to be – and my travelling companions were three complete strangers, to me and to each other – two Germans and a Polish woman.

Obliged by the length of the trip to engage in some conversation while we hurtled along the autobahn, we fell to discussing – what else – the meaning of life as we saw it.

People are rather frank when they are certain never to see you again.

We came to what we considered at the time a rather profound conclusion – that the majority of people today, our contemporaries, do not live; they merely exist.

We lamented the fact that people seemed to spend their time here on earth rushing from one frozen pizza to the next, filling their spare time with episodes from the latest fad television series, trying very hard not to think too much – either about the next working day, or anything else.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, we had simply reformulated for the 21st Century what Henry David Thoreau had already written of the nineteenth – that the great mass of humanity “lead lives of quiet desperation”.

He in turn was simply echoing Blaise Pascal’s lachrymose characterisation of his own contemporaries in the seventeenth century, who were leading an existence of “boredom, inconstancy and anxiety”.

In light of all this, we may be tempted to agree with Qoheleth: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Yet, since the Resurrection of Christ, that lapidary declaration is no longer true.

For the New Testament is not so-called simply because it is the latest episode in a divine tele-novella, following on from the Old. It is New because the Resurrection of Christ is ever-new, perpetually “new” – the only “new” thing that there is.

With Jesus rising from the dead a new dimension of existence, a new dimension of reality, is revealed.

With Easter, with the Resurrection, a new aeon has broken forth, yet unexpectedly without the old era having ended.

That is what we celebrate at Easter – the beginning of the New Creation in the midst of the Old and this realisation must shape the entire life of all those who believe in Christ.

I recall a cartoon that my high-school English teacher once pinned to the back wall of the classroom.

It depicted a teacher – naturally enough – pointing to a blackboard with a ruler: on the board there had been drawn a long, horizontal line in chalk, with two short vertical lines marking either end.

Over the left-hand side had been written “Birth” and over the right-hand side had been added “Death”.

Over the vast expanse of white chalk between the two there was simply written, “In-Between Stuff”.

Many of our contemporaries seem to have taken this attitude to heart.

As though the arc of our lives peaks at 42 – an impression apt to be gained by a cursory reading of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – and thereafter tails off towards “Death” as a definitive end.

Thanks to Christ and His Resurrection, that is not true. Our life has an infinite trajectory and no point of our time on this earth represents a “peak” from which we must inevitably decline.

In the beautiful words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Life is no hypothesis but rather an unrepeatable reality upon which rides an eternal destiny”.

If we lift our eyes from the ground, but for a moment, we might begin to perceive the Light of Christ breaking through the clouds.

Our dawning realisation of the significance of His Resurrection will cause a smile to break across our faces.

The joy of this realisation is almost equal to that of a child who on Easter Sunday discovers a particularly sizeable chocolate egg hidden within the branches of a tree in the backyard: the Tree of Life bears eternal fruit.

All the paintings that depict Christ rising from the tomb, however different their composition might be, have one thing in common – His hands are never behind His back, or in His pockets.

He does not shuffle out of the tomb, kicking the dust with His toes.

Jesus’ arms are always spread wide as He rushes to greet us.

St Thomas Aquinas preferred to speak, not of Christ having “risen”, but as “rising” – resurgens.

I think that is how we too ought to feel.

Christ did not simply rise from the dead and then wander off down the street.

Rather, He is rising, here, now, daily to greet us, to embrace us, to seize us in His arms.

During my postulancy in Adelaide one of the friars preached a marvellous homily on Luke 19:20 – the Prodigal Son.

He said that we do not often see love, but simply the movement towards it, or the movement impelled by it.

Love, he said, was visible in the helter-skelter rush of the father towards his returning son, in his all-out bolt to embrace this child whom he thought dead.

I think that visible sign of love, that movement towards the other, is the essential characteristic of all sacred history.

It is there when we look at the story of Creation as painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; God stretching out His hand to give Adam life.

That same movement is everywhere visible in the Gospel, not least in the rush of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph back to Jerusalem to find Jesus preaching in the Temple as a boy. (Luke 2:41-52)

And it is manifestly present in the ultimate out-reach of God: in the Resurrection of His only-begotten Son as He rises to greet us with open arms at Easter.

Life consists neither in learning the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, nor in knowing thyself as Socrates required.

Life consists in knowing Jesus Christ – “JC” – as my grandfather would refer to Him.

It consists in surpassing ourselves because we have been seized by Another; by the Risen Christ who draws us up into newness of life with Him.

Our contemporaries look for life in every new thing they can lay their hands or eyes on: they rush from activity to activity, seeking entertainment wherever it may be found; in any and every novelty.

But the reality is that an iPhone – even an iPhone 7 Plus – is not new.

It is the latest in a long line of doo-da gadgets which are designed to amuse and distract us.

We used to receive free bread and watch people being torn apart by lions in the Circus Maximus; now we fritter away our lives rushing from one pointless, mind-numbing activity to the next, tapping at screens all the live-long day, thereby allowing the story of our time upon this earth to be aptly characterised by Macbeth: “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound a fury, signifying nothing”.

There can only be life after death for those have actually lived before death.

And we are only truly alive if we are united with Him who is the Resurrection and the Life. (John 11:25)

Our contemporaries are not wrong in seeking to found their lives upon perpetual ‘newness’: it is simply that they are looking for novelty in the wrong place.

True life is only to be found in Him who gave us live anew.

To truly live, we need but lift our gaze – to raise our eyes from the screens and distractions that surround us and gaze upon the Cross that is become the Tree of Life: to consider the only new thing there is – to run to embrace Christ Jesus who is forever rising, running towards us with outstretched arms.

To choose to live in Him – to “Choose Life”.

Written by: Guest Contributor

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