Bishop Braxton Addresses Oblate Convocation

Bishop Edward K. Braxton addressed nearly one hundred and eighty Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate during their annual convocation at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows on Thursday, April 21, 2016. He thanked them for their extraordinarily generous ministry around the world, in the United States and in the Diocese of Belleville.

His address focused on the convocation theme, “Rooted in Christ Crucified: Empowered to Proclaim the Kingdom.” Here is a portion of his address.

“With you, I continue to be deeply grateful for the ministry of your brother Oblate, His Eminence, Francis Eugene Cardinal George, the late metropolitan Archbishop of Chicago and a friend of mine for many years. His personal life and the manner in which he endured ten years of painful, serious illness certainly was rooted in Christ crucified.

“The Cardinal’s illness and death are an appropriate introduction to your convocation theme. The four Gospels give us dramatic, lengthy accounts of the suffering and death (passion) of Jesus. The central importance of His passion to the Evangelists is unambiguously clear. We Christians sometimes seem to overlook the poignant struggle of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We think that Jesus went to His death in a very unfeeling way. The crucifixion was simply something He had to “do” in order to accomplish the work of redemption. But it did not really ‘bother Him’ since He knew how it would all turn out. To the extent that we take this attitude, we are ignoring the true meaning of the word ‘passion,’ ‘to undergo, to endure, to suffer through.’ Thus, we miss the full importance and impact of the Christmas mystery, the Incarnation, the Word made flesh.

“If we take the Incarnation seriously and embrace the saving truth that Jesus of Nazareth was a human being like us, “in all things, but sin,” then we must acknowledge that, humanly speaking, his death was marked by dread, anxiety, fear, pain, and uncertainty like our own. This is of tremendous importance for our own personal spiritual development. At the same time we must be ever mindful that the death of Jesus was utterly unique. As the Anointed One of God, He could have uttered an effective ‘no’ to death. This is stressed in the Gospel of St. John which omits the ‘agony in the garden.’ The asceticism, the core spirituality of Christ’s death lies, in part, in his full embrace of human suffering and death, when He was free not to. He was faithful to the Father’s call and chose freely to be an example to His followers, who, through Baptism, would be caught up in His life, death, and resurrection.

“While the Gospels give us many details about Our Savior’s suffering and death, they are strangely silent about any ‘details’ of the resurrection event itself. Indeed, many careful readers of the New Testament are startled when they notice that the Gospel narratives provide no ‘first-hand’ information about the resurrection. They tell us nothing about what ‘happened inside the tomb.’ They proclaim Jesus’ death, His burial, the experience of the empty tomb, the awestruck encounters with the risen Christ, and the joyful testimony of Easter faith, ‘He is risen!’ Even though human curiosity stirs our interest in exactly ‘what happened,’ the inspired authors are silent before an ineffable mystery, and unspeakable wonder, that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, that the human mind cannot grasp. We must remember that the resurrection was not a grand illusion like a David Copperfield feat that ‘proved’ to the disciples that He was the Son of God. It was their faith in Jesus as the Messiah that enabled them to believe the resurrection. It is very significant that there are no encounters between the risen Christ and those outside the circle of believers, such as the Roman Procurator, Pontus Pilate, or King Herod.

“When we prayerfully enter into the depths of the Paschal event we begin to realize that ‘theologically’ speaking, the Resurrection of Christ is not a separate event that follows ‘after’ his passion and death. It is not as if Jesus died and was buried and then God the Father had to decide whether or not He would be raised to glorious new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection is the full manifestation of what took place in the death of Jesus. In an act of total freedom He disposed of His whole life and existence by handing over His whole being to the mystery of ‘Abba,’ His merciful and loving Father.

“Since Jesus is the designated Victim, Lamb, and appointed Priest in this total sacrifice, the giving over of Himself is immediately acceptable to God. For this reason Good Friday and Easter Sunday (death and resurrection) must be seen as two aspects of a single and united mystery-reality. When we realize this, there is no need ever to wonder if Good Friday would retain its saving force even if Easter had not followed.

“The radical implication of the Passover of Christ from death to life in the resurrection is not only evidence of His divine authority. In a startling way, it is also the foundation and cornerstone for the future transformation of every believer who dies in Christ. It is the radical source of our confident hope. By our faith and baptism we participate in the total destiny of the One who has incorporated us into the whole structure and meaning of His life.  In Christ’s death and transcendence of death, a ‘part of this world’ real to the core, is surrendered in pure and absolute freedom to God in complete obedience and love. This is why we celebrate Easter Sunday after Sunday until the great feast of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost.”