Luke Chapter 22-24
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Joyful acclamations at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, followed by his humiliation. Festive cries followed by brutal torture. This twofold mystery accompanies our entrance into Holy Week each year, as reflected in the two characteristic moments of today’s celebration: the initial procession with palm branches and the solemn reading of the Passion.
Let us enter into this movement, guided by the Holy Spirit, and thus obtain the grace we sought in our opening prayer: to follow in faith our Saviour’s example of humility, to heed his lesson of patient suffering, and thus to merit a share in his victory over the spirit of evil.
Jesus shows us how to face moments of difficulty and the most insidious of temptations by preserving in our hearts a peace that is neither detachment nor superhuman impassivity, but confident abandonment to the Father and to his saving will, which bestows life and mercy. He shows us this kind of abandonment by spurning, at every point in his earthly ministry, the temptation to do things his way and not in complete obedience to the Father. From the experience of his forty days in the desert to the culmination of his Passion, Jesus rejects this temptation by his obedient trust in the Father.
Today, too, by his entrance into Jerusalem, he shows us the way. For in that event, the evil one, the prince of this world, had a card up his sleeve: the card of triumphalism. Yet the Lord responded by holding fast to his own way, the way of humility.
Triumphalism tries to make it to the goal by shortcuts and false compromises. It wants to jump onto the carriage of the winner. It lives off gestures and words that are not forged in the crucible of the cross; it grows by looking askance at others and constantly judging them inferior, wanting, failures... One subtle form of triumphalism is spiritual worldliness, which represents the greatest danger, the most treacherous temptation threatening the Church (De Lubac). Jesus destroyed triumphalism by his Passion.
The Lord truly rejoiced with the people, with those young people who shouted out his name and acclaimed him as King and Messiah. His heart was gladdened to see the enthusiasm and excitement of the poor of Israel. So much so, that, to those Pharisees who asked him to rebuke his disciples for their scandalous acclamations, he replied: “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40). Humility does not mean denying reality: Jesus really is the Messiah, the King.
Yet at the same time the heart of Jesus was moving on another track, on the sacred path known to him and the Father alone: the path that leads from “the form of God” to “the form of a servant”, the path of self-abasement born of obedience “unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). He knows that true triumph involves making room for God and that the only way to do that is by stripping oneself, by self-emptying. To remain silent, to pray, to accept humiliation. There is no negotiating with the cross: one either embraces it or rejects it. By his self-abasement, Jesus wanted to open up to us the path of faith and to precede us on that path.
The first to follow him on that path was his mother, Mary, the first disciple. The Blessed Virgin and the saints had to suffer in walking the path of faith and obedience to God’s will. Responding with faith to the harsh and painful events of life entails “a particular heaviness of heart (cf. Redemptoris Mater, 17). The night of faith. Yet only from that night do we see the dawn of the resurrection break forth. At the foot of the cross, Mary thought once more of the words that the angel had spoken about her Son: “He will be great… The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33). On Golgotha, Mary faced the complete denial of that promise: her Son was dying on a cross like a criminal. In this way, triumphalism, destroyed by the abasement of Jesus, was likewise destroyed in the heart of his Mother. Both kept silent.
In the footsteps of Mary, countless holy men and women have followed Jesus on the path of humility and obedience. Today, World Youth Day, I would like to mention all those young saints, especially the saints “next door” to us, known only to God; sometimes he likes to surprise us with them. Dear young people, do not be ashamed to show your enthusiasm for Jesus, to shout out that he is alive and that he is your life. Yet at the same time, do not be afraid to follow him on the way of the cross. When you hear that he is asking you to renounce yourselves, to let yourselves be stripped of every security, and to entrust yourselves completely to our Father in heaven, then rejoice and exult! You are on the path of the kingdom of God.
Festive acclamations and brutal torture; the silence of Jesus throughout his Passion is profoundly impressive. He also overcomes the temptation to answer back, to act like a “superstar”. In moments of darkness and great tribulation, we need to keep silent, to find the courage not to speak, as long as our silence is meek and not full of anger. The meekness of silence will make us appear even weaker, more humble. Then the devil will take courage and come out into the open. We need to resist him in silence, “holding our position”, but with the same attitude as Jesus. He knows that the battle is between God and the prince of this world, and that what is important is not putting our hand to the sword but remaining firm in faith. It is God’s hour. At the hour that God comes forth to fight, we have to let him take over. Our place of safety will be beneath the mantle of the holy Mother of God. As we wait for the Lord to come and calm the storm (cf. Mt 4:37-41), by our silent witness in prayer we give ourselves and others “an accounting for the hope that is within [us]” (1 Pet 3:15). This will help us to live in the sacred tension between the memory of the promises made, the suffering present in the cross, and the hope of the resurrection.
now turn with affection and gratitude for this gift which he has given us. By this providential initiative, he gave us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our Baptism, which made us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church. A journey which has as its ultimate end our full encounter with God, and throughout which the Holy Spirit purifies us, lifts us up and sanctifies us, so that we may enter into the happiness for which our hearts long.
I offer a cordial and fraternal greeting to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches present. The exchange of peace which I will share with them is above all a sign of the appreciation of the Bishop of Rome for these communities which have confessed the name of Christ with exemplary faithfulness, often at a high price.
With this gesture, through them, I would like to reach all those Christians living in the Holy Land, in Syria and in the entire East, and obtain for them the gift of peace and concord.
The Scripture readings proclaimed to us have as their common theme the centrality of Christ. Christ is at the centre, Christ is the centre. Christ is the centre of creation, Christ is the centre of his people and Christ is the centre of history.
1. The apostle Paul, in the second reading, taken from the letter to the Colossians, offers us a profound vision of the centrality of Jesus. He presents Christ to us as the first-born of all creation: in him, through him and for him all things were created. He is the centre of all things, he is the beginning: Jesus Christ, the Lord. God has given him the fullness, the totality, so that in him all things might be reconciled (cf. Col 1:12-20). He is the Lord of creation, he is the Lord of reconciliation.
This image enables to see that Jesus is the centre of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. And so our thoughts will be Christian thoughts, thoughts of Christ. Our works will be Christian works, works of Christ; and our words will be Christian words, words of Christ. But when this centre is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves.
2. Besides being the centre of creation and the centre of reconciliation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. Today, he is here in our midst. He is here right now in his word, and he will be here on the altar, alive and present amid us, his people. We see this in the first reading which describes the time when the tribes of Israel came to look for David and anointed him king of Israel before the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-3). In searching for an ideal king, the people were seeking God himself: a God who would be close to them, who would accompany them on their journey, who would be a brother to them.
Christ, the descendant of King David, is really the “brother” around whom God’s people come together. It is he who cares for his people, for all of us, even at the price of his life. In him we are all one, one people, united with him and sharing a single journey, a single destiny. Only in him, in him as the centre, do we receive our identity as a people.
3. Finally, Christ is the centre of the history of humanity and also the centre of the history of every individual. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the centre, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel.
Whereas all the others treat Jesus with disdain – “If you are the Christ, the Messiah King, save yourself by coming down from the cross!” – the thief who went astray in his life but now repents, clings to the crucified Jesus and begs him: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). Jesus promises him: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43), in his kingdom. Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness, not of condemnation; whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard. Today we can all think of our own history, our own journey. Each of us has his or her own history: we think of our mistakes, our sins, our good times and our bleak times. We would do well, each one of us, on this day, to think about our own personal history, to look at Jesus and to keep telling him, sincerely and quietly: “Remember me, Lord, now that you are in your kingdom! Jesus, remember me, because I want to be good, but I just don’t have the strength: I am a sinner, I am a sinner. But remember me, Jesus! You can remember me because you are at the centre, you are truly in your kingdom!” How beautiful this is! Let us all do this today, each one of us in his or her own heart, again and again. “Remember me, Lord, you who are at the centre, you who are in your kingdom”.
Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more, he is so generous, he always gives more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his kingdom!
Let us ask the Lord to remember us, in the certainty that by his mercy we will be able to share his glory in paradise. Let us go forward together on this road!
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is the crown of the liturgical year and this Holy Year of Mercy. The Gospel in fact presents the kingship of Jesus as the culmination of his saving work, and it does so in a surprising way. “The Christ of God, the Chosen One, the King” (Lk 23:35,37) appears without power or glory: he is on the cross, where he seems more to be conquered than conqueror. His kingship is paradoxical: his throne is the cross; his crown is made of thorns; he has no sceptre, but a reed is put into his hand; he does not have luxurious clothing, but is stripped of his tunic; he wears no shiny rings on his fingers, but his hands are pierced with nails; he has no treasure, but is sold for thirty pieces of silver.
Jesus’ reign is truly not of this world (cf. Jn 18:36); but for this reason, Saint Paul tells us in the Second Reading, we find redemption and forgiveness (cf. Col 1:13-14). For the grandeur of his kingdom is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things. Christ lowered himself to us out of this love, he lived our human misery, he suffered the lowest point of our human condition: injustice, betrayal, abandonment; he experienced death, the tomb, hell. And so our King went to the ends of the universe in order to embrace and save every living being. He did not condemn us, nor did he conquer us, and he never disregarded our freedom, but he paved the way with a humble love that forgives all things, hopes all things, sustains all things (cf. 1 Cor 13:7). This love alone overcame and continues to overcome our worst enemies: sin, death, fear.
Dear brothers and sisters, today we proclaim this singular victory, by which Jesus became the King of every age, the Lord of history: with the sole power of love, which is the nature of God, his very life, and which has no end (cf. 1 Cor 13:8). We joyfully share the splendour of having Jesus as our King: his rule of love transforms sin into grace, death into resurrection, fear into trust.
It would mean very little, however, if we believed Jesus was King of the universe, but did not make him Lord of our lives: all this is empty if we do not personally accept Jesus and if we do not also accept his way of being King. The people presented to us in today’s Gospel, however, help us. In addition to Jesus, three figures appear: the people who are looking on, those near the cross, and the criminal crucified next to Jesus.
First, the people: the Gospel says that “the people stood by, watching” (Lk 23:35): no one says a word, no one draws any closer. The people keep their distance, just to see what is happening. They are the same people who were pressing in on Jesus when they needed something, and who now keep their distance. Given the circumstances of our lives and our unfulfilled expectations, we too can be tempted to keep our distance from Jesus’ kingship, to not accept completely the scandal of his humble love, which unsettles and disturbs us. We prefer to remain at the window, to stand apart, rather than draw near and be with him. A people who are holy, however, who have Jesus as their King, are called to follow his way of tangible love; they are called to ask themselves, each one each day: “What does love ask of me, where is it urging me to go? What answer am I giving Jesus with my life?”
There is a second group, which includes various individuals: the leaders of the people, the soldiers and a criminal. They all mock Jesus. They provoke him in the same way: “Save yourself!” (Lk 23:35,37,39). This temptation is worse than that of the people. They tempt Jesus, just as the devil did at the beginning of the Gospel (cf. Lk 4:1-13), to give up reigning as God wills, and instead to reign according to the world’s ways: to come down from the cross and destroy his enemies! If he is God, let him show his power and superiority! This temptation is a direct attack on love: “save yourself” (vv. 37,39); not others, but yourself. Claim triumph for yourself with your power, with your glory, with your victory. It is the most terrible temptation, the first and the last of the Gospel. When confronted with this attack on his very way of being, Jesus does not speak, he does not react. He does not defend himself, he does not try to convince them, he does not mount a defence of his kingship. He continues rather to love; he forgives, he lives this moment of trial according to the Father’s will, certain that love will bear fruit.
In order to receive the kingship of Jesus, we are called to struggle against this temptation, called to fix our gaze on the Crucified One, to become ever more faithful to him. How many times, even among ourselves, do we seek out the comforts and certainties offered by the world. How many times are we tempted to come down from the Cross. The lure of power and success seem an easy, quick way to spread the Gospel; we soon forget how the Kingdom of God works. This Year of Mercy invites us to rediscover the core, to return to what is essential. This time of mercy calls us to look to the true face of our King, the one that shines out at Easter, and to rediscover the youthful, beautiful face of the Church, the face that is radiant when it is welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means but rich in love, on mission. Mercy, which takes us to the heart of the Gospel, urges us to give up habits and practices which may be obstacles to serving the Kingdom of God; mercy urges us to orient ourselves only in the perennial and humble kingship of Jesus, not in submission to the precarious regalities and changing powers of every age.
In the Gospel another person appears, closer to Jesus, the thief who begs him: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). This person, simply looking at Jesus, believed in his kingdom. He was not closed in on himself, but rather – with his errors, his sins and his troubles – he turned to Jesus. He asked to be remembered, and he experienced God’s mercy: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). As soon as we give God the chance, he remembers us. He is ready to completely and forever cancel our sin, because his memory – unlike our own – does not record evil that has been done or keep score of injustices experienced. God has no memory of sin, but only of us, of each of us, we who are his beloved children. And he believes that it is always possible to start anew, to raise ourselves up.
Let us also ask for the gift of this open and living memory. Let us ask for the grace of never closing the doors of reconciliation and pardon, but rather of knowing how to go beyond evil and differences, opening every possible pathway of hope. As God believes in us, infinitely beyond any merits we have, so too we are called to instil hope and provide opportunities to others. Because even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy which is the heart of Christ always remains open wide for us. From the lacerated side of the Risen One until the very end of time flow mercy, consolation and hope.
So many pilgrims have crossed the threshold of the Holy Doors, and far away from the clamour of the daily news they have tasted the great goodness of the Lord. We give thanks for this, as we recall how we have received mercy in order to be merciful, in order that we too may become instruments of mercy. Let us go forward on this road together. May our Blessed Lady accompany us, she who was also close to the Cross, she who gave birth to us there as the tender Mother of the Church, who desires to gather all under her mantle. Beneath the Cross, she saw the good thief receive pardon, and she took Jesus’ disciple as her son. She is Mother of Mercy, to whom we entrust ourselves: every situation we are in, every prayer we make, when lifted up to his merciful eyes, will find an answer.
“Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power” (Lk 23:42).
On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, we join our voices to that of the criminal crucified beside Jesus, who acknowledged and acclaimed him a king. Amid cries of ridicule and humiliation, at the least triumphal and glorious moment possible, that thief was able to speak up and make his profession of faith. His were the last words Jesus heard, and Jesus’ own words in reply were the last he spoke before abandoning himself to the Father: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).
The chequered history of the thief seems, in an instant, to take on new meaning: he was meant to be there to accompany the Lord’s suffering. And that moment does nothing more than confirm the entire meaning of Jesus’ life: always and everywhere to offer salvation. The attitude of the good thief makes the horror and injustice of Calvary – where helplessness and incomprehension are met with jeers and mockery from those indifferent to the death of an innocent man – become a message of hope for all humanity. “Save yourself!” The shouts of scornful derision addressed to the innocent victim of suffering will not be the last word; rather, they will awaken a response from those who let their hearts be touched, who choose compassion as the authentic way to shape history.
Today, in this place, we want to renew our faith and our commitment. We know too well the history of our failures, sins and limitations, even as the good thief did, but we do not want them to be what determines or defines our present and future. We know how readily all of us can take the easy route of shouting out: “Save yourself!” and choose not to think about our responsibility to alleviate the suffering of innocent people all around us. This land has experienced, as few countries have, the destructive power of which we humans are capable. Like the good thief, we want to speak up and profess our faith, to defend and assist the Lord, the innocent man of sorrows. We want to accompany him in his ordeal, to stand by him in his isolation and abandonment, and to hear once more that salvation is the word the Father desires to speak to all: “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.
Saint Paul Miki and his companions gave their lives in courageous witness to that salvation and certainty, along with the hundreds of martyrs whose witness is a distinguished element of your spiritual heritage. We want to follow in their path, to walk in their footsteps and to profess courageously that the love poured out in sacrifice for us by Christ crucified is capable of overcoming all manner of hatred, selfishness, mockery and evasion. It is capable of defeating all those forms of facile pessimism or comfortable indolence that paralyze good actions and decisions. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, they are sadly mistaken who believe that, because we have here no lasting city and keep our gaze fixed on the future, we can ignore our responsibility for the world in which we live. They fail to see that the very faith we profess obliges us to live and work in a way that points to the noble vocation to which we have been called (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 43).
Our faith is in the God of the living. Christ is alive and at work in our midst, leading all of us to the fullness of life. He is alive and wants us to be alive; he is our hope (cf. Christus Vivit, 1). Each day we pray: Lord, may your kingdom come. With these words, we want our own lives and actions to become a hymn of praise. If, as missionary disciples, our mission is to be witnesses and heralds of things to come, we cannot become resigned in the face of evil in any of its forms. Rather, we are called to be a leaven of Christ’s Kingdom wherever we find ourselves: in the family, at work or in society at large. We are to be a little opening through which the Spirit continues to breathe hope among peoples. The kingdom of heaven is our common goal, a goal that cannot be only about tomorrow. We have to implore it and begin to experience it today, amid the indifference that so often surrounds and silences the sick and disabled, the elderly and the abandoned, refugees and immigrant workers. All of them are a living sacrament of Christ our King (cf. Mt25:31-46). For “if we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified” (John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49).
On that day at Calvary, many voices remained silent; others jeered. Only the thief’s voice rose to the defence of the innocent victim of suffering. His was a brave profession of faith. Each of us has the same possibility: we can choose to remain silent, to jeer or to prophesy.
Dear brothers and sisters, Nagasaki bears in its soul a wound difficult to heal, a scar born of the incomprehensible suffering endured by so many innocent victims of wars past and those of the present, when a third World War is being waged piecemeal. Let us lift our voices here and pray together for all those who even now are suffering in their flesh from this sin that cries out to heaven. May more and more persons be like the good thief and choose not to remain silent and jeer, but bear prophetic witness instead to a kingdom of truth and justice, of holiness and grace, of love and peace (cf. Roman Missal, Preface of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
On Calvary, two ways of thinking collided. In the Gospel, the words of the crucified Jesus are in sharp contrast with the words of those who crucified him. The latter keep saying: “Save yourself”. The leaders of the people said: “Let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One” (Lk 23:35). The soldiers said the same thing: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (v. 37). Finally, one of the criminals, echoing their words, said to him: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself” (v. 39). Save yourself. Take care of yourself. Think of yourself. Not of others, but only of your own well-being, your own success, your own interests: your possessions, your power, your image. Save yourself. This is the constant refrain of the world that crucified the Lord. Let us think about it.
Against this self-centred mindset is God’s way of thinking. The mantra “save yourself” collides with the words of the Saviour who offers his self. Like his adversaries, Jesus speaks three times in today’s Gospel (cf. vv. 34.43.46). Yet he did not claim anything for himself; indeed, he did not even defend or justify himself. He prayed to the Father and offered mercy to the good thief. One of his words, in particular, marked the difference with regard to the mantra “save yourself”. He said: “Father, forgive them” (v. 34).
Let us reflect on the Lord’s words. When did he say them? At a very specific moment: while he was being crucified, as he felt the nails piercing his wrists and feet. Let us try to imagine the excruciating pain he suffered. At that moment, amid the most searing physical pain of his Passion, Christ asked forgiveness for those who were piercing him. At times like that, we would scream out and give vent to all our anger and suffering. But Jesus said: Father, forgive them.
Unlike the other martyrs about whom the Bible speaks (cf. 2 Mac 7:18-19), Jesus did not rebuke his executioners or threaten punishments in the name of God; rather, he prayed for the evildoers. Fastened to the gibbet of humiliation, his attitude of giving became that of forgiving.
Brothers and sisters, God does the same thing with us. When we cause suffering by our actions, God suffers yet has only one desire: to forgive us. In order to appreciate this, let us gaze upon the crucified Lord. It is from his painful wounds, from the streams of blood caused by the nails of our sinfulness that forgiveness gushes forth. Let us look to Jesus on the cross and realize that greater words were never spoken: Father, forgive. Let us look to Jesus on the cross and realize that we have never been looked upon with a more gentle and compassionate gaze. Let us look to Jesus on the cross and understand that we have never received a more loving embrace. Let us look to the crucified Lord and say: “Thank you, Jesus: you love me and always forgive me, even at those times when I find it hard to love and forgive myself”.
There, as he was being crucified, at the height of his pain, Jesus himself obeyed the most demanding of his commandments: that we love our enemies. Let us think about someone who, in our own lives, injured, offended or disappointed us; someone who made us angry, who did not understand us or who set a bad example. How often we spend time looking back on those who have wronged us! How often we think back and lick the wounds that other people, life itself and history have inflicted on us. Today, Jesus teaches us not to remain there, but to react, to break the vicious circle of evil and sorrow. To react to the nails in our lives with love, to the buffets of hatred with the embrace of forgiveness. As disciples of Jesus, do we follow the Master or do we follow our own desire to strike back? This is a question we have to ask ourselves. Do we follow the Master or not?
If we want to test whether we truly belong to Christ, let us look at how we behave toward those who have hurt us. The Lord asks us to respond not as we feel, or as everyone else does, but in the way he acts toward us. He asks us to break out of the mindset that says: “I will love you if you love me; I will be your friend if you are my friend; I will help you if you help me”. Rather, we are to show compassion and mercy to everyone, for God sees a son or a daughter in each person. He does not separate us into good and bad, friends and enemies. We are the ones who do this, and we make God suffer. For him, all of us are his beloved children, children whom he desires to embrace and forgive. Just as in the parable of the wedding feast, where the father of the groom sends his servants into the streets and says: “Invite everybody: white, black, good and bad, everybody, the healthy, the sick, everybody…” (cf. Mt 22:9-10). The love of Jesus is for everyone; everyone has the same privilege: that of being loved and forgiven.
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. According to the Gospel, Jesus “kept saying” this (cf. v. 34). He did not say it once for all as he was being nailed to the cross; instead, he spent all his time on the cross with these words on his lips and in his heart. God never tires of forgiving. We need to understand this, not just in our minds, but also in our hearts. God never tires of forgiving. We are the ones who get tired of asking forgiveness. But he never tires of forgiving. He does not put up with us for a while and then change his mind, as we are tempted to do. Jesus – so the Gospel of Luke teaches us – came into the world to bring us forgiveness for our sins (cf. Lk 1:77). In the end, he gave us a clear command: to proclaim forgiveness of sins to everyone in his name (cf. Lk 24:47). Let us never grow tired of proclaiming God’s forgiveness: we priests, of administering it; all Christians, of receiving it and bearing witness to it. Let us never grow tired when it comes to God’s forgiveness.
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Let us observe one more thing. Jesus not only asked that they be forgiven, but also mentioned the reason why: for they know not what they do. How could that be? Those who crucified him had premeditated his killing, organized his arrest and trials, and now they were standing on Calvary to witness his death. Yet Christ justifies those violent men by saying: they know not. That is how Jesus acts in our regard: he makes himself our advocate. He does not set himself against us, but for us and against our sins. His words make us think: for they know not. It is the ignorance of the heart, which all of us have as sinners.
When we resort to violence, we show that we no longer know anything about God, who is our Father, or even about others, who are our brothers and sisters. We lose sight of why we are in the world and even end up committing senseless acts of cruelty. We see this in the folly of war, where Christ is crucified yet another time. Christ is once more nailed to the Cross in mothers who mourn the unjust death of husbands and sons. He is crucified in refugees who flee from bombs with children in their arms. He is crucified in the elderly left alone to die; in young people deprived of a future; in soldiers sent to kill their brothers and sisters. Christ is being crucified there, today.
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Many people heard these extraordinary words, but only one person responded to them. He was a criminal, crucified next to Jesus. We can imagine that the mercy of Christ stirred up in him one last hope and led him to speak these words: “Jesus, remember me” (Lk 23:42). As if to say: “Everyone else has forgotten me, yet you keep thinking of those who crucify you. With you, then, there is also a place for me”. The good thief accepted God as his life was ending, and in this way, his life began anew. In the hell of this world, he saw heaven opening up: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). This is the marvel of God’s forgiveness, which turned the last request of a man condemned to death into the first canonization of history.
Brothers and sisters, in the course of this week, let us cling to the certainty that God can forgive every sin. He forgives everyone. He can bridge every distance, and turn all mourning into dancing (cf. Ps 30:12). The certainty that with Jesus there is always a place for everyone. That with Christ things are never over. That with him, it is never too late. With God, we can always come back to life. Take courage! Let us journey toward Easter with his forgiveness. For Christ constantly intercedes for us before the Father (cf. Heb 7:25). Gazing upon our violent and tormented world, he never tires of repeating: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Let us now do the same, in silence, in our hearts, and repeat: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
We have seen this young man, Stefano, who has asked to receive the ministry of acolyte as part of his preparation for the priesthood. We should pray for him, so that he will persevere in his vocation and be faithful; but we should also pray for this Church of Asti, that the Lord will send priestly vocations, since, as you see, the majority are elderly, like myself: there is a need for young priests, like some of those here who are very fine. Let us ask the Lord to bless this land.
From these lands, my father set out as an immigrant to Argentina, and to these lands, rendered precious by the rich fruits of the soil and above all by the native industriousness of their people, I have now returned to rediscover and savour my roots. Today too, the Gospel brings us back to the roots of our faith. Those roots are planted in the barren soil of Calvary, where Jesus, like the seed that falls to the earth and dies, made hope spring up. Planted in the heart of the earth, he opened the way to heaven; by his death, he gave us eternal life; from the wood of the cross, he brought us the fruits of salvation. Let us then gaze upon him, the Crucified One.
On the cross, we see a single phrase: “This is the King of the Jews” (Lk 23:38). That is Jesus’ title: he is a king. Yet as we gaze upon him, our idea of a king is turned upside down. When we try to visualize a king, what comes to mind is a powerful man seated on a throne with magnificent insignia, a sceptre in his hand and precious rings on his fingers, speaking in solemn tones to his subjects. That, more or less, is what we imagine. Looking at Jesus, though, we see the complete opposite. He is not comfortably enthroned, but hanging on a gibbet. The God who “casts down the mighty from their thrones” (Lk 1:52) appears as a slave executed by those in power. Appareled only with nails and thorns, stripped of everything yet rich in love, from his throne on the cross he no longer teaches the crowds by his words; he no longer lifts his hands as a teacher. He does more: pointing a finger at no one, he opens his arms to all. That is how he shows himself to be our king: with open arms, a brasa aduerte.
Only by entering into his embrace do we understand: we come to realize that God went to this extreme, even to the paradox of the cross, in order to embrace every one of us, no matter how far distant we may be from him: he embraces our death, our pain, our poverty, our weakness. He embraced all of it. He became a slave so that each of us could become a son. By his becoming a slave, he purchased our sonship. He let himself be insulted and derided, so that whenever we are brought low, we will never feel alone. He let himself be stripped of his garments, so that no one would ever feel stripped of his or her rightful dignity. He ascended the cross, so that God would be present in every crucified man or woman throughout history. This is our king, the king of the universe, for he journeyed to the furthest confines of our human experience, entered into the black hole of hatred, the black hole of abandonment, in order to bring light to every life and to embrace all reality. My brothers and sisters, this is the king whom today we acclaim! His is not a kingship easy to understand. And the question we ought to be asking is this: Is this king of the universe also the king of my life? Do I believe in him. How can I celebrate him as the Lord of all creation, unless he also becomes the Lord of my life? And you (turning to Stefano), who are setting out on the path to priesthood, don’t forget that this is your model: don’t cling to honours. Unless you are planning to be a priest like this king, it is better to stop now.
So let us look once more upon the crucified Jesus. Let us look at him. He does not look at our life only for a brief moment, or give us the same kind of fleeting glance that we so often give him. No, he stays there, a brasa aduerte, to say to you in silence that nothing about you is foreign to him, that he wants to embrace you, to lift you up and to save you just as you are, with your past history, your failings and your sins. “But Lord, is this true, that you love me with all my failings?” Right now, let us think about our own personal poverty: “Lord, do you love me with this spiritual poverty and all these limitations?” And the Lord smiles and makes us understand that he loves us and gave his life for us.
Let us think of our own limitations, but also of the good things. He loves us as we are, as we are right now. He gives us a chance to reign in this life, if only you surrender to his meek love that proposes but never imposes, a love that always forgives you. So often we tire of forgiving; we make the sign of the cross and turn our backs on that person. Jesus never tires of forgiving, never. He always sets you on your feet; he always restores your royal dignity. Where does salvation come from? It comes from letting ourselves be loved by him, for only in this way are we freed from slavery to ourselves, from the fear of being alone, from thinking that we cannot succeed. My brothers and sisters, let us often stand before the crucified Lord and allow ourselves to be loved, because those brasa aduerte also open heaven to us, as they did to the good thief. Let us hear, addressed to us, the only words that Jesus today speaks from the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). That is what God wants to tell us whenever we let him gaze upon us. Then we realize that ours is not an “unknown God”, up in the heavens, powerful and distant, but rather a God who is close: closeness is God’s “style”, closeness with tenderness and mercy. Tenderness and compassion; his open arms console and caress us. That is our king!
Brothers and sisters, once we have gazed upon him, what can we do? Today’s Gospel sets before us two paths: faced with Jesus, there are those who become onlookers and others who get involved. The onlookers are many, the majority. Seeing someone die on a cross was a spectacle. The text tells us this: “The people stood by, watching” (v. 35). They were not bad people: many of them were believers, but at the sight of the crucified Lord they remain onlookers: they do not take a step forward towards Jesus, but look upon him from afar, curious yet indifferent, without really being interested, without asking themselves what they could do. They would have made their comments, expressed their judgements and opinions; some of them would have grieved, others considered him innocent, but all of them stood by and looked on, hand-in-hand, arms linked. Yet closer to the cross there were other onlookers: the leaders of the people, there to watch the grim spectacle of the ignominious end of the Christ; the soldiers, who hoped that the execution would be over quickly so they could go home; and one of the criminals, who releases all his rage. They mock, they jeer, they vent their anger.
All these onlookers share a refrain that the text repeats three times: “If you are a king, then save yourself!” (cf. vv. 35, 37, 39). Save yourself! That is how they insult him; they challenge him! It is precisely the opposite of what Jesus is doing: he thinks not of saving himself, but of saving them. Yet those insulting words – “save yourself!” – are contagious; they spread from the leaders to the soldiers and then to the people; the ripple of evil reaches almost everyone there. Think about it: evil is contagious. Like an infectious disease, we catch it immediately. All those people talk about Jesus, but not for a second do they empathize with him. They stand apart and talk.
Such is the lethal infection of indifference. “This has nothing to do with me.” Indifference to Jesus, indifference to the sick, the poor, the destitute of the land. I like to ask people, and I would now ask each of you: when you give money to the poor, do you look them in the eye. Do you do that? Do you simply throw them a coin, or do you touch their outstretched hand? Are you capable of touching human pain? Today let each of us answer that question.
Those people were indifferent. They talk about Jesus, but they do not empathize with him. This is the lethal infection of indifference; it stands aloof from the misery of others. The wave of evil always swells like this: it starts with standing apart, watching without doing anything, being unconcerned; then we think only of what has to do with us and we grow used to turning aside. It is also a danger for our faith, which withers if it remains merely a theory and is not put into practice, if we remain detached, aloof and uninvolved. Then we become “rosewater Christians”, as we used to say at home. They say they believe in God and want peace, but neither pray nor care for their neighbor. Christians in name, shallow!
That was the evil way, there at Calvary. Yet there is another path: that of goodness. Amid all those onlookers, one person does get involved: the good thief. The others mock the Lord, but he turns to him and calls him by name: “Jesus”. That is all he asks of the Lord. A fine prayer that each of us can recite daily as a path to holiness. “Jesus, remember me!” Many jeer at Jesus, but he confesses his faults to Jesus. Many shout: “Save yourself!”, but he begs: “Jesus, remember me” (v. 42). In this way, a criminal becomes the first saint: he draws near to Jesus for an instant and the Lord keeps him at his side forever. The Gospel speaks of the good thief for our benefit: to invite us to overcome evil by refusing to remain as onlookers. Please, indifference is worse than evildoing. So where do we begin? With trust, with calling upon God by name, exactly as the good thief did. At the end of his life, he discovered anew the fearless confidence of children, who trust, and ask, and keep asking. In confidence and trust, he admits his faults; he weeps not for himself, but in the presence of the Lord. What about us? Do we have that same trust? Do we bring to Jesus what we hold in the depths of our hearts, or do we mask ourselves before God, perhaps even with a bit of ritual and incense? Please, this kind of “cosmetic” spirituality is tedious. Before God, our souls should be simple and unadorned, just the way they are; salvation comes from that. Those who practise confident trust, like the good thief, learn to intercede; they learn to bring to God what they see all around them, the sufferings of the world, the people they meet, and say to him, like the good thief: “Remember, Lord!” We are not in this world just to save ourselves, but to bring our brothers and sisters into the embrace of our king. Intercession, asking the Lord to remember, opens the gates of heaven. When we pray, do we intercede? “Lord, remember me, remember my family, remember this problem…” Attract the Lord’s attention.
Brothers, sisters, today, from the cross, our king looks upon us a brasa aduerte. It is up to us to choose whether we will be onlookers or involved. What will I be? We see the crises of the present time, the decline of faith, the lack of participation… What are we to do? Are we content to theorize and criticize, or do we roll up our sleeves, take life in hand, and pass from taking refuge in excuses to the commitment of prayer and service? All of us think we know what is wrong with society, with the world, and with the Church. We talk about it all day long, but then what do we do? Do we soil our hands like our God, nailed to the cross? Or do we stand with hands in our pockets, as mere onlookers? Today, as Jesus, naked on the cross, unveils God and destroys every false image of his kingship, let us look to him and thus find the courage to look at ourselves, to follow the path of confident trust and intercession, and to make servants of ourselves, in order to reign with him. “Remember, Lord! Remember!” Let us make this more often our prayer. Thank you.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” ( Lk 23:46). These were the final words spoken by the Lord on the cross; his last breath, as it were, which summed up what had been his entire life: a ceaseless self-entrustment into the hands of his Father. His were hands of forgiveness and compassion, healing and mercy, anointing and blessing, which led him also to entrust himself into the hands of his brothers and sisters. The Lord, open to the individuals and their stories that he encountered along the way, allowed himself to be shaped by the Father’s will. He shouldered all the consequences and hardships entailed by the Gospel, even to seeing his hands pierced for love. “See my hands”, he says to Thomas ( Jn 20:27), and to each of us: “See my hands”. Pierced hands that constantly reach out to us, inviting us to recognize the love that God has for us and to believe in it (cf. 1 Jn 4:16). 
“Father into your hands I commend my spirit”. This is the invitation and the programme of life that he quietly inspires in us. Like a potter (cf. Is 29:16), he wishes to shape the heart of every pastor, until it is attuned to the heart of Christ Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5). Attuned in grateful devotion, in service to the Lord and to his people, a service born of thanksgiving for a completely gracious gift: “You belong to me… you belong to them”, the Lord whispers, “you are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. Stay in my hands and give me yours”.  Here we see the “condescension” and closeness of God, who is ready to entrust himself to the frail hands of his disciples, so that they can feed his people and say with him: Take and eat, take and drink, for this is my body which is given up for you (cf. Lk 22:19). The total synkatabasis of God.
Attuned in prayerful devotion, a devotion silently shaped and refined amid the challenges and resistance that every pastor must face (cf. 1 Pet 1:6-7) in trusting obedience to the Lord’s command to feed his flock (cf. Jn 21:17 ). Like the Master, a shepherd bears the burden of interceding and the strain of anointing his people, especially in situations where goodness must struggle to prevail and the dignity of our brothers and sisters is threatened (cf. Heb 5:7-9). In the course of this intercession, the Lord quietly bestows the spirit of meekness that is ready to understand, accept, hope and risk, notwithstanding any misunderstandings that might result. It is the source of an unseen and elusive fruitfulness, born of his knowing the One in whom he has placed his trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:12). A trust itself born of prayer and adoration, capable of discerning what is expected of a pastor and shaping his heart and his decisions in accord with God’s good time (cf. Jn 21:18): “Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his presence”. 
Attuned also in devotion sustained by the consolation of the Spirit, who always precedes the pastor in his mission. In his passionate effort to communicate the beauty and the joy of the Gospel (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 57). In the fruitful witness of all those who, like Mary, in so many ways stand at the foot of the cross. In the painful yet steadfast serenity that neither attacks nor coerces. In the stubborn but patient hope that the Lord will be faithful to his promise, the promise he made to our fathers and to their descendants forever (cf. Lk 1:54-55).
Holding fast to the Lord’s last words and to the witness of his entire life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his steps and to commend our brother into the hands of the Father. May those merciful hands find his lamp alight with the oil of the Gospel that he spread and testified to for his entire life (cf. Mt 25:6-7).
At the end of his Pastoral Rule, Saint Gregory the Great urged a friend to offer him this spiritual accompaniment: “Amid the shipwreck of the present life, sustain me, I beseech you, by the plank of your prayer, that, since my own weight sinks me down, the hand of your merit will raise me up”. Here we see the awareness of a pastor who cannot carry alone what in truth he could never carry alone, and can thus commend himself to the prayers and the care of the people entrusted to him.  God’s faithful people, gathered here, now accompanies and entrusts to him the life of the one who was their pastor. Like the women at the tomb, we too have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope, in order to show him once more the love that is undying. We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years. Together, we want to say: “Father, into your hands we commend his spirit”.
Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever!
 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1.
 Cf. ID., Homily for the Chrism Mass, 13 April 2006.
 ID., Homily for the Beginning of the Pontificate, 24 April 2005.
1. In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3). They go to perform an act of compassion, a traditional act of affection and love for a dear departed person, just as we would. They had followed Jesus, they had listened to his words, they had felt understood by him in their dignity and they had accompanied him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when he was taken down from the cross. We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises. Dear brothers and sisters, we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us! The Lord is like that.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.
2. But let us return to the Gospel, to the women, and take one step further. They find the tomb empty, the body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened, but all this still doesn’t tell them anything certain: it raises questions; it leaves them confused, without offering an answer. And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6). What was a simple act, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event. Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind. Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive! He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God (cf. Num 14:21-28; Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10). Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; Jesus is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you dear sister, for you dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness... and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive! Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.
3. There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil. The women encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: “they were terrified and bowed their faced to the ground”, Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look. But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith. And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something of crucial importance: remember. “Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee… And they remembered his words” (Lk 24:6,8). This is the invitation to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember his words, his actions, his life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.
On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in his Resurrection. May he open us to the newness that transforms, to the beautiful surprises of God. May he make us men and women capable of remembering all that he has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May he help us to feel his presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst. And may he teach us each day, dear brothers and sisters, not to look among the dead for the Living One. Amen.
“Peter ran to the tomb” (Lk 24:12). What thoughts crossed Peter’s mind and stirred his heart as he ran to the tomb? The Gospel tells us that the eleven, including Peter, had not believed the testimony of the women, their Easter proclamation. Quite the contrary, “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). Thus there was doubt in Peter’s heart, together with many other worries: sadness at the death of the beloved Master and disillusionment for having denied him three times during his Passion.
There is, however, something which signals a change in him: after listening to the women and refusing to believe them, “Peter rose” (v. 12). He did not remain sedentary, in thought; he did not stay at home as the others did. He did not succumb to the sombre atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts. He was not consumed by remorse, fear or the continuous gossip that leads nowhere. He was looking for Jesus, not himself. He preferred the path of encounter and trust. And so, he got up, just as he was, and ran towards the tomb from where he would return “amazed” (v. 12). This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it.
The women too, who had gone out early in the morning to perform a work of mercy, taking the perfumed ointments to the tomb, had the same experience. They were “frightened and bowed their faces”, and yet they were deeply affected by the words of the angel: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v. 5).
We, like Peter and the women, cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope. Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord – each of us knows what they are – so that he may enter and grant us life. Let us give him the stones of our rancour and the boulders of our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls. Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish. This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the centre of our lives.
We see and will continue to see problems both within and without. They will always be there. But tonight it is important to shed the light of the Risen Lord upon our problems, and in a certain sense, to “evangelize” them. To evangelize our problems. Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control us; we must cry out to them: the Lord “is not here, but has risen!” (v. 6). He is our greatest joy; he is always at our side and will never let us down.
This is the foundation of our hope, which is not mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous. Christian hope is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him. This hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). The Paraclete does not make everything look appealing. He does not remove evil with a magic wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, conquered death and conquered fear. Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his love (cf. Rom 8:39).
The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living. After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. There is so necessary today. However, we must not proclaim ourselves. Rather, as joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love; otherwise we will be only an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.
How can we strengthen our hope? The liturgy of this night offers some guidance. It teaches us to remember the works of God. The readings describe God’s faithfulness, the history of his love towards us. The living word of God is able to involve us in this history of love, nourishing our hope and renewing our joy. The Gospel also reminds us of this: in order to kindle hope in the hearts of the women, the angel tells them: “Remember what [Jesus] told you” (v. 6). Remember the words of Jesus, remember all that he has done in our lives. Let us not forget his words and his works, otherwise we will lose hope and become “hopeless” Christians. Let us instead remember the Lord, his goodness and his life-giving words which have touched us. Let us remember them and make them ours, to be sentinels of the morning who know how to help others see the signs of the Risen Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! And we have the possibility of opening our hearts and receiving his gift of hope. Let us open our hearts to hope and go forth. May the memory of his works and his words be the bright star which directs our steps in the ways of faith towards that Easter that will have no end.
The women bring spices to the tomb, but they fear that their journey is in vain, since a large stone bars the entrance to the sepulchre. The journey of those women is also our own journey; it resembles the journey of salvation that we have made this evening. At times, it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people. So too, in the history of the Church and in our own personal history. It seems that the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life.
Today however we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5). Why do you think that everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones? Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment. Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones. So let us first ask: What is the stone that I need to remove, what is its name?
Often what blocks hope is the stone of discouragement. Once we start thinking that everything is going badly and that things can’t get worse, we lose heart and come to believe that death is stronger than life. We become cynical, negative and despondent. Stone upon stone, we build within ourselves a monument to our own dissatisfaction: the sepulchre of hope. Life becomes a succession of complaints and we grow sick in spirit. A kind of tomb psychology takes over: everything ends there, with no hope of emerging alive. But at that moment, we hear once more the insistent question of Easter: Why do you seek the living among the dead? The Lord is not to be found in resignation. He is risen; he is not there. Don’t seek him where you will never find him: he is not the God of the dead but of the living (cf. Mk 22:32). Do not bury hope!
There is another stone that often seals the heart shut: the stone of sin. Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away. Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God’s light from entering in? Why not prefer Jesus, the true light (cf. Jn1:9), to the glitter of wealth, career, pride and pleasure? Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?
Let us return to the women who went to Jesus’ tomb. They halted in amazement before the stone that was taken away. Seeing the angels, they stood there, the Gospel tells us, “frightened, and bowed their faces to the ground” (Lk 24:5). They did not have the courage to look up. How often do we do the same thing? We prefer to remain huddled within our shortcomings, cowering in our fears. It is odd, but why do we do this? Not infrequently because, glum and closed up within ourselves, we feel in control, for it is easier to remain alone in the darkness of our heart than to open ourselves to the Lord. Yet only he can raise us up. A poet once wrote: “We never know how high we are. Till we are called to rise” (E. Dickinson). The Lord calls us to get up, to rise at his word, to look up and to realize that we were made for heaven, not for earth, for the heights of life and not for the depths of death: Why do you seek the living among the dead?
God asks us to view life as he views it, for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty. In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived. Do not fear, then: the Lord loves your life, even when you are afraid to look at it and take it in hand. In Easter he shows you how much he loves that life: even to the point of living it completely, experiencing anguish, abandonment, death and hell, in order to emerge triumphant to tell you: “You are not alone; put your trust in me!”.
Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing (cf. Ps 30:11). With him, we too can experience a Pasch, that is, a Passover– from self-centredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change. Let us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I looking? Am I gazing at graveyards, or looking for the Living One?
Why do you seek the living among the dead? The women hear the words of the angels, who go on to say: “Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee” (Lk 24:6). Those woman had lost hope, because they could not recall the words of Jesus, his call that took place in Galilee. Having lost the living memory of Jesus, they kept looking at the tomb. Faith always needs to go back to Galilee, to reawaken its first love for Jesus and his call: to remember him, to turn back to him with all our mind and all our heart. To return to a lively love of the Lord is essential. Otherwise, ours is a “museum” faith, not an Easter faith. Jesus is not a personage from the past; he is a person living today. We do not know him from history books; we encounter him in life. Today, let us remember how Jesus first called us, how he overcame our darkness, our resistance, our sins, and how he touched our hearts with his word.
The women, remembering Jesus, left the tomb. Easter teaches us that believers do not linger at graveyards, for they are called to go forth to meet the Living One. Let us ask ourselves : In my life, where am I going? Sometimes we go only in the direction of our problems, of which there are plenty, and go to the Lord only for help. But then, it is our own needs, not Jesus, to guide our steps. We keep seeking the Living One among the dead. Or again, how many times, once we have encountered the Lord, do we return to the dead, digging up regrets, reproaches, hurts and dissatisfactions, without letting the Risen One change us?
Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the centre of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear. Let us seek him in all things and above all things. With him, we will rise again.
Many writers have evoked the beauty of starlit nights. The nights of war, however, are riven by streams of light that portend death. On this night, brothers and sisters, let us allow the women of the Gospel to lead us by the hand, so that, with them, we may glimpse the first rays of the dawn of God’s life rising in the darkness of our world. As the shadows of night were dispelled before the quiet coming of the light, the women set out for the tomb, to anoint the body of Jesus. There they had a disconcerting experience. First, they discovered that the tomb was empty; then they saw two figures in dazzling garments who told them that Jesus was risen. Immediately they ran back to proclaim the news to the other disciples (cf. Lk 24:1-10). They saw, they heard, they proclaimed. With these three verbs, may we too enter into the passover of the Lord from death to life.
The women saw. The first proclamation of the resurrection was not a statement to be unpacked, but a sign to be contemplated. In a burial ground, near a grave, in a place where everything should be orderly and peaceful, the women “found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they went in, they did not find the body” (vv. 2-3). Easter begins by upsetting our expectations. It comes with the gift of a hope that surprises and amazes us. Yet it is not easy to welcome that gift. At times – we must admit – this hope does not find a place in our hearts. Like the women in the Gospel, we are overtaken by questions and doubts, and our first reaction before the unexpected sign is one of fear: “They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground” (v. 5).
All too often we look at life and reality with downcast eyes; we fix our gaze only on this passing day, disenchanted by the future, concerned only with ourselves and our needs, settled into the prison of our apathy, even as we keep complaining that things will never change. In this way, we halt before the tomb of resignation and fatalism, and we bury the joy of living. Yet tonight the Lord wants to give us different eyes, alive with hope that fear, pain and death will not have the last word over us. Thanks to Jesus’ paschal mystery, we can make the leap from nothingness to life. “Death will no longer be able to rob our life” (K. RAHNER), for that life is now completely and eternally embraced by the boundless love of God. True, death can fill us with dread; it can paralyze us. But the Lord is risen! Let us lift up our gaze, remove the veil of sadness and sorrow from our eyes, and open our hearts to the hope that God brings!
In the second place, the women heard. After they had seen the empty tomb, the two men in dazzling garments said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (vv. 5-6). We do well to listen to those words and to repeat them: He is not here! Whenever we think we have understood everything there is to know about God, and can pigeonhole him in our own ideas and categories, let us repeat to ourselves: He is not here! Whenever we seek him only in times of emotion, so often passing, and moments of need, only to set him aside and forget about him in the rest of our daily life and decisions, let us repeat: He is not here! And whenever we think we can imprison him in our words, in our formulas, and in our customary ways of thinking and acting, and neglect to seek him in the darkest corners of life, where there are people who weep, who struggle, suffer and hope, let us repeat: He is not here!
May we too hear the question asked of the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” We cannot celebrate Easter if we continue to be dead; if we remain prisoners of the past; if in our lives we lack the courage to let ourselves be forgiven by God who forgives everything, the courage to change, to break with the works of evil, to decide for Jesus and his love. If we continue to reduce faith to a talisman, making God a lovely memory from times past, instead of encountering him today as the living God who desires to change us and to change our world. A Christianity that seeks the Lord among the ruins of the past and encloses him in the tomb of habit is a Christianity without Easter. Yet the Lord is risen! Let us not tarry among the tombs, but run to find him, the Living One! Nor may we be afraid to seek him also in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the stories of those who hope and dream, in the pain of those who we suffer: God is there!
Finally, the women proclaimed. What did they proclaim? The joy of the resurrection. Easter did not occur simply to console those who mourned the death of Jesus, but to open hearts to the extraordinary message of God’s triumph over evil and death. The light of the resurrection was not meant to let the women bask in a transport of joy, but to generate missionary disciples who “return from the tomb” (v. 9) in order to bring to all the Gospel of the risen Christ. That is why, after seeing and hearing, the women ran to proclaim to the disciples the joy of the resurrection. They knew that the others might think they were mad; indeed, the Gospel says that the women’s words “seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). Yet those women were not concerned for their reputation, for preserving their image; they did not contain their emotions or measure their words. They had only the fire in their hearts with which to bear the news, the proclamation: “The Lord is risen!”
And how beautiful is a Church that can run this way through the streets of our world! Without fear, without schemes and stratagems, but solely with the desire to lead everyone to the joy of the Gospel. That is what we are called to do: to experience the risen Christ and to share the experience with others; to roll away the stone from the tomb where we may have enclosed the Lord, in order to spread his joy in the world. Let us make Jesus, the Living One, rise again from all those tombs in which we have sealed him. Let us set him free from the narrow cells in which we have so often imprisoned him. Let us awaken from our peaceful slumber and let him disturb and inconvenience us. Let us bring him into our everyday lives: through gestures of peace in these days marked by the horrors of war, through acts of reconciliation amid broken relationships, acts of compassion towards those in need, acts of justice amid situations of inequality and of truth in the midst of lies. And above all, through works of love and fraternity.
Brothers and sisters our hope has a name: the name of Jesus. He entered the tomb of our sin; he descended to those depths where we feel most lost; he wove his way through the tangles of our fears, bore the weight of our burdens and from the dark abyss of death restored us to life and turned our mourning into joy. Let us celebrate Easter with Christ! He is alive! Today, too, he walks in our midst, changes us and sets us free. Thanks to him, evil has been robbed of its power; failure can no longer hold us back from starting anew; and death has become a passage to the stirrings of new life. For with Jesus, the Risen Lord, no night will last forever; and even in the darkest night, in that darkness, the morning star continues to shine.
In this darkness that you are living, Mr. Mayor, Parliamentarians, the thick darkness of war, of cruelty, we are all praying, praying with you and for you this night. We are praying for all the suffering. We can only give you our company, our prayer and say to you: “Courage! We are accompanying you!” And also to say to you the greatest thing we are celebrating today: Christòs voskrés! Christ is risen!
Complaining damages the heart, not only our complaints of others, but also their complaints of us, when everything seems to have turned sour.
The disciples’ dismay at the death of the Teacher was so overwhelming. They thought it best to leave the city. Yet, the poor things were still talking about it, weren’t they? And they were complaining. It could be said that this was more or less the day of complaint. But their words did no more than cause them to withdraw into themselves. In their hearts they were thinking: “we had such great hopes, but everything has failed”. And in this situation, they were stewing their life in the juice of their complaints and were going on and on like that.
I think so often when , when we encounter the Cross, we too incur this risk of withdrawing into complaint. Yet at that very moment the Lord is “close to us, though we do not recognize him. He walks beside us, though we do not recognize him. He speaks to us as well, although we do not hear him”. For us, the complaint is “something certain. It is my truth: failure. Hope is gone”. And with these thoughts the disciples continued on their way. “What did Jesus do? He was patient. First he listened and then slowly began to explain to them. In the end, he let them see him”. Jesus “does the same with us. Even in the darkest moments he is always beside us, he walks beside us. And in the end he reveals to us his presence”.
Complaining “is bad”, because “it does away with hope”. Resist entering “this game of living on complaint”. The Lord’s presence was made visible “when he broke the bread”. Then, the disciples could see “the wounds”, and then “he disappeared”. We must have hope and trust in God who “always moves with us along our path”, even at the darkest hour. “We may be sure”, we may be sure that the Lord never abandons us.... Let us not seek refuge in complaint. It harms our heart.
In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles we heard the voice of Peter, who with power announces the Resurrection of Jesus. Peter is a witness to hope in Christ. And in the Second Reading it is Peter again who confirms the faithful in faith in Christ, writing: “Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead... so that your faith and hope are in God” (Pet 1:21). Peter is the community’s firm reference point, because he is founded on the Rock that is Christ. As was John Paul II, a true stone anchored to the great Rock.
One week after the Canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II, we are gathered in this church of the Poles in Rome to thank the Lord for the gift of the holy Bishop of Rome who was a son of your nation. This church to which he came more than 80 times! He always came here, at various times in his life and in the life of Poland. In times of sadness and dejection, when all seemed lost, he did not lose hope, because his faith and hope were fixed in God (cf. 1 Pet 1:21). And thus he was a foundation stone, a rock for this community that prays here, that listens to the Word here, prepares for the Sacraments and administers them, welcomes those in need, sings and celebrates, and from here returns to the outskirts of Rome....
Brothers and sisters, you belong to a people that has been severely tried throughout its history. The Polish people know well that in order to enter into glory one must pass through the Passion and the Cross (cf. Lk 24:26). And it knows it not because it has studied it, it knows it because it has lived it. St John Paul II, as a worthy son of his earthly fatherland, followed this path. He followed it in an exemplary way, having received from God to be totally stripped of self. That is why his “flesh will dwell in hope” (cf. Acts 2:26; Ps 19:9).
And us? Are we ready to follow this road?
You, dear brethren, who today form the Polish Christian community in Rome, do you want to follow this road?
St Peter, also through the voice of John Paul II, tells you: Conduct yourselves with fear of God throughout the time of your exile here below (cf. 1 Pet 1:17). It is true, we are wayfarers, but we are not wanderers! On a journey, but we know where we are going! Wanderers do not know where. We are pilgrims, but not vagabonds — as St John Paul II would say.
At the outset the two disciples of Emmaus were wanderers, they did not know where they would end up, but on their return, not so! On their return they were witnesses of the hope that is Christ! For they had met Him, the Risen Wayfarer. This Jesus, he is the Risen Wayfarer who walks with us. Jesus is here today, he is among us. He is here in his Word, he is here on the altar, he walks with us, he is the Risen Wayfarer.
We too can become “risen wayfarers”, if his Word warms our hearts, and his Eucharist opens our eyes to faith and nourishes us with hope and charity. We too can walk beside our brothers and sisters who are downcast and in despair, and warm their hearts with the Gospel, and break with them the bread of brotherhood.
May St John Paul II help us to be “risen wayfarers”. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
The Gospel from this Sunday, which is the Third Sunday of Easter, is that of the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35). They were two of Jesus’ disciples who, after his death and the Sabbath was past, leave Jerusalem and return, sad and dejected, to their village which was named Emmaus. Along the way the Risen Jesus draws near to them, but they do not recognize him. Seeing them so sad, he first helps them to understand that the Passion and death of the Messiah were foreseen in the plan of God and announced in the Sacred Scriptures: and thus he rekindled a fire of hope in their hearts.
At that point, the two disciples experienced an extraordinary attraction to the mysterious man, and they invited him to stay with them that evening. Jesus accepted and went into the house with them. When, at table, he blessed the bread and broke it, they recognized him, but he vanished out of their sight, leaving them full of wonder. After being enlightened by the Word, they had recognized the Risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread, a new sign of his presence. And immediately they felt the need to go back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about their experience, that they had met the living Jesus and recognized him in the act of the breaking of the bread.
The road to Emmaus thus becomes a symbol of our journey of faith: the Scriptures and the Eucharist are the indispensable elements for encountering the Lord. We too often go to Sunday Mass with our worries, difficulties and disappointments.... Life sometimes wounds us and we go away feeling sad, towards our “Emmaus”, turning our backs on God’s plan. We distance ourselves from God. But the Liturgy of the Word welcomes us: Jesus explains the Scriptures to us and rekindles in our hearts the warmth of faith and hope, and in Communion he gives us strength. The Word of God, the Eucharist. Read a passage of the Gospel every day. Remember it well: read a passage from the Gospel every day, and on Sundays go to Communion, to receive Jesus. This is what happened to the disciples of Emmaus: they received the Word; they shared the breaking of bread and from feeling sad and defeated they became joyful. Dear brothers and sisters, the Word of God and the Eucharist fill us with joy always. Remember it well! When you are sad, take up the Word of God. When you are down, take up the Word of God and go to Sunday Mass and receive Communion, to participate in the mystery of Jesus. The Word of God, the Eucharist: they fill us with joy.
Through the intercession of Most Holy Mary, let us pray that every Christian, in reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus, especially at Sunday Mass, may rediscover the grace of the transforming encounter with the Lord, with the Risen Lord, who is with us always. There is always a Word of God that gives us guidance after we slip; and through our weariness and disappointments there is always a Bread that is broken that keeps us going on the journey.
Let us pray today, in this Mass, for all the people who suffer sadness, because they are alone or because they do not know what future awaits them or because they cannot provide for their family because they have no money, because they have no work. So many people who suffer sadness. We pray for them today.
So many times we have heard that Christianity is not just a doctrine, or a way of behaving, it is not a culture. Yes, it is all that, but more important and first of all, it is an encounter. A person is a Christian because he or she has met Jesus, he or she has allowed themselves to meet with him.
This passage of Luke's Gospel tells us about an encounter, how to understand well how the Lord acts, and how our way of acting is. We were born with a seed of restlessness. God wanted it like this: an anxiety to find fullness, an anxiety to find God. So often even without knowing that we have this concern our hearts are restless, our hearts thirsty: thirsty for an encounter with God. It looks for it many times on the wrong road: it gets lost, then returns, it looks for him . On the other hand, God thirsts to meet, so much so that he sent Jesus to meet us, to come and meet this concern.
How does Jesus act? In this passage of the Gospel (cf. Luke 24: 13-35) we see that he respects, respects our own situation, does not move forward. Only sometimes, with the stubborn, we think of Paul don't we? When he is thrown off the horse. But he usually goes slowly, respectful of our readiness. He's the Lord of patience. How much patience the Lord has with each of us! The Lord walks beside us.
As we have seen here with these two disciples, he listen to our concerns – he knows them! – and at some point he tells us something. The Lord likes to hear how we speak, to understand us well and to give the right answer to that concern. The Lord does not accelerate the pace, he always goes at our pace, often slow, but his patience is like this.
There is an ancient rule of pilgrims that says that the real pilgrim must go at the pace of the slowest person. And Jesus is capable of this, he does it, he does not accelerate, he waits for us to take the first step. And when the time comes, he asks us the question. In this case it is clear: "But what are you discussing?" (see v.17), he becomes ignorant to make us talk. He likes us to talk. He likes to hear us, he likes to talk like that. To listen to us and respond, he makes us speak, as if he was ignorant, but with so much respect. And then he answers, he explains, to the necessary extent. Here he tells us : ""Was it not necessary that Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them the passages in all the scriptures that were about himself." He explains and clarifies.
I confess that I am curious to know how Jesus explained in order to do the same. It was a beautiful catechesis. And then the same Jesus who accompanies us, who draws near to us, pretends to go further to see the extent of our disquiet: "No, come, come, stay with us a little" (v. 29). So the encounter happens. But the encounter is not only the moment of breaking bread, here, but it is the entire journey. We meet Jesus in the darkness of our doubts. Even in the ugly doubt of our sins, He is there to help us, in our anxieties. He's always with us.
The Lord accompanies us because he wants to meet us. That is why we say that the core of Christianity is an encounter: it is the encounter with Jesus. Why are you a Christian? Why are you a Christian? And many people don't know what to say. Some say it's by tradition but others do not know what to say: because they met Jesus, but they did not realize that it was an encounter with Jesus. Jesus always seeks us. All the time. And we have our own concern. When our concern meets Jesus, there the life of grace begins, the life of fullness, the life of the Christian journey.
May the Lord grant us all this grace to meet Jesus every day, to know, to know that he walks with us in all our moments. He's our pilgrimage companion.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today's Gospel, set on the day of the Passover, tells the story of the two disciples of Emmaus (cf. Luke 24: 13-35). It's a story that starts and ends on the move. There is, in fact the outbound journey of the disciples who, sad about the end of the story of Jesus, leave Jerusalem and return home, to Emmaus, walking for about eleven kilometres. It is a journey that takes place during the day, with much of it downhill. And there is the return journey: another eleven kilometres, but made at nightfall, with part of the way uphill after the fatigue of the outward journey and all day. Two trips: one easy during the day and the other tiring at night. Yet the first takes place in sadness, the second in joy. In the first there is the Lord who walks by their side, but they do not recognize him; in the second they no longer see him, but they feel him near them. In the first they are despondent and hopeless; in the second they run to bring the good news of the encounter with the Risen Lord to others .
The two different paths of those early disciples tell us, the disciples of Jesus today, that in life we have two opposite directions in front of us: there is the path of those who, like those two at the beginning, allow themselves to be paralyzed by the disappointments of life and go ahead sadly; and there is the path of those who do not put themselves and their problems first, but Jesus who visits us, and the brothers who await his visit, that is, the brothers and sisters who wait for us to take care of them. Here is the turning point: to stop orbiting around one's self, the disappointments of the past, unrealized ideals, so many bad things that have happened in one's life. So many times we are led to orbit around ourselves. Leave that and move forward looking at the greatest and truest reality of life: Jesus is alive, Jesus loves me. This is the greatest reality. And I can do something for others. It's a beautiful reality, positive, sunny, beautiful!
The U-turn is this: to move from thoughts about myself to the reality of my God; pass – with another pun – from "ifs" to "yes". From "if" to "yes." What does it mean? "If he had freed us, if God had listened to me, if life had gone the way I wanted, if I had this and that..." in a tone of complaint. This "if" does not help, it is not fruitful, it does not help us or others. Here our ifs are similar to those of the two disciples. But they pass to yes: "yes, the Lord is alive, he walks with us. Yes, now, not tomorrow, we are on our way to announce it." "Yes, I can do this so that people are happier, because people will get better, to help so many people. Yes, yes, I can." From if to yes, from complaint to joy and peace, because when we complain, we are not joyful; we are in a grey area, that grey air of sadness. And that doesn't even help us grow well. From if to yes, from complaint to the joy of service.
This change of pace, from self to God, from if to yes, how did that happen with the disciples? Meeting Jesus: the two of Emmaus first open their hearts to him; then they listen to him explain the scriptures; so they invite him home. These are three steps that we too can take in our homes: first, open our heart to Jesus, entrust him with the burdens, the hardships, the disappointments of life, entrust him with the "ifs"; and then, second step, listen to Jesus, take t he Gospel in hand, read this passage today, chapter twenty-four of Luke's Gospel; thirdly, pray to Jesus, in the same words as those disciples: "Lord, "stay with us" (v. 29). Lord, stay with me. Lord, stay with all of us, because we need you to find our way. And without you there is night.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are always on our way in life. And we become what we're going towards. Let us choose God's way, not that of the self; the way of yes, not the way of the if. We will find that there is no unexpected events, there is no uphill path, there is no night that cannot be faced with Jesus. May Our Lady Mother of the journey, who, by receiving the Word, has made her entire life a "yes" to God, show us the way.
The journey of the disciples to Emmaus, at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel, is an icon of our own personal journey and that of the Church. On the path of life and faith, as we seek to achieve the dreams, plans, hopes and expectations deep in our hearts, we also come up against our own frailties and weaknesses; we experience setbacks and disappointments, and often we can remain imprisoned by a paralyzing sense of failure. Yet the Gospel tells us that at those very moments we are not alone, for the Lord comes to meet us and stands at our side. He accompanies us on our way with the discretion of a gentle fellow-traveller who wants to open our eyes and make our hearts once more burn within us. Whenever our failures lead to an encounter with the Lord, life and hope are reborn and we are able to be reconciled: with ourselves, with our brothers and sisters, and with God.
So let us follow the itinerary of this journey. We can call it a journey from failure to hope.
First, there is the sense of failure haunting the hearts of the two disciples after the death of Jesus. They had enthusiastically pursued a dream and pinned all their hopes and desires on Jesus. Now, after his scandalous death on the cross, they were leaving Jerusalem and going back to their former life. They were on a return trip, as a way perhaps of leaving behind the experience that had so dismayed them and the memory of the Messiah executed on the cross, like a common criminal. They were making their way home despondently, “looking sad” (Lk 24:17). Their cherished expectations had come to nought; the hopes they had put their trust in had been dashed, the dreams they dreamed had given way to disappointment and sorrow.
That experience also marks our own lives, and our spiritual journey, at those times when we are forced to recalibrate expectations and to cope with our failings and the ambiguities and confusions of life. When our high ideals come up against life’s disappointments and we abandon our goals due to our weaknesses and inadequacies. When we embark on great projects, but then find that we cannot carry them out (cf. Rom 7:18). When, sooner or later, all of us, in our daily lives and relationships, experience a setback, a mistake, a failure or fall, and see what we had believed in, or committed ourselves to, come to nought. When we feel crushed by our sins and by feelings of remorse.
This was the case with Adam and Eve, as we heard in the first reading: their sin alienated them from God, but also from each other. Now they can only accuse each other. And we see it in the disciples from Emmaus, whose distress at seeing Jesus’ plan come to nought led only to a dispirited conversation. We can also see it in the life of the Church, the community of the Lord’s disciples, as represented by those two from Emmaus. Even though we are the community of the Risen Lord, we can find ourselves confused and disappointed before the scandal of evil and the violence that led to Calvary. At those times, we can do little more than cling to our sense of failure and ask: What happened? Why did it happen? How could it happen?
Brothers and sisters, these are our own questions, and they are the burning questions that this pilgrim Church in Canada is asking, with heartfelt sorrow, on its difficult and demanding journey of healing and reconciliation. In confronting the scandal of evil and the Body of Christ wounded in the flesh of our indigenous brothers and sisters, we too have experienced deep dismay; we too feel the burden of failure. Allow me, then, to join in spirit the many pilgrims who in this place ascend the “holy staircase” that evokes Jesus’ ascent to Pilate’s praetorium. Allow me to accompany you as a Church in pondering these questions that arise from hearts filled with pain: Why did all this happen? How could this happen in the community of those who follow Jesus?
At such times, however, we must be attentive to the temptation to flee, which we see in the two disciples of the Gospel: the temptation to flee, to go back, to abandon the place where it all happened, to try to block it all out and seek a “refuge” like Emmaus, where we do not have to think about it anymore. When confronted with failure in life, nothing could be worse than fleeing in order to avoid it. It is a temptation that comes from the enemy, who threatens our spiritual journey and that of the Church, for he wants us to think that all our failures are now irreversible. He wants to paralyze us with grief and remorse, to convince us that nothing else can be done, that it is hopeless to try to find a way to start over.
The Gospel shows us, however, that it is in precisely such situations of disappointment and grief – when we are appalled by the violence of evil and shame for our sins, when the living waters of our lives are dried up by sin and failure, when we are stripped of everything and seem to have nothing left – that the Lord comes to meet us and walks at our side. On the way to Emmaus, Jesus gently drew near and accompanied the disconsolate footsteps of those sad disciples. And what does he do? He does not offer generic words of encouragement, simplistic and facile words of consolation but instead, by revealing the mystery of his death and resurrection foretold in the Scriptures, he sheds new light on their lives and the events they experienced. In this way, he opens their eyes to see everything anew. We who share in the Eucharist in this Basilica can also take a new look at many of the events of our own history. In this very place, three earlier churches stood; there were always people who refused to flee in the face of difficulties, who continued to dream, despite their own errors and those of others. They did not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the devastating fire of a century ago, and, with courage and creativity, built this church. And those who share in our Eucharist on the nearby Plains of Abraham can also think of the fortitude shown by those who refused to let themselves be held hostage by hatred, war, destruction and pain, but set about building anew a city and a country.
Finally, in the presence of the disciples of Emmaus, Jesus broke bread, opened their eyes and once more revealed himself as the God of love who lays down his life for his friends. In this way, he helped them to resume their journey with joy, to start over, to pass from failure to hope. Brothers and sisters, the Lord also wants to do the same with each of us and with his Church. How can our eyes be opened? How can our hearts burn within us once more for the Gospel? What are we to do, as we endure spiritual and material trials, as we seek the path to a more just and fraternal society, as we strive to recover from our disappointments and weariness, as we hope to be healed of past wounds and to be reconciled with God and with one another?
There is but one path, a sole way: it is the way of Jesus, the way that is Jesus (cf. Jn 14:6). Let us believe that Jesus draws near to us on our journey. Let us go out to meet him. Let us allow his word to interpret the history we are making as individuals and as a community, and show us the way to healing and reconciliation. In faith, let us break together the Eucharistic Bread, so that around the table we can see ourselves once again as beloved children of the Father, called to be brothers and sisters all.
Breaking the bread, Jesus confirmed the message brought by women, a testimony that the disciples had already heard, but were unable to believe: that he was risen! In this Basilica, where we commemorate the mother of the Virgin Mary, with its crypt dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, how can we not think of the role that God wished to give to women in his plan of salvation. Saint Anne, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the women of Easter morning show us a new path to reconciliation. The tender maternal love of so many women can accompany us – as Church – towards new and fruitful times, leaving behind so much barrenness and death, and putting the crucified and risen Jesus back at the centre.
Truly, we must not put ourselves at the centre of our questions, our inner struggles or of the pastoral life of the Church. Instead, we must put him, the Lord Jesus. Let us make his word central to everything we do, for it sheds light on all that happens and restores our vision. It enables us to see the operative presence of God’s love and the potential for good even in apparently hopeless situations. Let us put at the centre the Bread of the Eucharist, which Jesus today once again breaks for us, so that he can share his life with us, embrace our weakness, sustain our weary steps and heal our hearts. Reconciled with God, with others and with ourselves, may we ourselves become instruments of reconciliation and peace within our societies.
Lord Jesus, our way, our strength and consolation, like the disciples of Emmaus, we plead with you: “Stay with us, because it is almost evening” (Lk 24:29). Stay with us, Lord Jesus, when hope fades and the night of disappointment falls. Stay with us, for with you our journey presses on and from the blind alleys of mistrust the amazement of joy is reborn. Stay with us, Lord, because with you the night of pain turns into the radiant dawn of life. Let us say, in all simplicity: Stay with us, Lord! For if you walk at our side, failure gives way to the hope of new life. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
On this third Sunday of Easter, the Gospel narrates the encounter of the Risen Jesus with the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35). These are two disciples who, resigned to the death of the Master, decide on the day of Passover to leave Jerusalem and to return home. Perhaps they were a little uneasy because they had heard the women coming from the sepulchre and saying that the Lord was like that… they go away. And while they are walking, sadly talking about what has happened, Jesus appears beside them, but they do not recognize him. He asks them why they are so sad, and they say to him: “But, are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (v. 18). And Jesus replies: “What things?” (v. 19). And they tell him the entire story, and Jesus makes them tell him the story. Then, while they are walking, he helps them reinterpret the facts in a different way, in the light of the prophecies, of the Word of God, of all that had been proclaimed to the people of Israel. To reread: that is what Jesus does with them, helping to reread. Let us dwell on this aspect.
Indeed, for us to it is important to reread our history together with Jesus: the story of our life, of a certain period, of our days, with its disappointments and hopes. Besides, we too, like those disciples, faced with what happens to us, can find ourselves lost in the face of these events, alone and uncertain, with many questions and worries, disappointments, many things. Today’s Gospel invites us to tell Jesus everything, sincerely, without being afraid of disturbing him: he listens; without fear of saying the wrong thing, without shame at our struggle to understand. The Lord is happy whenever we open ourselves to him; only in this way can he take us by the hand, accompany us and make our hearts burn again (cf. v. 32). We too, then, like the disciples of Emmaus, are called to spend time with him so that, when evening comes, he will remain with us (cf. v. 29).
There is a good way of doing this, and today I would like to propose it to you: it consists of dedicating some time, every evening, to a brief examination of conscience. But, what happened today within me? That is the question. It is a matter of rereading the day with Jesus, rereading my day: opening the heart to him, bringing to him people, choices, fears, falls and hopes, all the things that happened; to learn gradually to look at things with different eyes, with his eyes and not just our own. We can thus relive the experience of those two disciples. Before Christ’s love, even that which seems wearisome and unsuccessful can appear under another light: a difficult cross to embrace, the decision to forgive an offence, a missed opportunity for redress, the toil of work, the sincerity that comes at a price, and the trials of family life can appear to us in a new light, the light of the Crucified and Risen, who knows how to turn every fall into a step forward. But to do this, it is important to drop our defences: to leave time and space for Jesus, not to hide anything from him, to bring him our miseries, to let ourselves be wounded by his truth, to let our heart vibrate at the breath of his Word.
We can begin today, to dedicate this evening a moment of prayer during which we ask ourselves: how was my day? What were its joys, what were its sorrows, what were its mundanities, what happened? What were the pearls of the day, possibly hidden, to be thankful for? Was there a little love in what I did? And what are the falls, the sadness, the doubts and fears to bring to Jesus so that He can open new ways to me, to lift me up and encourage me? May Mary, wise Virgin, help us to recognize Jesus who walks with us and to reread- the word: re-read – every day of our life in front of him.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today, in Italy and in other countries, we are celebrating the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, which occurred 40 days after Easter. Let us contemplate the mystery of Jesus who leaves our earthly space to enter the fullness of the glory of God, taking our humanity with him. In other words, our humanity enters heaven for the first time. The Gospel of Luke describes the reaction of the disciples before the Lord who “parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (24:51). They had no sorrow nor dismay, but “they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (v. 52). It was the return of those who no longer feared the city that had rejected the Master, who had seen Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial; who had seen the dispersion of the disciples and the brutality of a power that felt threatened. Since that day, the Apostles and every disciple of Christ have been able to live in Jerusalem and in all cities of the world, even in those most afflicted by injustice and violence, because above every city there is the same heaven and every inhabitant can lift his or her gaze with hope. Jesus, God, is true man, with his human body, he is in heaven! This is our hope, it is still ours, and we are firm in this hope if we look to heaven.
In this heaven lives that God who revealed himself so closely as to take on the face of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. He remains for us always the God-with-us — let us remember this: Emmanuel, God with us — and he never leaves us alone! We can look to heaven in order to recognize our future before us. In the Ascension of Jesus, Crucified and Risen, there is the promise of our participation in the fullness of life with God.
Before departing from his friends, Jesus, referring to the event of his death and Resurrection, said to them: “You are witnesses of these things” (v. 48). In other words the disciples, the Apostles, were witnesses of the death and Resurrection of Christ, on that day, also of the Ascension of Christ. In fact, after seeing their Lord ascend into heaven, the disciples returned to the city as witnesses joyfully proclaiming to all the new life which comes from the Crucified and Risen One, in whose name “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached to all nations” (cf. v. 47). This is the witness — born not only with words but with everyday life — the witness that every Sunday should flow from our churches so as to enter during the week into homes, offices, schools, meeting and recreational places, hospitals, prisons, homes for the elderly, in places crowded with immigrants, in the peripheries of the city.... We must bear this witness every week: Christ is with us: Jesus rose to heaven, he is with us: Christ lives!
Jesus assured us that in this proclamation and in this witness we shall be “clothed with power from on high” (v. 49), that is, with the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is the secret to this mission: the presence among us of the Risen Lord, who with the gift of the Holy Spirit, continues to open our minds and our hearts, to proclaim his love and his mercy even in the most resistant areas of our cities. The Holy Spirit is the true artisan of the multiform witness that the Church and every baptized person renders in the world. Therefore, we must never neglect to meditate in prayer in order to praise God and invoke the gift of the Holy Spirit. This week, which leads us to the Feast of Pentecost, let us remain spiritually in the Upper Room, together with the Virgin Mary, to receive the Holy Spirit. Let us do so now too, in communion with the faithful gathered in the Shrine of Pompeii for the traditional Supplication.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
On this Third Sunday of Easter, we return to Jerusalem, in the Cenacle, as guided by the two disciples of Emmaus, who had listened with great emotion to Jesus’ words along the way and then had recognized him “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). Now, in the Cenacle, the Risen Christ presents himself in the midst of the group of disciples and greets: “Peace to you!” (v. 36). But they are frightened and believe “that they saw a spirit” (v. 37), as the Gospel says. Then Jesus shows them the wounds in his body and says: “See my hands and my feet” – the wounds – “that it is I myself; handle me” (v. 39). And to convince them, he asks for food and eats it before their astonished eyes (cf. vv. 41-42).
There is a detail here, in this description. The Gospel says that the Apostles “they still disbelieved for joy”. The joy they had was such that they could not believe that this was true. And a second detail: they were bewildered, astonished; astonished because the encounter with God always leads you to astonishment: it goes beyond enthusiasm, beyond joy; it is another experience. And they were joyful, but a joy that made them think: no, this cannot be true!... It is the astonishment of God’s presence. Do not forget this frame of mind, which is so beautiful.
Three very concrete verbs characterize this Gospel passage. In a certain sense, they reflect our individual and community life: to look, to touch and to eat. Three actions that can give joy from a true encounter with the living Jesus.
To look. “See my hands and my feet”, Jesus says. To look is not only to see, it is more; it also involves intention, will. For this reason, it is one of the verbs of love. A mother and father look at their child; lovers gaze at each other; a good doctor looks at the patient carefully…. Looking is a first step against indifference, against the temptation to look the other way before the difficulties and sufferings of others. To look. Do I see or look at Jesus?
The second verb is to touch. By inviting the disciples to touch him, to verify that he is not a ghost – touch me! – Jesus indicates to them and to us that the relationship with Him and with our brothers and sisters cannot remain “at a distance”. Christianity does not exist at a distance; Christianity does not exist only at the level of looking. Love requires looking and it also requires closeness; it requires contact, the sharing of life. The Good Samaritan did not limit himself to looking at that man whom he found half dead along the road: he stopped, he bent down, he treated his wounds, he touched him, he loaded him on his mount and took him to the inn. And it is the same with Jesus himself: loving him means entering into a communion of life, a communion with Him.
And thus, we come to the third verb, to eat, which clearly expresses our humanity in its most natural poverty, that is, our need to nourish ourselves in order to live. But eating, when we do so together, among family or friends, also becomes an expression of love, an expression of communion, of celebration…. How often the Gospels present Jesus to us who experiences this convivial dimension! Even as the Risen One, with his disciples. To the point that the Eucharistic Banquet has become the emblematic sign of the Christian community. Eating together the Body of Christ: this is the core of Christian life.
Brothers and sisters, this Gospel passage tells us that Jesus is not a “ghost”, but a living Person; that when Jesus draws near to us he fills us with joy, to the point of disbelief, and he leaves us bewildered, with that astonishment that only God’s presence gives, because Jesus is a living Person.
Being Christian is not first of all a doctrine or a moral ideal; it is a living relationship with Him, with the Risen Lord: we look at him, we touch him, we are nourished by Him and, transformed by his Love, we look at, touch and nourish others as brothers and sisters. May the Virgin Mary help us to live this experience of grace.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
Today in Italy and in many countries the Ascension of the Lord, that is, his return to the Father, is celebrated. In the Liturgy, the Gospel according to Luke narrates the final apparition of the Risen Christ to the disciples (cf. 24:46-53). The earthly life of Jesus culminates precisely with the Ascension, which we also profess in the Creed: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father”. What does this event mean? How should we interpret it? To answer this question, let us focus on two actions that Jesus performs before ascending into Heaven: first, he announces the gift of the Spirit – he announces the gift of the Spirit – and then he blesses the disciples. He announces the gift of the Spirit, and he blesses.
First of all, Jesus says to his friends: “I send the promise of my Father upon you” (v. 49). He is talking about the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, he who will accompany them, guide them, support then in their mission, defend them in spiritual battles. And so, we understand something important: Jesus is not abandoning the disciples. He ascends to Heaven, but he does not leave them alone. Rather, precisely by ascending towards the Father, he ensures the effusion of the Holy Spirit, of his Spirit. On another occasion he had said: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counsellor – that is, the Spirit – will not come to you” (Jn 16:7). In this too, we see Jesus’ love for us: his is a presence that does not want to limit our freedom. On the contrary, he leaves space to us, because true love always generates a closeness that does not stifle, is not possessive, is close but not possessive; on the contrary, true love which makes us protagonists. And in this way, Christ reassures, “I will go to the Father, and you will be clothed with power from on high: I will send you my Spirit and with his strength, you will continue my work in the world!” (cf. Lk 24:49). And so, ascending to Heaven, instead of remaining beside a few people with his body, Jesus becomes close to all with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes Jesus present in us, beyond the barriers of time and space, to make us his witnesses in the world.
Straight afterwards – it is the second action – Christ raises his hands and blesses the apostles (cf. v. 50). It is a priestly gesture. God, since the times of Aaron, had entrusted to priests the task of blessing the people (cf. Nm 6:36). The Gospel wants to tell us that Jesus is the great priest of our life. Jesus ascends to the Father to intercede on our behalf, to present our humanity to him. Thus, before the eyes of the Father, with the humanity of Jesus, there are and always will be our lives, our hopes, our wounds. So, as he makes his “exodus” to Heaven, Christ “makes way” for us, he goes to prepare a place for us and, from this time forth, he intercedes for us, so that we may always be accompanied and blessed by the Father.
Brothers and sisters, let us think today of the gift of the Spirit we have received from Jesus to be witnesses of the Gospel. Let us ask ourselves if we really are; and also, if we are capable of loving others, leaving them free and making room for them. And then: do we know how to make ourselves intercessors for others, that is, do we know how to pray for them and bless their lives? Or do we serve others for our own interests? Let us learn this: intercessory prayer, interceding for the hopes and sufferings of the world, interceding for peace. And let us bless with our eyes and our words those we meet every day!
Now let us pray to Our Lady, blessed among women, who, filled with the Holy Spirit, always prays and intercedes for us.