Angelus of Pope Francis. Photo: Vatican Media

Pope’s Reflection To Begin The Week: When Life Seems Like a Closed Sepulcher

Address on the occasion of the Angelus prayer on Sunday, March 26, 2023.

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(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 03.26.2023).- Some 35 ,000 people went to Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday, March 26, to pray the Angelus with the Holy Father and to listen to his Sunday address. In addition to his reflection, the Pontiff recalled the consecration he made to Mary of Russia and Ukraine on March 25, 2022. 

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Today, Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel presents to us Lazarus’ resurrection (cf. John 11: 1-45). It’s the last of Jesus’ miracles narrated before Easter: the resurrection of his friend Lazarus.

Lazarus is a dear friend of Jesus. The Lord, who knows His friend is about to die, starts out but arrives in Lazarus’ house four days after he was buried, when all hope was now lost. However, His presence sparks some confidence in the heart of his sisters, Martha and Mary (cf. v. 22-27). Amid their grief, they cling to that light, to that little hope. And Jesus invites them to have faith and asks that the sepulcher be opened. Then He prays to the Father and cries with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” (v. 43). Lazarus lives again and comes out. This is the miracle, as it is, simple.

The message is clear: Jesus gives life, even when it seems that there is no longer any hope. It happens, sometimes, that one feels without hope — this has happened to all of us –, or that one meets people who have ceased to hope, bitter because they have lived bad experiences, their heart is wounded, they cannot hope. 

They have ceased to hope because of a painful loss, an illness, a cruel disappointment, an injustice, a suffered betrayal, or an error committed. Every now and then we hear someone say: “Nothing can be done now,”” and the door to hope is closed. 

These are moments in which life seems like a closed sepulcher: all is darkness, seen all around is only pain and despair. Today’s miracle tells us it’s not so, that this isn’t the end, that in these moments we aren’t alone. On the contrary, it’s in fact in those moments that He becomes closer than ever to give us life again. Jesus weeps: the Gospel says that before Lazarus’ sepulcher, Jesus began to weep and, today, Jesus weeps with us, as He wept for Lazarus: the Gospel repeats twice that He was moved (cf. vv. 33-38), and stresses that “He wept” (cf. v. 35). And, at the same time, Jesus invites us not to cease believing and hoping, not to be cast down by negative feelings, which rob us from weeping. As then, He approaches our sepulchers and says ”Take away the stone!”

Jesus says this also to us. Take away the stone: do not hide the pain, the errors, the failures within you, in a dark, solitary and closed room. Take away the stone: take out everything that is inside. “It makes me ashamed,” we answer. But the Lord says: put it before Me with trust, I am not  scandalized; put it before Me without fear, because I am with you, I love you and I want you to live again. And, as He said to Lazarus, He says to each one of us: Come out!. Get up, start out again, rediscover trust! How often in life we have seen ourselves thus, in a situation of having no strength to get up again. And Jesus says: “Go forward! I am with you. I’ll take you by the hand,” Jesus says, “as when you were small and were  learning to take your first steps.”

Dear brother, dear sister, take away the bandages that bind you (cf. v. 44), please, do not yield to pessimism, which depresses; do not yield to fear, which isolates; do not yield to discouragement, remembering bad experiences; do not yield to fear, which paralyzes. Jesus says to us: “I want you free and I want you alive. I do not abandon you, I am with you! Everything is dark, but I am with you. Do not let yourself be imprisoned by grief, do not let hope die in you. Brother, sister, live again!”  — “How do I do this?”  — “Take me by the hand,” and He takes us by the hand. Let Him take you out; He is able to do so, in those bad moments we all go through.

Dear brothers and sisters, this passage of chapter 11  of John’s Gospel, which it does us much good to read, is a hymn to life, and it’s proclaimed when Easter is near. Perhaps we also carry now a weight in our heart, or a suffering that seems to crush us, some bad thing, some old sin that we are unable to bring to light, some error of our youth, who knows! These bad things must come out and Jesus says: “Come out!”

It’s the moment to take away the stone and to come out to encounter Jesus who is close. Are we able to open our heart to Him and entrusts our worries to Him? Do we do that? Are we able to open the sepulcher  of our problems and look beyond the threshold to His light? Or are we afraid? And, in our turn, as small mirrors of God’s love, are we able to illuminate the environments in which we live, with words and gestures of life? Do we witness the hope and joy of Jesus, all of us, sinners? And I would also like to say a word to confessors: dear brothers, don’t forget that you also are sinners, and you are in the confessional not to torture but to forgive, to forgive everything, as the Lord forgives everything.

May Mary, Mother of Hope, renew in us the joy of not feeling ourselves alone and the call to take light to the darkness that surrounds us. 

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