To celebrate Easter properly, we should probably recall Luca Signorelli’s 1499 masterpiece The Sermon and Deeds of the Anti-Christ. It now hangs in the Chapel of San Brizio in Orvieto. Upon first glance, it appears that Christ stands in the foreground. Then the observer realizes that it is not Christ at all. It is an imposter. More than that, it is the anti-Christ, indeed Satan. But how is this discovered? Only an informed Catholic eye could know.
The devil points to his heart. But isn’t this a common gesture of the Savior since the marvelous revelations of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque? Yes, but something is conspicuously absent: no wounds on the body of Christ. In the many counterfeits of Christ through the centuries the dead giveaway of a false Savior is a smooth skin unburdened by the wounds of Golgotha. Those wounds alone mark the presence of the true Redeemer; the other, a counterfeit one.
Counterfeit Christianity always delights in showing the heart of Christ, but not His pierced heart. From that seemingly harmless symbolism tumbles the inverted creed of Counterfeit Christianity. It centers not on sacrificial love but on sentimental luv, a perennial temptation for all the fallen children of Adam and Eve. Even the thoroughgoing existentialist Albert Camus echoed this truth when he wrote, “Future generations will be able to summarize our culture in two propositions: they fornicated and read the newspapers.” This faux Christianity turns the Gospel’s truth inside out by dictating bonhomie as its ironclad imperative.
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This comic reversal of the Cross’s grandeur provoked the disgust of Graham Green, causing him to impatiently reply with delicious contempt, “When I hear the summons to brotherly love, I think of Cain and Abel.” Instead of Christ Crucified they sententiously preach the approved jargon of their decaying culture blended with cliches which choke rather than chasten. Their hollowness is captured by T.S. Eliot in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock with pitch perfect scorn: “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” The ultimate fate of those wedded to this Counterfeit Christianity is to sink ever more securely into the morass of self-satisfaction.
This is a rank betrayal of Easter. It is God’s greatest triumph because it is the victory of the Cross. Therein lies the soaring joy of the Third Day, and it will sound through the corridors of eternity. No separation is possible: The Crucified One is the Risen One.
During the time of the Great Terror, that immediate aftermath of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, a great effort was mounted to erase much of historic Christianity. Sterile catch phrases replaced immemorial teaching. One of the more insipid was a newly coined attribution for Catholics: an Easter People. Sophomoric as it was vacuous, it fully captured Counterfeit Christianity: a “religious” identity without Calvary. The barren phrase has mercifully disappeared, but its spirit has not. It hangs over many a church and sacred liturgy like dripping tar. Sadly, it enters into the soul slowly, albeit surely, with corrupting effect.
Page after page of the Holy Gospels give the lie to this fraud. When Christ stands at the empty tomb, He stands wearing the wounds of His crucifixion like so many trophies. For His Risen Body is His Crucified Body; the Risen Victory is the proclamation of the Golgotha triumph. In the upper room, Our Lord encounters the doubting Thomas like a victorious general returning from battle. Recall what the Savior does: He sets the apostle’s hands in the holes where the spear pierced and the nails sat. Note that as soon as the Savior bids the Apostles “peace,” He shows them His wounds. Such a gesture is a resounding blow to those who would effeminize Christ and neuter His bracing summons to take up our cross and follow Him.
Treacly smiles, language of inclusion, and cheery ditties will simply not do. They disappear like pieces of dust in a conflagration. Even now, Christ stands at the right hand of His Father in Heaven in His glorified body made all the more beautiful by the Calvary ribbons. Of these sacred wounds, St. Thomas teaches “they illuminate the precincts of heaven like rubies and sapphires.”
Venerable Fulton Sheen once wrote that the Via Pacis is the Via Crucis. This is his variation on the ancient ejaculation, Ave Crux, spes unica. Without the Cross, life is bereft of joy, hope, and peace. Here the paradox of Christianity hits modern man like a racing comet, leaving him dazed. The great Bishop continues with words that easily cut against the grain of Counterfeit Christianity: “God hates peace in those who are destined for war.” The secularized Catholic finds this a bridge too far. They shriek, “We are a religion of peace.” But for that kind of inanity, they must take up their case with God Himself: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). What war? What sword? The only true one: the war against sin; against error and the world’s lies; against our weakness and compromises; our complacencies and indulgences. These are the only wars worth fighting. Victory in these wars brings peace.
Let good Catholics revel in the joys of the Risen Christ. Let us not tire of repeating the ancient antiphon: Christ is Risen; He is truly Risen. Let us bask in the mystery of the empty tomb. But let us not forget whence this perfect divine victory comes—only from the resounding defeat against Satan and his Hellish Kingdom. And that, by the weapon of Christ’s invincible Cross. Beware the Counterfeit Christ. He will woo the unsuspecting with messages that rest comfortably on the fallen nature of man. He will speak a language of rapprochement with the spirit of the world. And it will sound oh so reasonable, oh so sweet.
Settle only for the real Risen Christ, the One Who invites us to rest in His wounds. Insist only on God.
[Image Credit: The Sermon and Deeds of the Anti-Christ by Luca Signorelli (Wikimedia Commons)]