Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Life’s contradictions

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OSCO, Commentary | Published May 2, 2014

We offered a retreat here on the themes of Holy Week. It was given the week before Easter and there were about 20 people who signed up for it. I gave two talks, and it was not long before I got into the first talk that disagreements arose among members of the group. The same thing happened at the second talk.

Looking back, I should have taken into consideration the diversity of the group. In terms of where they were “at” in terms of devotion, biblical familiarity, church teaching and the like, they were all over the map. I tried to offer one way of looking at things—say the Resurrection—that would have made everybody happy. But once they got going I realized that was impossible. I suppose I did not anticipate that many deep waters would be stirred and that there was no way to calm the seas in the room.

So I have been musing over the experience of those few days. It has been on my mind a lot. And here is what I have come up with.

There is no one way of looking at anything. And there is no commonly understood meaning of the “truth” or the “factual.” The Resurrection narratives are contradictory—they do not mesh or agree on some key points. All may (roughly) agree on the truth that Jesus was raised from the dead. But from that mystery things only get more mysterious. Even though this has been and still is the battleground on which biblical scholars fire their fusillades in the hope of winning the one-truth-and-one-truth-only war, the prize as to what “really” happened at the Resurrection remains and will remain stubbornly elusive. We don’t know and will never know the real events of that first Easter morning.

But we do know that people saw and told something marvelous that long ago morning, and it wasn’t long before words were written and songs were sung, and oddly enough, people back then did not seem bothered by the varying accounts and their “real” veracity. They did not seem to care about retrieving the hard and naked fact of what really happened.

What they did seem to care about with a passion was telling the story of the Risen Jesus who they believed was in their midst—alive, loving and very real in a world that perceived him with differing shades of difference, nuances, approaches. In short, they were very much like us in the way they approached the Resurrection and absorbed its living truth into their lives. The difference is that they apparently did not hold others to relinquish their sense of what happened. The early Christians did not merely tolerate differences of interpretation. The differences were for them ways through which the mystery could be enriched and better understood as its ramifications unfolded through time.

And so here we are in a retreat house some 2,000 years later. We are the inheritors of a rich, multi-faceted tradition. There are no arguments about that. The arguments seem to begin when any one of us assumes that we have an edge on, a more penetrating insight, into the mystery of life after death. And I suppose that is simply how we are as a species. We are all living contradictions to ourselves.

Just try making everybody happy in a restaurant just one item on the menu. We were made for difference—and perhaps come from Divine Difference—but a Difference whose life is love and who does not ask us to think one way, be one way, love one way. We are to learn to love through the wondrous differences of this world. If variety is the spice of life, God surely has been a generous chef.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at