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The God Who Plays Three-Card Monte

By Fr. Robert J. Carr
©Catholic Online 2005

It has been almost four years since we saw the World Trade Center Towers fall and the hijacked airliner plow into the Pentagon. I remember as a boy believing that the Pentagon was an indestructible building. I was shocked to see that scene in which a part of the building was destroyed. We all know that on that day the world changed. Nothing was ever the same.

Such moments happen many times in our lives: Times of great joy which we know will change us forever, other times of sadness which do the same. Joy at one event can bring an end to previous bitterness from another, both life changing times events.


Today we celebrate such an event. It is more Earth-shattering than September 11th, the fall of the Soviet Union or the Red Sox winning the World Series, or any other event positive or negative in our world.

The full reality of the whole moment is not yet within the full grasp of Peter and John when they reach the tomb. It may not be in our full grasp either. It is so Earth-shattering a moment.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. All is changed. Make no mistake about it, all is changed. We use a date in our country September 10, 2001. We tell people that they are living not in the past but on September 10, 2001. This means they are naďve to the reality of the world around us. All is wonderful, life is just so rose colored, what could happen to us now. We say in biblical terms, We are in peace and security.

The Catholic equivalent is living on Holy Saturday. Jesus is dead, we all made a mistake, let us go back to living in the secular world and eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die. Life after all on Holy Saturday has no meaning.

Yet, as much as September 11 changed the unsuspecting world, more so does Easter Sunday change a hard-hearted world.

Those who are aware of the ramifications realize that we can no longer live Holy Saturday. It is over. We can no longer live on September 10th. It is over. Yet as much as September 11th is reminiscent in Christian terms to Good Friday, Easter Sunday is something that only Christians understand. Death has been emasculated. It has lost her sting because Jesus is risen and now leads his followers through death.


The Archbishop preached on Good Friday about the importance of embracing the cross. When we embrace the cross, we follow Christ. Yet, Jesus knew that he was embracing the cross, while he was foreseeing the resurrection. Indeed, we never describe Jesus' death without also his resurrection, one without the other makes no sense. Embracing the cross while expecting the resurrection is just the kind of silly foolishness the world does not understand, that is why it works. Embracing the cross while expecting the resurrection is playing a practical joke on death. Death loses every time. It is like sitting death down to a game of Three Card Monte, making her believe that she will win each time and watch her face fall when the sure bet turns into a loss.

This is the spirit of Resurrection. All is changed. Death is destroyed and you and I hold the Three-Card Monte deck in our hands. We win every time because, well, we cheat. We know that the deck is rigged and we sit there with a twinkle in our eye and pretend that all is legit as we deal death her cards. This is life in Christ. This is what Christ did for us.

Paul reminds us in the second reading to begin anew. Let us live in a way that turns back on the darkness of a world overshadowed by death. Let us turn our back on the deeds of darkness in it.


We have in this Church survived a painful time, yet, who reigned during this time that stretches back forty years: Death did and people let him reign. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche "God is dead and we have killed him for we have made him irrelevant in our lives." Ladies and gentlemen, for us those days are over. For those who still embrace those words, they are caught in their own losing fight against death; they are in death's embrace. You and I, however, are just waiting for our next game of three-card Monte, just waiting to see the face of death drop into eternal consternation at being foiled again. And we have our savior to thank, he taught us how to play the game. To Paraphrase Winston Churchhill, No Friedrich Nietzsche, You are dead, This morning Christ is risen and you dear Friedrich are still dead.

Many years ago, while part of a retreat in a prison, a deeply repentant inmate doing time for multiple armed robberies gave remorseful testimony of how powerful he felt when he could put a gun in people's faces and watch them shiver in terror. Yet, in our own tradition we have countless stories of those who attempted to do the same to the saints only to be greeted with the most bizarre of response. Jesus remained silent before Herod and played word games with Pilate. St. Lawrence told his executors burning him rotisserie style in flames, "You can turn me over, I am done on this side." St. Peter asked to be crucified upside as he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way as his Lord, Blessed Miguel Pro embarrassed the atheist Mexican Government by embracing his death and also proclaiming Christ's Resurrection at the same time. Finally, Maximillian Kolbe, who sacrificed himself to save another, led his fellow condemned prisoners in joyful psalms, hymns and inspired songs as they were dying by being denied food and water in Auschwitz. This great irritated the Nazis.

Jesus reminds us in another part of the gospel that we must let the dead bury their own dead. So it must be done. We are people of the resurrection called to walk on proverbial or actual waters, called to move proverbial or actual mountains and called to cast out the demons of death from our midst. Let them possess the dead, leave us alone, for we are the people of the Resurrection.

So must we live as people of faith. We must not only hope it comes, we must live in joyful expectation and in doing so walk in the power it gives us.


We are people who have the power to go where the unbelievers fear. We are the people who are called to be empowered in Christ and bring his good news to places where those who have no faith cannot go.

It is time to do it. How many prisoners do not have the word preached to them because no one has the zeal to preach behind bars. That is not a resurrection mentality. How many people discouraged by the system and the death philosophies rooted in it do not have the gospel preached to them because no one has the zeal to live as a counter force against selfish and death ideas.

How many of our children are formed in the ideology of death and selfishness because we have given others an authority that is rightfully ours.

In one of the most bizarre of ideas, many Catholics are being led astray down the halls of philosophy that is a form of materialistic Universalism. There is no resurrection in those ideas and like lambs led to slaughter they are walking into death's grip because they forgot death has no power anymore. I assure death will not remind her victims of this truth.

The Resurrection is a radical reality that reaches to every cell in our bodies that changes our very way of living from the first waking breath in the morning to the last breath before we slip into unconsciousness at night. If we are not living it, we are missing the point of Catholicism. Even if we pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to learn theology from so-called Catholic Universities.

Be resurrection people from this moment onward, be empowered by Christ's saving action and let the dead bury their own dead. While because of Christ's love for us we wait for the day when we can play another game of Three Card Monte and watch death lose again oblivious to how this happened. For this great moment we have a blessed Lord and Savior to thank, the greatest there is in Three Card Monte.


Catholicism Anew MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - parochial vicar, 617 625-0029




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