Pope Francis’ Easter Vigil Homily

Here is the English translation of Pope Francis’ homily from tonight’s Easter vigil in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Happy Easter, everyone! Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Tonight is a night of vigil. The Lord is not sleeping; the Watchman is watching over his people (cf. Ps 121:4), to bring them out of slavery and to open before them the way to freedom.

The Lord is keeping watch and, by the power of his love, he is bringing his people through the Red Sea. He is also bringing Jesus through the abyss of death and the netherworld.

This was a night of vigil for the disciples of Jesus, a night of sadness and fear. The men remained locked in the Upper Room. Yet, the women went to the tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body. Their hearts were overwhelmed and they were asking themselves: “How will we enter? Who will roll back the stone of the tomb?…” But here was the first sign of the great event: the large stone was already rolled back and the tomb was open!

“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe…” (Mk 16:5). The women were the first to see this great sign, the empty tomb; and they were the first to enter…

“Entering the tomb”. It is good for us, on this Vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women, which also speaks to us. For that is why we are here: to enter, to enter into the Mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love.

We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery. It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about… It is more, much more!

“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (cf 1 Kings 19:12).

To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions…

To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love. It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.

To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness. To enter into the mystery we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols… in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.

The women who were Jesus’ disciples teach us all of this. They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope. As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love. They went forth and found the tomb open. And they went in. They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery. May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life.


Conference Talks Now Available!

I’m very happy to announce today that all the talks from the recent Faith Explained Conference are now available for you to purchase and download in digital format by clicking here:

This resource features a presentation by the great Cardinal Thomas Collins. Speaking as only he can, he enlightens minds and sets hearts on fire with his brilliant talk on discipleship. We are so grateful to His Eminence for taking the time out of his busy schedule to join us and celebrate Mass that day.

There are also two full-length presentations from the incomparable Dr Craig Evans. One talk is on the reliability and authenticity of the New Testament documents, with a special focus on what modern science can tell us. Evans also presents us a talk on Jesus and Archaeology, and how discoveries in this field can shed light on the Scriptures.

This series also includes my talk on the Resurrection of Jesus, which will help you explain the reality of Easter to your friends and family who have fallen away from the faith – or who perhaps have never known the living Christ.

I decided to release these talks as a set first – keeping the costs low, at only $6.75 per talk. Hey, that’s less than a fast food meal, and more nourishing to your faith! Please note that prices are in US dollars.

Happy Easter!

Ascension Sunday Q and A

DP280379Q. What are some things we can learn from this Sunday’s Feast of the Ascension of the Lord?

A. The Ascension affirms in the minds of Jesus’ followers many truths that Jesus had attempted to teach them prior to his Passion. Now, following Jesus’ glorious Resurrection and victory over death, the disciples can finally appropriate these realities.

1. Jesus is Divine. In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 28, we read that, before Jesus Ascends into heaven, the disciples “worshipped him”. Jesus accepts worship, which is due to God alone. The implication is obvious: Jesus is God.

2. Christ will be waiting for us in Heaven. It was fitting that those who had witnessed the humiliation and suffering of the Christ at the hands of sinful humanity would now see Jesus exalted. Prior to his Passion, Jesus had told them: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). That process is now complete. In today’s First reading, we read that, as the disciples watched in awe, Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). The cloud, Scripture tells us, is an image of heaven, the abode of the Almighty (cf. Exodus 13:22; Luke 9:34ff).

Jesus had said previously, “‘Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.’” (John 14:1-6).

Saint Leo the Great, preaching on the Ascension of Christ, said, “Today, we are not only made possessors of Paradise, but with Christ we have ascended, mystically but also really, to the highest Heavens and have won through Christ a grace more wonderful than the one we had lost.”

3. The Ascension spurs us on in sharing our Catholic Faith. Jesus tells his disciples that it is now time for them to begin spreading the Gospel everywhere they go: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
The disciples returned with Mary to Jerusalem to prepare for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Empowered with God’s gifts, let us also seek to reach the people we know with the Good News of the Gospel. Our Lady will help us, too, just as she did those first believers in her Son.

You may also like: Q and A on the Ascension

Q and A on the Resurrection: Just the (minimal) facts

An Empty TombQ. This Easter season, how can I convince my friends that Jesus physically rose from the dead? It’s been especially difficult for me to do this because my friends are either a) not Christians, or b) they don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God. They simply think it’s a merely human book that contains things Christians believe.

A. The good news is that it is possible to show your friends plausible evidence that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. And you can do this without even appealing to the authority of the Church, or to the Bible as the Word of God. It’s called the “Minimal Facts” approach, popularized by Dr. Gary Habermas. There are five historical facts concerning the Resurrection of Jesus that must be accounted for, no matter what one believes. They are:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion. This is an event of history that is recorded outside the Bible. Many non-Christian historians, such as Josephus and Tacitus, wrote about it.

2. The tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter Sunday. All parties, both Christians and the enemies of Christ, agree that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on Easter Sunday. The fact that opponents of the Christian message admit this gives us the very best type of evidence for our case, called “enemy attestation”.

3. Jesus’ disciples were willing to suffer and die for their belief in the Resurrection.  While many people are willing to die for what they believe is true, no one willingly dies for what they know to be a lie. The Apostles knew whether or not they had encountered the Risen Jesus in the flesh.

4. The Church persecutor known as Saul the Pharisee converted to the Catholic Christian faith, became Paul the Apostle, and was martyred for his faith in the Risen Jesus. This is an unimpeachable historical fact.

5. The skeptic James, a relative of Jesus, converted because the Risen Jesus appeared to him. James became the Bishop of Jerusalem and a martyr.

There are many more facts that we could mention, such as the evidence of the appearances of the Risen Jesus in his physical body to various individuals and groups , including 500 people at one time. This shatters the erroneous theory that Jesus’ disciples were ‘hallucinating” when they thought they saw Jesus. Hallucinations are individual occurrences and cannot be shared. Plus, they do not account for the empty tomb.

Whatever explanation one comes up with to attempt to explain our “minimal facts” listed above, one’s explanation must account for all of these facts, and must do so more persuasively than alternative arguments. The only explanation that accounts for all of these facts in such a manner is the conclusion that Jesus was Resurrected.


Like the Caramilk Secret, the “Messianic Secret” Doesn’t Really Exist

The Caramilk SecretOne axiom in biblical studies that needs to go away forever is the so-called “Messianic secret”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this references in articles, commentaries, and sermons. What is the “Messianic secret”, you ask? It’s the idea floated by some Gospel scholars (especially of Mark and the other Synoptics) that Jesus was trying to keep his identity as Messiah a secret. This is allegedly why he doesn’t want people who he has healed to spread the news about him, and why he doesn’t allow demons to tell people who he really is, either (We just talked about that last item yesterday).

This is absolute nonsense! As Dr. Craig Evans, one of the best biblical scholars on the planet, is so fond of pointing out, Jesus is the Messiah and knows it. He wants others to know it, too. Today’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:29-39) sheds some light on the issue. In the Galilee of Jesus’ day, multitudes of people were sick at any given time. There were also a ton of people who suffered from demonic possession. And here comes Jesus: a one-man, walking, free health-care clinic. Obamacare, eat your heart out! This Mark 1 passage tells us that Jesus spent practically the entire night healing people and casting out demons. The demand for is services is insatiable. This is why Jesus announces the next morning that he and the Apostles need to move on to the next towns, to preach the Good News of the Gospel. This is also, by the way, why Jesus often preached from boats, while the crowd on the shore listened. If he had allowed the crowd to get near him, there never would have been a sermon, because everyone would have been pressing in for a healing – “all who touched him were made well”.

The healings, as great as they are, can actually get in the way of what Jesus came to accomplish: to preach the message of the Kingdom. No doubt, he proclaims it in both word and deed, and the deeds are the proof of the message, if you will. In this way, exorcisms are an even more clear proof of the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the destruction of Satan’s kingdom. But we have to start with the preached Word. Even if Jesus brings someone back from the dead, like Lazarus, it’s only temporary. Lazarus would die again. He was only resuscitated, not resurrected, like Jesus would be, never to die again. Saving souls is most important. Saving bodies is only #2, although Jesus wants to save both, and will ultimately save the bodies of all of God’s friends at the general resurrection. But for now, there’s a danger, in all the excitement about his healings, that the message Jesus is bringing is getting lost in all the excitement.

First things first.

Debunking the Debunkers

Here’s my latest article from the June issue of Catholic Insight magazine. Hope you like it!

Debunking the Debunkers

by Cale Clarke

Just as surely as the lillies bloom every spring, each Easter season brings with it some new theories about what really happened at the first Easter. Martin Luther’s dictum describing early Protestantism comes to mind: “There are as many interpretations as there are heads”. Here are a couple of this year’s takes:

First, on Holy Saturday, the National Post ran a piece about a new book by art historian (and amateur theologian) Thomas de Wesselow, The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection. And what, pray tell, is that secret? According to de Wesselow, the shroud really is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ – but get this: he thinks it was the shroud that the Apostles encountered after the death of Christ, not his resurrected body. Huh? So, when “doubting” Thomas stuck his hand in Jesus’ side, was he only wiggling his fingers through a hole in the sheet? Not sure this is the sort of stuff that inspires martyrdom.

And then there’s the perennial publicity hound Simcha Jacobovici (TV’s The Naked Archaeologist), who, along with James Cameron (whenever the latter is not tied up making bad movies about blue people or sinking boats), spends a lot of his time looking for the lost tomb of Jesus. It’s a project that has as much potential as the maiden Titanic voyage.

As real biblical scholar Craig Evans pointed out recently in The Huffington Post, the archaeological community scoffs at the idea that the tomb in the Jerusalem area that Jacobovici shows off in The Jesus Discovery belongs to Jesus of Nazareth. And, if Jesus’ bones are still in a tomb, then how does Jacobovici explain the fact that even the enemies of the early Christian movement say it’s empty? It seems as if The Naked Archaeologist has no clothes.

The fact is that the disciples claimed to have encountered the resurrected Jesus. People who days earlier had denied even knowing Jesus (like Peter) are, post-Easter, quite willing to lay down their lives for their conviction that Jesus lives. Skeptics, even persecutors like Saul the Pharisee (better known now as Paul the Apostle) claim to have had the same experience. After his death and burial, Jesus is said to have appeared to numerous individuals and groups of people over a 40-day period, including 500 people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). Forget about mass hallucinations – you can’t catch a hallucination like a common cold. And what these folks claimed was not even that they had seen a “vision” of Jesus – a category well accepted in Jewish circles.

No, what they claimed was not that they had seen a ghost, or even – sorry, Thomas de Wesselow – a shroud. They claimed to have experienced Jesus’ physical body, back from the dead. Transformed, yes, but still him, still sporting the crucifixion wounds as a type of I.D. Able to be touched, able to scarf down some food to make a point of his being corporeal (cf. Luke 24:36-43; Acts 10:41). A resurrection is a lot harder to prove than a vision. A “vision” of Jesus, encouraging the disciples to continue the mission, wouldn’t require an empty tomb. And preaching the resurrection in the very city where Jesus was crucified would have been impossible if the tomb were occupied. This is even more evident when one considers that the location of the tomb was no secret, not waiting thousands of years to be discovered by Cameron and Jacobovici – it belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, the very council which condemned Jesus to death, and a known public figure.

Could the disciples have stolen the body? That was, after all, the explanation proffered by the enemies of the nascent Church as to how the tomb came to be empty. But this view overlooks an important fact: the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection. True, many have died (and continue to do so) for what they believe to be true – suicide bombers, for instance. But no one in their right mind willingly would give their life for what they knew to be false. If the disciples really had Jesus’ body locked in the trunk of a car somewhere, I doubt they’d be in a hurry to get themselves crucified upside-down, or sawed in two.

Whatever one’s theory is about what happened that first Easter, one ought to at least take into account all the known facts of the case. But, unfortunately for a gullible public, the Jacobovicis and de Wesselows of the world have never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Cale Clarke is the Director of The Faith Explained Seminars (, and the creator of The New Mass app.

Authenticating the Resurrection of Jesus: The Corinthian Creed

Today’s first reading from 1 Corinthians 15 contains one of the first “creeds” of the early Church. As Saint Paul writes,

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the Apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

In an interview with Lee Strobel for the book The Case for Christ, scholar Gary Habermas showed that Saint Paul is, in fact, quoting a very early creed of the Church. First, Paul uses the terms translated “received” and “handed on”, technical rabbinical language for the passing on of sacred tradition. The text is also in stylized format, using parallelism, presumably to aid memorization. The use of the Aramaic version of Peter’s name, “Cephas” is likely a sign of its primitive date. The creed also uses phrases that are uncommon in Paul’s writings: “the Twelve”; “he was raised”; “the third day”. Habermas noted that scholar “Ulrich Wilkens says that it ‘indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity'” (Strobel, The Case for Christ, p. 230).

Habermas, among others, would contend that this creed could have been composed within mere months after the resurrection of Jesus. He notes that no credible scholar disputes Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, which was likely written between 55-57 AD. But Paul says in 15:3 that he passed the creed on to the Corinthian Church at some point in the past, predating his visit there in 51 AD. That places the composition of the creed no later than within 20 years of the original Easter event.

But Habermas – and others – think the creed goes back even further: between 32-38 AD, when Paul received it, in all likelihood in Jerusalem. Three years after Paul’s conversion, he travelled to Jerusalem to interview the Apostles Peter and James (whose feast day we celebrate today). Habermas draws our attention to the fact that, when Paul described this trip in Galatians 1:18-19, he uses the Greek word historeo, which indicates a thorough investigation of the facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection was being made. So, in all likelihood, this creed was delivered to Paul by the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, Peter and James.

Of course, the creed goes on to enumerate other Easter eyewitnesses, including an appearance of the Risen Christ to over 500 people at once – “most of whom are still living” at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Paul is virtually daring any skeptics to interview these people.

The 1 Corinthians creed authenticates the resurrection of Christ in many ways, not the least of which is this: its incredibly early, eyewitness testimony precludes any possibility of legendary accretion. The fact is, the resurrection is a fact.

Authenticating the Resurrection of Jesus: The Empty Tomb

Empty TombIn the last post, we noted powerful evidence for the empty tomb: enemy attestation. The religious authorities of Jerusalem and the early Church both agree: On Easter Sunday, the body of Jesus is not in the tomb. The question is: Why? Christians, of course, affirm the reason is the bodily Resurrection of the Lord. The authorities concocted a different tale: they said the disciples stole the body. Did they? Not a chance.

First, the tomb was guarded, most likely by Roman soldiers. Matthew’s Gospel mentions that the religious authorities bribed the guards to say that while they slept, the disciples pilfered Jesus from the tomb. That Roman soldiers would fall asleep on the job, and somehow not be woken by the commotion of men rolling away the massive stone at the mouth of the tomb, is laughable enough. But even if that were possible, who knows what’s happening while one is asleep, anyway? But there’s an even more convincing reason this argument doesn’t work.

Almost anyone would grant that people are often willing to die for what they believe to be true. Suicide bombers come immediately to mind. But no one dies for something they know to be a lie. And the disciples would certainly know if Jesus had actually risen from the dead and appeared to them, or if they had, in fact, hidden his corpse in a trunk somewhere. But if they had really stolen the body, why would they go and get themselves killed by preaching that Jesus had been resurrected? I mean, it’s not as if they had anything to gain, humanly speaking, by their message. It’s not as if sprawling mansions along the Mediterranean coastline awaited. They could only look forward to beatings. imprisonments, and an almost certain death. The truth is that they proclaimed the Resurrection because they were convinced by the encounters they had with the risen Christ. They proclaimed it because it was true.

Authenticating the Resurrection of Jesus: the Jerusalem factor

The ResurrectionThe Bible is refreshingly clear about what is at stake if the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith…but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 20). Today, Easter Sunday, is the first day of the Octave of Easter (in the Church, it is as if Easter lasts as one continuous day until next Sunday), with the rest of the liturgical season of Easter to follow. So, over the next while, I’ll offer some solid reasons why we can be certain that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. Keep in mind that these facts are accepted by the vast majority of critical scholars, be they believers or not.

Reason 1: The Jerusalem factor. When the Apostles began publicly preaching that Jesus had been physically resurrected from the dead, it is not as if they began by travelling to some faraway land, to tell people who had no means of investigating the veracity of the event. It wasn’t like “Star Wars” – “Let me tell you about something that happenned ‘a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.'” No, the Apostles began proclaiming the Resurrection in Jerusalem – the very city where Christ had been publicly killed. There is simply no way they could have done so if it were not true.

It’s instructive to note the response of the religious authorities of Jerusalem to this message: they didn’t say, “Jesus isn’t risen! He’s still in his tomb – and let us show you hs remains and put an end to this foolishness once and for all”. Their response was actually to say, “The disciples stole the body”. In other words, the enemies of the Gospel message admit the reality of the empty tomb. This response is noted in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28 (vv. 11-15), where it is said that “this story (of the stolen body) is told among the Jews to this day” (v. 15). Saint Justin Martyr, in his “Dialogue with Trypho”, notes that this response was still commonly heard among Jews in the mid-2nd century when he was writing.

In the next post, we’ll examine more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead in his physical body, leaving an empty tomb behind.

On The Third Day…

When Saint Paul wrote (quoting an early creedal statement of the Church), that Jesus “was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4), what scriptures were in mind? For that matter, when Jesus himself predicted his suffering, death, burial, and Resurrection “on the third day” (cf. Mark 8:31; Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22), did he believe he would be fulfilling any particular passage? Dr. Craig Evans seems to think so.

In his book (co-authored with N.T. Wright) “Jesus: The Final Days”, Evans notes that Hosea 6 (which just happens to be the Old Testament Mass reading today) may be in the background here, especially verse 2: “He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence” (RSV). Evans notes that the translation of this verse in the Aramaic Targum (which Jesus, as a native speaker of Aramaic, would have probably been quite familiar with) has a unique emphasis: “He will revive us in the days of consolations that will come; on the day of the resurrection of the dead he will raise us up and we shall live before him” (Aramaic differences italicized). As Evans puts it, “The coherence of Jesus’ words with the Aramaic tradition is striking” (p. 13). It is hard to escape the conclusion that Jesus not only predicted not only his death, but also his Resurrection, seeing both as fulfilling scripture.