Christ turned defeat into victory
The world was wrong, and Christ was right. He who had the power to lay down His life had the power to take it up again. He who willed to be born, willed to die. And He who knew how to die knew also how to be reborn and to give to this poor tiny planet of ours an honor and a glory that flaming suns and jealous planets do not share: the glory of one forsaken grave.
The great lesson of Easter Day is that a Victor may be judged from a double point of view: that of the world and that of God. From the world’s point of view, Christ failed on Good Friday. From God’s point of view, Christ had won. Those who put Him to death gave Him the very chance He required; those who closed the door of the sepulcher gave Him the very door that He desired to fling open; their seeming triumph led to His greatest victory.
Christmas told the story that Divinity is always where the world least expects to find it, for no one expected to see Divinity wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Easter repeats that Divinity is always where the world least expects to find it, for no one in the world expected that a defeated man would be a victor, that the rejected cornerstone would be the head of the building, that the dead would walk, and that He who was ignored in a tomb should be our Resurrection and our Life.
Unroll the scrolls of time, and see how the lesson of that first Easter is repeated as each new Easter tells the story of the great Captain, who found His way out of the grave and revealed that lasting victory must always mean defeat in the eyes of the world. At least a dozen times in her life of twenty centuries, the world in the first flush of its momentary triumph sealed the tomb of the Church, set her watch and left her as a dead, breathless, and defeated thing, only to see her rising from the grave and walking in the victory of her new Easter morn.
In the first few centuries, thousands upon thousands of Christians crimsoned the sands of the Coliseum with their blood in testimony to their Faith. In the eyes of the world, Caesar was victor and the martyrs were defeated. Yet in that very generation, while pagan Rome with her brazen and golden trumpets proclaimed to the four corners of the earth her victory over the defeated Christ — “Where there is Caesar, there is power” — there swept from out of the catacombs and deserted places, like their leader from the grave, the conquering army chanting its song of victory: “Wherever there is Christ, there is life.”
Who today knows the names of Rome’s executioners? But who does not know the names of Rome’s martyrs? Who today recalls with pride the deeds of a Nero or a Diocletian? But who does not venerate the heroism and sanctity of an Agnes or a Cecilia? And so, on Easter Day, I sing, not the song of the victors, but of those who go down to defeat.
In a little city a few hours outside of Paris, a young girl hidden away in the shadow of the cloister was pouring out her prayerful life for Christ and, like her Master, going down to defeat in the eyes of the sinful world. Who does not know of the Little Flower, Thérèse of Lisieux? She who was defeated in the eyes of the world is the victor in the eyes of God, and so on Easter Day I sing, not the song of the victors, but of those who go down to defeat.
Finally the Easter lesson comes to our own lives. It has been suggested that it is better to go down to defeat in the eyes of the world by accepting the voice of conscience rather than to win the victory of a false public opinion; that it is better to go down to defeat in the sanctity of the marriage bond than to win the passing victory of divorce; that it is better to go down to defeat in the fruit of love than to win the passing victory of a barren union; that it is better to go down to defeat in the love of the Cross than to win the passing victory of a world that crucifies. And now it is suggested in conclusion that it is better to go down to defeat in the eyes of the world by giving to God that which is wholly and totally ours.
God desires our will
If we give God our energy, we give Him back His own gift. If we give Him our talents, our joys, and our possessions, we return to Him that which He placed into our hands, not as owners, but as mere trustees. There is only one thing in the world that we can call our own. There is only one thing we can give to God that is ours as against His, which not even He will take away, and that is our own will, with its power to choose the object of its love.
Hence, the most perfect gift we can give to God is the gift of our will. The giving of that gift to God is the greatest defeat that we can suffer in the eyes of the world, but it is the greatest victory we can win in the eyes of God. In surrendering it, we seem to lose everything, yet defeat is the seed of victory, as the diamond is the child of night. The giving of our will is the recovery of all our will ever sought: the perfect Life, the perfect Truth, and the perfect Love which is God! And so on Easter Day, sing, not the song of the victors, but of those who go down to defeat.
What care we if the road of this life is steep, if the poverty of Bethlehem, the loneliness of Galilee, and the sorrow of the Cross are ours? Fighting under the holy inspiration of One who has conquered the world, why should we shrink from letting the broad stroke of our challenge ring out on the shield of the world’s hypocrisy? Why should we be afraid to draw the sword and let its first stroke be the slaying of our own selfishness?
Marching under the leadership of the Captain of the Five Scars, fortified by His sacraments, strengthened by His infallible truth, divinized by His redemptive love, we need never fear the outcome of the battle of life. We need never doubt the issue of the only struggle that matters. We need never ask whether we will win or lose. Why, we have already won — only the news has not yet leaked out!
Editor’s note: This article was adapted from a chapter in Ven. Fulton Sheen’s God’s World and our Place in It, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.