Monsignor Batule sends the following homily that he is to deliver this evening at St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Greenlawn, N.Y.:
World’s Strongest Man is a real competition every year. In 2008, the competition was held in Charleston, South Carolina, and it included events like the keg toss, the truck pull and the airplane pull. It did not include an event challenging competitors to move a huge rock or boulder.
Next to the keg toss, the truck pull and the airplane pull, moving a huge rock or boulder may not even seem like a tall order; it certainly doesn’t pique interest the way throwing a keg and pulling a truck and plane do. The followers of Jesus in first-century Palestine, though, were not looking for someone to throw a keg, or pull a truck or airplane; they needed someone to move a rock or boulder.
In tonight’s gospel, the women go to the tomb where Jesus is buried. They bring with them spices to anoint the body in accord with Jewish burial custom. On the way, they wonder to themselves, “Who will roll back the stone for us?” (Mk 16:3)
Their concern is for physical strength. Is there someone around, like themselves but physically stronger, who can help? If they find this man, the women might then be able to complete what they piously set out to do.
The women, we must concede, have set their sights too low. They have not taken into account the power of God.
The Psalmist writes that “[b]y the Lord this has been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.” (Ps 118:23) The Resurrection is the Lord’s achievement. Were the women able to find the world’s strongest man at the time, it would not have made a bit of difference. God has raised His Son with a strength which is His, and no human show of force can ever match the Lord’s accomplishment.
Seeing the difference between divine power and human power is not as easy as it would seem. In Saint John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn 2:19) Those listening to Him protest, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” (Jn 2:20) The evangelist then advises that Jesus was speaking about the temple of His body. (cf. Jn 2:21)
The angel in tonight’s gospel testifies that the body of the Lord has indeed been raised. (cf. Mk 16:5-7) Doctors may be able to resuscitate bodies, but they cannot raise them up in glory and make them new again. The Lord alone does this. His power, far exceeding any skill or talent of ours, then makes possible the glorification of our own bodies. (cf. Phil 3:21)
Consider for a moment all of the products we use to preserve and keep our bodies and all of the hours we spend in gymnasiums to tone our bodies and keep them fit and trim. At a certain point, we are all going to lose this battle. Our bodies are eventually going to fail us. Our solace, though, is in knowing that we will receive from the Lord a body far more magnificent than any cream or treadmill could make it.
Even now, the risen life of Christ is ours – such that Saint Paul can say to the Romans that we who were baptized into Christ live in newness of life. (cf. Rom 6:4) Later on in this liturgy, we will renew our baptismal promises and profess our faith in the resurrection of the body. This will be made concrete for all of us tonight when [parishioner J.] is baptized. The cleansing waters of the sacrament hold out to him the prospect of a glorified body after his body now goes the way of all flesh. It also offers to [J.] and all of the baptized a share right now in the life of grace.
Baptism signals the acceptance of faith and the growth of Christ’s Body, the Church. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the Church is the edifice of God. (Lumen Gentium, 6) She is built out of stones as the temple was in Jerusalem. We who belong to Christ’s Body are like living stones. (cf. 1 Pt 2:5)
“In vain do the builders build,” says the Psalmist, “unless the Lord builds it.” (Ps 127:1) We who work in the Church must build on the cornerstone who is Christ. (1 Pt 2:7) Our building must always respect the Lord’s design for His Church. He is, after all, the stone rejected (cf. Matt 21:42), and thus what is suitable for other projects is not always going to be acceptable for ecclesial building. Christ established the Church with a foundation upon the apostles (Lumen Gentium, 6), and we cannot build floors which are separated from the foundation. Our building will collapse under the slashing of cultural storms if the foundation is forsaken in favor of opinion polls and what is popular at any given moment. The Church is to last until the end of time – not just forty-six years. (Jn 2:20) The Lord builds a durable edifice with faith, hope and love, not with efficiency, pragmatism and social conformity.
Tonight, we rejoice in the Lord’s victory over sin and death. God’s strength has not only moved a boulder, it has raised up the Son bodily in glory. We are strengthened ourselves by a grace which cannot be calculated according to a human scale. This grace bids us to build up the Church now in anticipation of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Paraphrasing the Exultet, we pray this night: Let this house of God made of living stones resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of God’s people: He is risen! He is risen! Alleluia, alleluia!
Monsignor Robert J. Batule is a priest of the diocese of Rockville Centre.