Discovering the Pattern of Our Life in the Paschal Mystery

We ponder many things on the Feast of the Transfiguration, among them the pattern of our life. Peter, James, and John saw the glory of Christ there, but only after a difficult climb up Mount Tabor. Peter wanted to remain there, but the Lord said, in effect, “No, we must go down this mountain and eventually up another, Calvary, which is the way to true and lasting glory.” We, too, go through this pattern of climbing (the cross) followed by beholding success and glory (the resurrection). This is the Paschal mystery and it is the pattern of our life, gor we are immersed into the life of Christ.

St. Paul speaks often of the Paschal mystery, the Christian life. Let’s consider one brief example on two levels: the individual and the Church.

Level One: The Individual

We are frequently asked, “How are you?” and often respond by saying, “I’m doing OK,” but consider, fellow Christian, the truest answer to this question, which St. Paul supplies:

Always carrying about in our bodies the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10).

As Christians, the Paschal mystery is our life. We are immersed in the dying, rising, and ascending of Jesus. At every moment of our life, the great Easter mysteries of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection are at work. With Jesus, we are ascending to the Father.

This cycle may go on several times each day as both good and bad things happen to us or around us. The pattern is also evident in the longer term: there are challenging and difficult years in our life as well as ones that are more serene and joyful. Yes, we die, and we rise with Christ. This is the Paschal mystery; this is our life.

We experience trials, difficulties, disappointments, losses, and even devastation. This is the dying of Christ. That dying, however, leads to new life, and so we rise with Christ. It may take “three days” in the tomb, but if we are faithful, we rise, not just to where we were before, but more alive in Christ Jesus. As the old Adam dies in us, we gradually experience the New Adam, Christ Jesus. The old life that dies is replaced by the fuller life of Christ.

Unless the gain of wheat falls to earth and dies to itself it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it [rises and] produces abundant fruit (Jn 12:24).

Consider how much greater the mighty oak tree is compared to the acorn that fell to earth and “died.” There is hardly a resemblance at all. So it is that the life of the New Adam is incomprehensibly greater than the life it replaces: the dying life of the old Adam.

We are dying, and we are rising, but it is not a simple trade off, for in all of it we are ascending higher and higher with Jesus. The next time someone asks you how you’re doing, surprise him with a paraphrase of St. Paul’s answer: “Always carrying about in my body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in me.” Yes, the Paschal mystery is writ into the life of each one of us.

Level Two: The Church

In the same passage, St. Paul writes on another level, that of the Body of Christ, the Church. Referring to himself and his sufferings, imprisonments, and difficulties, he says,

So death is at work in us, but life in you. … We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; … Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God (2 Cor 4:12, 8-9; 15).

St. Paul views his suffering (and that of others in the apostolic band) as being for the sake of others in the Church. He suffers so that they might have faith and life. Historically this has been the case: The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church (Tertullian). Some in the Church have suffered and died so that others might have faith and life. One of the hard but freeing truths of life is that your life is not about you. The ink of the Creed is the blood of martyrs. We ought never to forget how much others have suffered so that we might have faith.

This is the Paschal mystery writ large: some in the Church are suffering while others are thriving and experiencing growth. The Church, the Body of Christ, is dying and rising. St. Paul says,

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake … (1 Cor 4:9-10).

Indeed! Of the first thirty-three popes, thirty died as martyrs, two died in exile, and only one died in his own bed. Today’s bishops, at least in the United States, typically live a comfortable life, protected and surrounded by layers of staff; yet many of them are cautious in the face of conflict. St. Paul calls bishops and pastors to be willing to suffer for the flock if necessary.

Many in the Church today are suffering, although this is often goes unnoticed by the vast majority of people (to remedy this, read regularly here: Today’s Martyrs). Through their sufferings the Church obtains mercy and continues to grow. The blood of martyrs is still seed for the Church. In the often-decadent West, we should be somewhat embarrassed at how others are willing to suffer loss, imprisonment, and even death for the faith, while we can barely get ourselves out of bed in time to go to Mass on Sunday.

The Lord has designed His Body, the Church, such that some do suffer, do carry the weight, so that others may thrive and grow. We should be grateful for these sacrifices, often hidden from us, though not from God. From them comes life for the rest of us. It is the Paschal mystery writ large!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Discovering the Pattern of Our Life in the Paschal Mystery