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Mgr Francesco Follo, 17 Déc. 2018 © Mgr Francesco Follo

Archbishop Follo: Christ is Risen, Love has Won

If it is true that human life arises from an act of love that precedes and overcomes pain, this is even more true in the resurrection of Christ, who overcomes not only pain but also death.

Resurrection Sunday – Year A – April 12, 2020

Roman rite

Acts 10, 34a. 37-43; Ps 118; Col 3, 1-4; Jn 20: 1-9

 

Ambrosian rite

Acts 1-8a; Ps 117; 1Cor 15.3-10a; Jn 20: 11-18

 

Foreground

The calendar tells us that spring began twenty days ago, but winter seems to be still here.  This period of “confinement” at home because of Covid-19 keeps winter in our hearts. If we look outside, seeing trees that are still destroyed by the frost and cold of the climatic winter, we think that all things would end up like this if not for the strength and the creative power that every year covers the trees with green and new leaves.

This force receives its strength from a “mysterious Force” that wanted to make itself seen becoming familiar to our journey. Thus, the Strong God, the Holy God, the Immortal God says to each of us: “I am with you always, I have become the son of a woman as you are a son, I have lived what you have lived, I have been unjustly condemned, I suffered pain, I was killed and I accepted all this for you to understand that I share the effort for the task that I have called you to accomplish. ”

Celebrating Easter, we announce that Jesus of Nazareth is risen. The happy truth, which he wants us to feel in the soul, is that we are not born to die but to live, that death is only the last and dramatic door to cross and that he accompanies us in this adventure.

With the celebration of Easter, we not only announce a message of hope, we announce the fact that the God who came among us rose from the death we inflicted on him and liberates our hearts from the sadness of death that engulfs them. Christ dead and risen is the reason for the hope that overcomes the sadness of the world, the fulfillment of the ancient promise, that is, the promise made to the people of Israel. Therefore, He is the reason for every new beginning. When we get up every morning, we can take back in our hands the certainty of the positivity and ultimate goodness of things: we will never lose what we care about and love.

With joy, mixed with fear and pain because of the serious pandemic that is still affecting humanity, let us celebrate Easter not as a simple commemoration of a past event, but as a participation in the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.

It is no longer the Head who must lie down on the cross and then get up from the grave. It is his body, the Church, with all its members represented by each one of us. It is we who must share this passion in order to be able to share his resurrection.

Easter teaches us that the Christian in the Church must die with Christ to resurrect with him.

Easter does not work any magic. As after the crossing of the Red Sea the Jews found the desert, so after the Resurrection the Church always finds history with its joys and its hopes, its pains and its anxieties. Hope, in this world, and particularly in this period of pandemic, cannot fail to deal with the harshness of evil and physical and spiritual pain. It is not only the wall of disease and death that hinders this hope; the obstacle to hope is due to our sins, to envy and pride, to lies and violence.

The Risen Jesus went through this mortal intertwining to open the passage to the Kingdom of life and give us the true light. As in spring the rays of the sun cause the buds to sprout and open on the branches of the trees, so the light, which emanates from the Resurrection of Christ, not only gives strength and meaning to all human hope, but deep joy that comes from the fact that the resurrection shows that love is stronger than death. Let us therefore make ours the sentence of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who knew well the pain of wounded humanity but “dared” to say: “Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of the risen Christ.”

  • Jesus really rose and appeared first to a woman: the first in faith because the first in love.

With the celebration of Easter, we not only remember the Resurrection but make it present in the joy born from the encounter with the Risen Lord. The Gospel narrative proposed by the liturgy of today helps us to understand and live it.

It is a very linear story:  there is Mary who at the first light of the day runs to the tomb, finds it empty and thinks that Jesus has been stolen, and there are the Apostles Peter and John running to the tomb to see if it is true what Mary and the other women are saying . The love of Christ, though he was dead, persisted in them and for love they had gone to the tomb at the dawn of the new day, the first day after the Sabbath, the beginning of the new creation.

The story of Mary continues then from verse 11 and the following, which are not in the selected text of today because the liturgy today stops at verse 10, but that are worth to be read. However, I think that it is useful first to comment the verses that come later and that allow me a consideration appropriate for today.

Having seen the empty tomb, the woman is lost and shocked. In her eyes, the dead body of the Crucified was the only thing that remained of the beloved Lord to whom she had washed the feet with her tears and with a very expensive perfume.

Suddenly He is beside her with his resurrected body, but Mary Magdalene does not recognize him. Lost in her thoughts and in her plan to regain the body disfigured by the passion, did she try to give a careful look to that stranger who unexpectedly sat next to her? Was she able to presume that this supposed “gardener” might be the One who had forgiven her for all the sins of a life devoted to death making her “resurrect “to the true life? Yes! For the woman who had experienced that the love of Jesus is greater than sin one word was enough “Mary.” On hearing her name pronounced in the first light of dawn by a well-known voice, she recognized the risen Master. Then in her heart light was unleashed and in her bloomed faith, that is recognizing the presence of the Risen Christ in front of us, beside us, within us. From that moment from the heart of this woman nothing could tear off the certainty that had taken possession of her heart and her mind.

The Evangelist John, in describing the encounter of Mary Magdalene with Jesus, highlights three key aspects of the Christian faith: the initiative, the recognition and the mission. To the woman who is looking for a dead person Christ shows himself alive (the initiative). It is a knowledge of the Risen One that does not happen, however, with a perceptual encounter. For this reason, He is still a stranger. Everything changes when his presence becomes a personal call (the recognition): Jesus calls her by name and Mary responds as she had done during his earthly life “Rabbouni “ (a friendly title of a Rabbi which means my teacher). The investiture of the announcement (the mission) is a consequence of the revelation: while Mary wants to touch Him, the Messiah entrusts to her the great message to take to the brothers: “Go to my brothers and say to them: I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. Christ thus made her the “apostle to the apostles “(St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, XX, 2519.10). This invitation today is entrusted in a special way to the consecrated Virgins who show how their existence is taken by the initiative of God and is experienced in the recognition of Christ who sends them on a mission into the world. They carry out this task following the invitation of the Church, as it is recommend in the Foregrounds to the Consecration Rite of the Ordum Virginum, n. 2nd: “They dedicate themselves to prayers, to penance, to the service of neighbor and to apostolic work, following their state of life … “. This shows that prayer is the soul of every apostolate. This invitation is also confirmed in the “Sending” (n. 36), when the Bishop invokes the Holy Spirit on the consecrated woman: “May the Holy Spirit  by whom the Virgin Mary conceived her Son, today consecrate your hearts and fill you with a burning desire to serve God and his Church.”

Today’s Gospel reveals to us the secret that allows faith to be born in each of us. Faith is given to us by Jesus himself who comes to us almost in secret, without being immediately recognized by us. Jesus comes to keep us company and to light a fire in us until the moment in which we discover that it is He and that He is here calling us by name, and we say yes with our mind and our heart.

To our humble trusting act of faith, He answers rising also in our heart.

Like the plant that, exposed and oriented to the light, lives let us orient ourselves towards the light of Christ with prayer and charity. Then Christ will come into our house giving joy, peace, life and hope, the gifts we need for our human and spiritual rebirth.

2)  Peter and John: witnesses of a fact, not of a theory.

Now let’s go back to the beginning of today’s Gospel which stops the narrative of Mary Magdalene and, before telling her encounter with Christ, talks about the run of Peter and John to verify what the holy women had reported to them and to the other Apostles.

In today’s narrative Peter does “only” one thing: he notes that the tomb is empty. It is not a minor thing because in this way the First of the Apostles, noting that the tomb of Christ is inexplicably empty, testifies the objective fact of faith. In fact, if the body of Jesus had been stolen the linens would be in a jumble and not folded and the shroud would not be wrapped and placed in a specific place. Peter, therefore, finds the objective fact: the tomb is empty, and it is not a theft. The other disciple instead, Jesus’ friend, the one whom Jesus loved, seeing the same things believes that Jesus has risen. This underlines that the objective evidence, that the tomb is empty and that it is sure that the body was not stolen, is not enough. An explanation is needed, and it takes the love and the intelligence of the heart as well as that of the head to believe in the resurrection. If you love a person you know her, you experience who he or she is, and you believe and know the truth about him or her. St. Augustine writes: “We only enter truth through charity.

Since the resurrection is not a theory but an encounter with the risen Christ, we can also give a thousand proofs that Christ has risen but that will be not enough because the issue is another. There are not tests or signs that are missing. The single most reasonable explanation would be that He is resurrected, but it is not. The issue is to meet Him, and those who love Him always meet Him. To him little is enough; just a sign is enough to understand.

The night of death is gone, the “Sun” has risen not to go down anymore, and the Good has triumphed over evil. Where the crime had abounded, grace now abounds. Christ’s joy soothes every pain and we, with quiet confidence, can say with Psalm 57: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and chant praise: Awake, my soul, Awake lyre and harp, I will wake the dawn “(8-9).

The initial lack of faith and misunderstanding that took over in Peter and John was also in Mary Magdalene.  In fact, to recognize the Risen Christ it is not enough the sheer physical and rational knowledge, but it is necessary the path in faith that in Mary happens only when she is called by name in a dialogue of profound intimacy, narrated by John in a truly touching way. The appearance is preceded by a vision of angels, almost in disbelief for the sadness of the woman (why are you crying?), to whom the weeping Mary explains that they have taken her Lord. It is significant that John “paints” the position of the two angels “sitting, the one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been “. It is an image reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant, as if to say that every Old Testament prophecy has now been fulfilled in ​​the empty tomb, the testimony of the risen Christ.

The Resurrection of Jesus is God’s yes to Christ and to us, because resurrecting the man Jesus God has resurrected humanity and has recreated a new heaven and a new earth. It is not the idea of ​​Christ that returns but Christ in flesh, as an immortal and transfigured body.

However, while praising the faith of John, illuminated by love and followed certainly also by that one of Peter, the Evangelist seems to reproach that “delay” in understanding the great truth ( yet they had not ( so far )  understood the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead ) . True faith, in fact, is the one which entrusts itself totally to God’s word and doesn’t look for witnesses or some evidence of trustworthiness like the empty tomb. All this is due to the perennial unpreparedness of humanity in front of the mystery of God.  In the light of all this, the “seeing” of John becomes a witness and a commitment of faith and life for every true Christian who wants to embark on the difficult journey toward eternal salvation. As put by the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Easter is an intervention of God from eternity. It is a prelude of ultimate things, those that occur when the final fulfilment will be made, and of those of which it can be possible to talk about only in pictures or parables. Easter reveals all the glory and the power of God. He is the master of death, not only that of the Son, but also that of every human being. In the same way in which He has resurrected Jesus, He will bring His holy people from death into life.

 

Patristic reading

St. Gregory of Nazianzus

 

Let us meditate on these words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus:

 “We want to certify to you Sons and Brothers, and to the many that of the glory and hope of the Christian name are covered in the world, that Christ even today is in the history of the world, even today more than ever, Christ is alive, Christ is real. Alive and real, not in the shadows of doubt and uncertainty … Christ is present. Time does not contain and does not consume Him. History evolves and can change the very face of the world. But his presence lights it… He is the joy of the earth; He is the doctor of all human infirmities. He personifies every man who suffers; until there will be pain on earth, He will take it on himself to raise the energy of compassion and generous love. Jesus, therefore, is always and everywhere present … He is the Master, Brother, Pastor, Friend of each one of his people, the Savior of every single human being who has the good fortune to be associated with Him as a cell of the mystical Body, of which He is the head. Each one is allowed to call him by name, not as a character alien, distant inaccessible, but as the “YOU” of the supreme and only love, as the Bridegroom of his own happiness that mysteriously is closer than all that seek him can imagine, as it has been said, “be consoled, you will not be looking for me, if you had not already found me.”

These words are a heartfelt prayer that we can now make ours in joy.

About Francesco Follo

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