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The Transmission Faith is Always a Communal, Ecclesial Event

Emmaus cropped

Third Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 4, 2014

Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:14, 22-33) presents us with the first of six discourses (along with Acts 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41) dealing with the resurrection of Jesus and its messianic significance. Five of these are attributed to Peter, the final one to Paul. We may call these discourses in Acts the “kerygma,” the Greek word for proclamation (I Cor 15:11). In Peter’s address we can distinguish an introduction and two parts: in the first part (vv 16-21) he is explaining that the messianic times foretold by Joel have now arrived; in the second (vv 22-36) he proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Jews crucified, is the Messiah promised by God and eagerly awaited by the righteous of the Old Testament; it is He who has effected God’s saving plan for mankind.

To demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah foretold by the prophets, Peter reminds his listeners of our Lord’s miracles (v 22), as well as of his death (23), resurrection (24-32) and glorious ascension (33-35). Peter’s address ends with a brief summary (36). Peter was able to declare the message that can change the life of every one who heard it. That message has not changed nor lost its power in our day. It is a message that still brings hope to the hopeless, life to those dead in sin and forgiveness to those struggling under the burden of their sins.

A catechetical and liturgical story

The Emmaus story of today’s Gospel is at the heart of Luke’s resurrection chapter (24). Luke’s story of the two disciples on the road (vv 13-35) focuses on the interpretation of scripture by the risen Jesus and the recognition of him in the breaking of the bread. The references to the quotations of scripture and explanation of it (24:25-27), the kerygmatic proclamation (34), and the liturgical gesture (30) suggest that the episode is primarily catechetical and liturgical rather than apologetic.

When we meet the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is evening, and the glow of that first Easter day has begun to fade. Resurrection at this point is nothing more than a rumor or a tale. Buried beneath their verbal exchange lies a deep yearning and a holy hunger. Intimately intertwined with their skepticism is their hope, and their need for God to be alive, vibrant and present in their world of death. But the baggage of their doubt impedes the fervor of their faith and they fail to recognize Jesus. Without being aware of what they are really saying along the road, the two disciples profess many of the central elements of the creed of the Christian faith yet they remain blind to the necessity of the Messianic suffering predicted in the Scriptures.

The stranger on the road to Emmaus takes the skepticism and curiosity of the disciples and weaves them into the fabric of the Scripture. Jesus challenges them to reinterpret the events of the past days in light of the Scriptures. However, Cleopas and his companion are “foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have said!” (v.25) The Messiah had to suffer and die in order to enter into his glory. Luke is the only New Testament writer to speak explicitly of a suffering Messiah (Luke 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23). The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish literature prior to the New Testament period, although the idea is hinted at in Mark 8:31-33.

Finally in the intimacy of the breaking of the bread were their eyes opened and they recognized the Risen One in their midst. At Emmaus, the risen Christ performs the same basic actions that he performed at the multiplication of the loaves (9:16) and at the Last Supper. The many meals of Jesus, especially his last supper, can be said to be in the background of the evangelist’s mind in describing this moment of recognition (cf. Lk 5:29; 7:36; 14:1,12,15,16; 22:14). With this experience of the Risen Jesus the Emmaus disciples believe.

Understanding the resurrection therefore implies a two-fold process of knowing the message of the Scriptures and experiencing the one about whom they all speak: Jesus the Lord, through the breaking and sharing of bread with the community of believers.

Emmaus journeyThe journey motif

The journey motif of the Emmaus story is not only a matter of the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, but also of the painful and gradual journey of words that must descend from the head to the heart; of a coming to faith, of a return to a proper relationship with the stranger who is none other than Jesus the Lord. The Lord always listens to us and is always there. It is part of the Lords’ pedagogy with regard to his disciples to always listen to them, especially when times are hard, when one has fallen, experiences doubt, disillusionment and frustration. His words make the hearts of the disciples “burn”, they remove them from the darkness of sadness and desperation, provoking in them the desire to remain with him: Stay with us, Lord.

The dejected disciples begin to change only when they are enlightened by the risen Christ, who explains from the Sacred Scriptures how God works in a resistant world and among resistant, sinful people like us. It is indeed an ironic victory because the forces of rejection and experiences of suffering and sinfulness, themselves, become the means by which God’s purpose is accomplished in the world!

Words that transmit life

Allow me to share with you a very striking section on “the Duty to Evangelize” from the Lineamenta (preparatory document) for the 2012 Synod of Bishops on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” This passage offers a unique perspective on today’s Emmaus story.

(#2) “The words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35) illustrate that proclaiming Christ is open to failure; their words were incapable of transmitting life. In recounting their frustration and loss of hope, the two disciples proclaimed someone who was dead (vv 21-24). For the Church in every age, their words speak of the possibility of a proclamation which, instead of giving life, keeps both those who proclaim and those who hear bound in the death of the Christ proclaimed.

The transmission of the faith is never an individual, isolated undertaking, but a communal, ecclesial event. It must not consider responses as a matter of researching an effective plan of communication and even less analytically concentrating on the hearers, for example, the young. Instead, these responses must be done as something which concerns the one called to perform this spiritual work. It must become what the Church is by her nature. In this way, the matter is placed in context and treated correctly and not extrinsically, namely, by placing at the centre of discussion the entire Church in all she is and all she does. Perhaps in this way the problem of unfruitfulness in evangelization and catechesis today can be seen as an ecclesiological problem which concerns the Church’s capacity, more or less, of becoming a real community, a true fraternity and a living body, and not a mechanical thing or enterprise.”

Questions for reflection this week

1) As Church, as pastoral ministers, as lay leaders, have we ever felt that our words are incapable of transmitting life to others? Have we proclaimed someone who was dead rather than the living Lord? How have our words and the message of the Church kept people bound in the death of the Christ proclaimed?

2) What prevents us from becoming a real community, a true fraternity and a living body, rather than a mechanical thing or enterprise?

3) What have been the historical events that have influenced, hindered and impeded our proclamation and our way of being Church? How have certain events helped us to refine and rethink our proclamation?

4) What does the Spirit say to our Church through these events? What new forms of evangelization is the Spirit teaching us and requiring of us?

We are once again pilgrims

During my first visit to the French ecumenical community of Taizé many years ago, I heard this meditation offered by the late Brother Roger Schutz and his community. It has remained with me ever since.

“We are once again pilgrims on the road to Emmaus…
Our heads are bowed as we meet the Stranger
who draws near and comes with us.
As evening comes, we strain to make out His face
while he talks to us, to our hearts.
In interpreting the Book of Life,
He takes our broken hopes and kindles them into fire:
the way becomes lighter as,
drawing the embers together, we learn to fan the flame.
If we invite Him this evening, He will sit down
and together we shall share the meal.
And then all those who no longer believed
will see and the hour of Recognition will come.
He will break the bread of tears at the table of the poor
and each will receive manna to their fill.
We shall return to Jerusalem to proclaim aloud
what He has whispered in our ear.
And no doubt we shall find brothers and sisters there
who will greet us with the words:
“We, too have met Him!”
For we know: the mercy of God
has come to visit the land of the living!

[The readings for the Third Sunday of Easter are: Acts 2.14, 22b-28; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.17-21; and Luke 24.13-35.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Perspectives Daily – April 22, 2014

Today on Perspectives, a look at Easter at the Vatican with Pope Francis.

JUDAS WAS STANDING WITH THEM

Pope Francis Food Friday 2014

“JUDAS WAS STANDING WITH THEM” (JN 18:5)

Following the tradition, the homily for this afternoon’s Good Friday Service for the Passion of the Lord is preached by Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

In the divine-human history of the passion of Jesus, there are many minor stories about men and women who entered into the ray of its light or its shadow. The most tragic one is that of Judas Iscariot. It is one of the few events attested with equal emphasis by each of the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The early Christian community reflected a great deal on this incident and we would be remiss to do otherwise. It has much to tell us.

Judas was chosen from the very beginning to be one of the Twelve. In inserting his name in the list of apostles, the gospel-writer Luke says, “Judas Iscariot, who became (egeneto) a traitor” (Lk 6:16). Judas was thus not born a traitor and was not a traitor at the time Jesus chose him; he became a traitor! We are before one of the darkest dramas of human freedom.

Why did he become a traitor? Not so long ago, when the thesis of a “revolutionary Jesus” was in fashion, people tried to ascribe idealistic motivations to Judas’ action. Someone saw in his name “Iscariot” a corruption of sicariot, meaning that he belonged to a group of extremist zealots who used a kind of dagger (sica) against the Romans; others thought that Judas was disappointed in the way that Jesus was putting forward his concept of “the kingdom of God” and wanted to force his hand to act against the pagans on the political level as well. This is the Judas of the famous musical Jesus Christ Superstar and of other recent films and novels—a Judas who resembles another famous traitor to his benefactor, Brutus, who killed Julius Caesar to save the RomanRepublic!

These are reconstructions to be respected when they have some literary or artistic value, but they have no historical basis whatsoever. The Gospels—the only reliable sources that we have about Judas’ character—speak of a more down-to-earth motive: money. Judas was entrusted with the group’s common purse; on the occasion of Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, Judas had protested against the waste of the precious perfumed ointment that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet, not because he was interested in the poor but, as John notes, “because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (Jn 12:6). His proposal to the chief priests is explicit: “‘What will you give me if I deliver him to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Mt 26:15).

*    *   *

But why are people surprised at this explanation, finding it too banal? Has it not always been this way in history and is still this way today? Mammon, money, is not just one idol among many: it is the idol par excellence, literally “a molten god” (see Ex 34:17). And we know why that is the case. Who is objectively, if not subjectively (in fact, not in intentions), the true enemy, the rival to God, in this world? Satan? But no one decides to serve Satan without a motive. Whoever does it does so because they believe they will obtain some kind of power or temporal benefit from him. Jesus tells us clearly who the other master, the anti-God, is: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Money is the “visible god”[1] in contrast to the true God who is invisible.

Mammon is the anti-God because it creates an alternative spiritual universe; it shifts the purpose of the theological virtues. Faith, hope, and charity are no longer placed in God but in money. A sinister inversion of all values occurs. Scripture says, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23), but the world says, “All things are possible to him who has money.” And on a certain level, all the facts seem to bear that out.

“The love of money,” Scripture says, “is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Behind every evil in our society is money, or at least money is also included there. It is the Molech we recall from the Bible to whom young boys and girls were sacrificed (see Jer 32:35) or the Aztec god for whom the daily sacrifice of a certain number of human hearts was required. What lies behind the drug enterprise that destroys so many human lives, behind the phenomenon of the mafia, behind political corruption, behind the manufacturing and sale of weapons, and even behind—what a horrible thing to mention—the sale of human organs removed from children? And the financial crisis that the world has gone through and that this country is still going through, is it not in large part due to the “cursed hunger for gold,” the auri sacra fames,[2] on the part of some people? Judas began with taking money out of the common purse. Does this say anything to certain administrators of public funds?

But apart from these criminal ways of acquiring money, is it not also a scandal that some people earn salaries and collect pensions that are sometimes 100 times higher than those of the people who work for them and that they raise their voices to object when a proposal is put forward to reduce their salary for the sake of greater social justice?

In the 1970s and 1980s in Italy, in order to explain unexpected political reversals, hidden exercises of power, terrorism, and all kinds of mysteries that were troubling civilian life, people began to point to the quasi-mythical idea of the existence of “a big Old Man,” a shrewd and powerful figure who was pulling all the strings behind the curtain for goals known only to himself. This powerful “Old Man” really exists and is not a myth; his name is Money!

Like all idols, money is deceitful and lying: it promises security and instead takes it away; it promises freedom and instead destroys it. St. Francis of Assisi, with a severity that is untypical for him, describes the end of life of a person who has lived only to increase his “capital.” Death draws near, and the priest is summoned. He asks the dying man, “Do you want forgiveness for all your sins?” and he answers, “Yes.” The priest then asks, “Are you ready to make right the wrongs you did, restoring things you have defrauded others of?” The dying man responds, “I can’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Because I have already left everything in the hands of my relatives and friends.” And so he dies without repentance, and his body is barely cold when his relatives and friends say, “Damn him! He could have earned more money to leave us, but he didn’t.”[3]

How many times these days have we had to think back again to the cry Jesus addressed to the rich man in the parable who had stored up endless riches and thought he was secure for the rest of his life: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Lk 12:20)!

Men placed in positions of responsibility who no longer knew in what bank or monetary paradise to hoard the proceeds of their corruption have found themselves on trial in court or in a prison cell just when they were about to say to themselves, “Have a good time now, my soul.” For whom did they do it? Was it worth it? Did they work for the good of their children and family, or their party, if that is really what they were seeking? Have they not instead ruined themselves and others?

*    *   *

The betrayal of Judas continues throughout history, and the one betrayed is always Jesus. Judas sold the head, while his imitators sell body, because the poor are members of the body of Christ, whether they know it or not. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). However, Judas’ betrayal does not continue only in the high-profile kinds of cases that I have mentioned. It would be comfortable for us to think so, but that is not the case. The homily that Father Primo Mazzolari gave on Holy Thursday 1958 about “Our Brother Judas” is still famous. “Let me,” he said to the few parishioners before him, “think about the Judas who is within me for a moment, about the Judas who perhaps is also within you.”

One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than thirty pieces of silver. A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus. Even I can betray him at this very moment—and it makes me tremble—if while preaching about Judas I am more concerned about the audience’s approval than about participating in the immense sorrow of the Savior. There was a mitigating circumstance in Judas’ case that that I do not have. He did not know who Jesus was and considered him to be only “a righteous man”; he did not know, as we do, that he was the Son of God.

As Easter approaches every year, I have wanted to listen to Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” again. It includes a detail that makes me flinch every time. At the announcement of Judas’ betrayal, all the apostles ask Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” (“Herr, bin ich’s?”) Before having us hear Christ’s answer, the composer—erasing the distance between the event and its commemoration—inserts a chorale that begins this way: “It is I; I am the traitor! I need to make amends for my sins.” (“Ich bin’s, ich sollte bü?en.”). Like all the chorales in this musical piece, it expresses the sentiments of the people who are listening. It is also an invitation for us to make a confession of our sin.

*    *   *

The Gospel describes Judas’ horrendous end: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Mt 27:3-5).  But let us not pass a hasty judgment here. Jesus never abandoned Judas, and no one knows, after he hung himself from a tree with a rope around his neck, where he ended up: in Satan’s hands or in God’s hands. Who can say what transpired in his soul during those final moments? “Friend” was the last word that Jesus addressed to him, and he could not have forgotten it, just as he could not have forgotten Jesus’ gaze.

It is true that in speaking to the Father about his disciples Jesus had said about Judas, “None of them is lost but the son of perdition” (Jn 17:12), but here, as in so many other instances, he is speaking from the perspective of time and not of eternity. The enormity of this betrayal is enough by itself alone, without needing to consider a failure that is eternal, to explain the other terrifying statement said about Judas: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mk 14:21). The eternal destiny of a human being is an inviolable secret kept by God. The Church assures us that a man or a woman who is proclaimed a saint is experiencing eternal blessedness, but she does not herself know for certain that any particular person is in hell.

Dante Alighieri, who places Judas in the deepest part of hell in his Divine Comedy, tells of the last-minute conversion of Manfred, the son of Frederick II and the king of Sicily whom everyone at the time considered damned because he died as an excommunicated. Having been mortally wounded in battle, he confides to the poet that in the very last moment of his life, “…weeping, I gave my soul / to Him who grants forgiveness willingly” and he sends a message from Purgatory to earth that is still relevant for us:

Horrible was the nature of my sins,

but boundless mercy stretches out its arms

to any man who comes in search of it.[4]

*    *   *

Here is what the story of our brother Judas should move us to do: to surrender ourselves to the one who freely forgives, to throw ourselves likewise into the outstretched arms of the Crucified One. The most important thing in the story of Judas is not his betrayal but Jesus’ response to it. He knew well what was growing in his disciple’s heart, but he does not expose it; he wants to give Judas the opportunity right up until the last minute to turn back, and is almost shielding him. He knows why Judas came to the garden of olives, but he does not refuse his cold kiss and even calls him “friend” (see Mt 26:50). He sought out Peter after his denial to give him forgiveness, so who knows how he might have sought out Judas at some point in his way to Calavary! When Jesus prays from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), he certainly does not exclude Judas from those he prays for.

So what will we do? Who will we follow, Judas or Peter? Peter had remorse for what he did, but Judas was also remorseful to the point of crying out, “I have betrayed innocent blood!” and he gave back the thirty pieces of silver. Where is the difference then? Only in one thing: Peter had confidence in the mercy of Christ, and Judas did not! Judas’ greatest sin was not in having betrayed Christ but in having doubted his mercy.

If we have imitated Judas in his betrayal, some of us more and some less, let us not imitate him in his lack of confidence in forgiveness. There is a sacrament through which it is possible to have a sure experience of Christ’s mercy: the sacrament of reconciliation. How wonderful this sacrament is! It is sweet to experience Jesus as Teacher, as Lord, but even sweeter to experience him as Redeemer, as the one who draws you out of the abyss, like he drew Peter out of the sea, as the one who touches you and, like he did with the leper, says to you, “ I will; be clean” (Mt 8:3).

Confession allows us to experience about ourselves what the Church says of Adam’s sin on Easter night in the “Exultet”: “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” Jesus knows how to take all our sins, once we have repented, and make them “happy faults,” faults that would no longer be remembered if it were not for the experience of mercy and divine tenderness that they occasioned.

I have a wish for myself and for all of you, Venerable Fathers, brothers, and sisters: on Easter morning, may we awaken and let the words of a great convert in modern times, Paul Claudel, resonate in our hearts:

My God, I have been revived, and I am with You again!

I was sleeping, stretched out like a dead man in the night.

You said, “Let there be light!” and I awoke the way a cry is shouted out! 

My Father, You who have given me life before the Dawn, I place myself in Your Presence.

My heart is free and my mouth is cleansed; my body and spirit are fasting.

I have been absolved of all my sins, which I confessed one by one.

The wedding ring is on my finger and my face is washed.

I am like an innocent being in the grace that You have bestowed on me.[5]

 

This is what Christ’s Passover can do for us.




[1] William Shakespeare, The Life of Timon of Athens, Act IV, sc. 3, l. 386.

[2] Virgil, The Aeneid, 3.57.

[3] See Francis of Assisi, “Letter to All the Faithful,” 12.

[4] Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio 3.118-120: English trans. Mark Musa (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1985), 32.

[5] Paul Claudel, Prière pour le dimanche matin [Prayer for a Sunday Morning], in Œuvres poétiques (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), 377.

 

Jesus’ Resurrection: A Footprint Within History but Pointing Beyond

Jesus Risen cropped

Easter Sunday – Sunday, April 20, 2014

In reading the resurrection chapters of the four gospels, the differences of the four accounts are very obvious. Not one of the evangelists recounts Jesus’ resurrection itself. It is an event taking place within the mystery of God between Jesus and the Father. By its very nature the resurrection event lies outside human experience. What lessons can we learn about resurrection from each of the Gospel accounts, particularly from Matthew’s story that we hear proclaimed today?

Mark’s account

In the earliest Gospel account in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 16) the last scene is a startling one… for the story ends with (v 8) “[The women] came out and fled from the tomb, for they were possessed by fear and trembling, and they said nothing to anyone. The most striking aspect of Mark’s ending is we never encounter the Risen Lord. Instead, we see an awe-inspiring, almost eerie scene. In the darkness of early morning, the women arrive at the tomb to accomplish a nearly impossible task. These women are the only ones who follow Jesus to the foot of the cross and to the tomb. They find the tomb opened and empty, and are greeted by a heavenly figure who gives them a commission: “Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him as he told you” (v 7). Mark’s resurrection account is meant to disturb the Christian reader; to undo the ease that makes one forget that the call to discipleship is the call to the cross. Readers of Mark’s account are invited to view their lives in the shadow of the cross.

Matthew’s account

Matthew tells the story of the resurrection in four scenes: the women’s experience at the tomb (28:1-7); their short encounter with the risen Lord (8-10); the Jewish leaders’ attempt to suppress the story (11-15); the appearance to the disciples in Galilee (16-20). The final scene, ending with the Great Commission (19-20) stands on its own as a programmatic conclusion to the entire gospel. The women present in Matthew’s resurrection chapter do not witness the resurrection. They do experience the earthquake, the appearance of the angel, the emptiness of the tomb- all of which are signs or traces of divine activity that has brought these things about.

Matthew literally makes Jesus present in the last scene of the gospel on the mountain where Jesus had directed the disciples to go (28:16-20). At the end of the gospel, he points us back to the first programmatic sermon of Jesus on the mountain in Galilee (5:1-7:21). Matthew’s meek and humble Jesus is the teacher as well as the example of meekness and humility. In revising Mark’s Gospel, Matthew deliberately completes the picture of Jesus and of the Christian life. The bleak image and invitation of the cross and the dead Jesus are filled out with a living and present Jesus, whose words, reflected upon the Scriptures of Israel, offer a consoling and learnable “way” to disciples willing to learn from him. Matthew issues the call to learn of the meek and humble Jesus.

Luke’s account

The Easter chapter of Luke’s Gospel (24), like a beautiful symphony, presents us with a biblically oriented pastoral practice and distinct way of Christian living: in the first movement (vv.1-12) God, alone breaks open a helpless situation. In the second movement of the marvelous story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (13-35), God, in the person of Jesus, accompanies people on their journeys through despair. The stories of the third movement (36-53) lead people into an experience of community.

John’s account

John tells of appearances of the Risen Lord in both Jerusalem and Galilee. The resurrection stories of the fourth gospel are a series of encounters between Jesus and his followers that reveal diverse faith reactions. Whether these encounters are with Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, the disciples or Thomas, the whole scenario reminds us that in the range of belief there are different degrees of readiness and different factors that cause people to come to faith.

The nature of Jesus’ resurrection

Pope Benedict XVI writes about “The Nature of Jesus’ Resurrection and Its Historical Significance” in “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” (Ignatius Press, San Francisco – USA – 2011). I would like to highlight several points made by Pope Benedict in this masterful text:

“Jesus did not simply return to normal biological life as one who, by the laws of biology, would eventually have to die again.”

“Jesus is not a ghost (“spirit”). In other words, he does not belong to the realm of the dead but is somehow able to reveal himself in the realm of the living.”

“…the encounters with the risen Lord are not the same as mystical experiences, in which the human spirit is momentarily drawn aloft out of itself and perceives the realm of the divine and eternal, only to return then to the normal horizon of its existence. Mystical experience is a temporary removal of the soul’s spatial and cognitive limitations.” (pp. 272-273)

Benedict continues:

“[The resurrection] is a historical event that nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it. Perhaps we may draw upon analogical language here, inadequate in many ways, yet still able to open up a path toward understanding: as already anticipated in the first section of this chapter, we could regard the Resurrection as something akin to a radical “evolutionary leap”, in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence.” (p. 273)

“As something that breaks out of history and transcends it, the Resurrection nevertheless has its origin within history and up to a certain point still belongs there. Perhaps we could put it this way: Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint within history. Therefore it can be attested by witnesses as an event of an entirely new kind.” (p. 275)

Fathoming the Resurrection Today

In our highly technological world, the reality of the resurrection becomes increasingly difficult to fathom. So many spend their lives explaining it away rather than probing the depths of its mystery. And they try to do this alone, separated from a believing community of Christians, locked in the prison of self and of ideas, frozen before a computer screen as they try to fathom what happened on Easter morning. Some people state quite frankly that the whole story is simply out of date. But resurrection is not a matter of the head, of theory and ideas, but a matter of the heart that can only be experienced and learned through a community’s worship and liturgy. To be fully experienced and grasped, the resurrection requires an environment of hauntingly beautiful music, of smoke and incense, bread and wine, murmurs of greeting and shouts of joy, dazzling colors and most of all, three-dimensional bodies of real people, even those who aren’t necessarily “regulars” of our parish communities, who gather together every year to hear the Easter proclamation.

One doesn’t sit at a computer and tap out “Jesus is risen.” It has to be performed and enacted. If the resurrection were meant to be a historically verifiable occurrence, God wouldn’t have performed it in the dark without eyewitnesses. Resurrection was an event transacted between God the Father and God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit. Not a single Gospel tells us how it happened. We don’t know what he looked like when he was no longer dead, whether he burst the tomb in glory or came out like Lazarus, slowly unwrapping his shroud and squinting with wonder against the dawn of Easter morning in a garden in Jerusalem.

The proper environment for resurrection

How shall we find words for the resurrection? How can we give expression to the conquest of death and the harrowing of hell and the washing which has joined us to God’s life? There are no words– there are only the wrong words – metaphors, chains of images, verbal icons – that invite us into a mystery beyond words.

For four years I lived in the Holy City of Jerusalem and visited the remains of the Church building that houses the place of Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher hundreds of times. It is truly holy ground for Christians and being there never failed once to move me. That old building is truly a microcosm of our own lives, our hearts and our Church. In the midst of the dark, dirty and chaotic Holy Sepulcher Basilica is the tomb of Jesus, a shrine to the risen Christ. But he is not there. All around that tomb are the remnants of 2000 years of dreadfully human corruption. Nevertheless it is the most important shrine and holy place for Christians. Christ is risen from the dead!

At Calvary, and elsewhere in the Holy Land, corruption seems so rampant…but God shall be victorious, because 70 feet away from Calvary there is a tomb which is empty. And there is also another startling truth about that Church and the moments which it commemorates: every single one of us has within us a shrine to the risen Christ. That shrine is our first love for him, and him alone. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Do we truly live as children of the light, of the Living One? The Resurrection of Jesus is the sign that God is ultimately going to win.

In the midst of all the chaos found in the Holy Sepulcher building, I found that if I knelt long enough in some corner of the Church amidst religious groups seemingly at war with each other, disquiet disappeared and I often experienced a strange peace and deep joy and consolation because of the resurrection of the man who was God’s Son and our Savior. The only way to discern, detect and discover the presence of the Risen Lord is on one’s knees, in the midst of the chaos of the Church and the world.

Jesus’ victory over death belongs to the Church’s ongoing pastoral and sacramental life and its mission to the world. The church is the community of those who have the competence to recognize Jesus as the risen Lord. It specializes in discerning the Risen One. As long as we remain in dialogue with Jesus, our darkness will give way to dawn, and we will become “competent” for witness. In an age which places so much weight on competency, we would do well to focus every now and then on our competence to discern resurrection.

What is the resurrection? Pope Benedict explains it so well in his book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection”:

“It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently, that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind; that he becomes man and so can be overlooked by his contemporaries and by the decisive forces within history; that he suffers and dies and that, having risen again, he chooses to come to mankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself; that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him. And yet—is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love. And if we really think about it, is it not what seems so small that is truly great?” (p. 276)

[The readings for Easter Sunday are: Acts 10.34a, 37-43; Colossians 3.1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5.6b-8; and John 20.1-18.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Like Alabaster Jars of Nard

Resurrection-Women

Reflection for Holy Saturday, Year A – Saturday, April 19, 2014

The tragic story of Good Friday does not end with the death of Jesus. There is a sequel. God raises Jesus from the dead and thereby writes another chapter in the history of salvation. There will be a tomorrow because the grave is not the end. The announcement, which changed the sadness of these pious women into joy, re-echoes with unchanging eloquence throughout the Church in the celebration of this Easter Vigil.

Tomb in Jerusalem

In the midst of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is the tomb of Jesus, a shrine to the risen Christ. He is not there. He is among us. Having lived in Jerusalem for nearly four years, I can assure you that all around that tomb are the remnants of over 2,000 years of dreadfully human discord, chaos and corruption that continues to this very day.  Nevertheless, it is the most important shrine and holy place for Christians.

The resurrection of Jesus is the sign that God is ultimately going to win. At Calvary, and elsewhere throughout the Church, corruption seems so rampant. On this night when the Lord broke the bonds of death, we know deep within that God is ultimately victorious. I know this within my flesh and bones, in my heart of hearts, because 70 feet away from Calvary there is a tomb, which is now empty.

Women and Easter

There are some profound lessons to learn from the women who ran to the tomb that first Easter morning. They represented countless, nameless, yet devoted women who were part of the crowds that Jesus addressed and in the homes he frequented.

They were the courageous ones who reached out fearlessly to touch the fringe of his cloak. They shouted after him; they entered his hosts’ houses uninvited, they poured most expensive, perfumed nard over his feet to the consternation of the critics. They knew the promise made to them, they welcomed him, they knew from Jesus’ own treatment of them the strength of their own testimony to him, and they were unafraid to show him great love.

In the end, they stood beneath his dying body, while the men were hiding for fear of the authorities. It was the women who ground spices for his burial and they calculated how to roll back the stone from his tomb. They attended firmly to the business of his living and dying. They were rewarded for their fidelity by being the first recipients of the Good News of the Resurrection.

Women of the Church

Whenever I read the Easter Gospels, I cannot help but think of the lives of countless women religious who greatly influenced my life from my childhood, and encouraged me to be a Christian and a priest.  I remember with gratitude the Religious of the Sacred Heart and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, New York, my first teachers.

I recall with deep emotion the Sisters of the Holy Family of Spoleto and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary with whom I had the privilege of working in my first years of pastoral ministry in Canada. The Sisters of Sion, the Salvatorian Sisters of Emmaus el-Quebeibeh and Nazareth and the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition showed me how to love and imitate the Lord in his own homeland during my graduate studies.

Later on the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto and Hamilton and the Sisters of Mercy of Ireland shared with me very fruitful years of ministry at the Newman Center of Toronto and most especially during World Youth Day 2002. The diminishment of many of these religious congregations in the Church is cause for sadness, yet also of profound gratitude. I regret that several generations of young people will never have the grace of getting to know women religious as I knew them: as teachers, pastoral workers, colleagues and friends.

Though their “charisms” will live on through lay-led institutions in many instances, nothing can ever replace their presence in the life of the Church and in our own personal stories. Their lives were alabaster jars of nard poured out in active service, in decisive, courageous, prophetic works, and in watchful presence at the end.  Their action on Jesus’ behalf was hopeful, positive, courageous, and unambiguous. Their active faith in him and their decisive following of him are, finally, the unchanging beauty and eloquence of the Church’s vocation. When I think of that first Easter, in an eerie, garden-like setting outside the walls of Jerusalem, I cannot help but remember the faithful women in my life who have carried the message of the Resurrection to the ends of the earth.

“This is the day that the Lord has made: let us rejoice in it and be glad. Alleluia!”

[The readings for the Easter Vigil are: Genesis 1:1-2:2;  Genesis 22:1-18; Exodus 14:15-15:1; Isaiah 54: 5-14; Isaiah 55:1-11; Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4; Ezekiel 36:16-28; Romans 6:3-11; and Matthew 28:1-10.]

Hosanna! Let Us Welcome the Lord Who Still Comes to Us Today!

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Palm Sunday, Year A – Sunday, April 13, 2014

In preparation for Easter three years ago, I had the privilege of an early Lenten retreat on the events of Holy Week as I read and pondered Pope Benedict XVI’s latest book: “Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” (Ignatius Press, San Francisco – USA – 2011). This book should be required reading for every bishop, priest, pastoral minister and serious Catholic who would like to meet Jesus of Nazareth and deepen one’s knowledge of the very person of Jesus and the central mysteries of our faith that we celebrate this week. I could think of no better way to prepare for Holy Week and Easter than to read this masterful text. I recommend it to all those who have found these weekly Scripture texts helpful for your personal prayer and preaching of the Word of God.

Each year during Holy Week, we accompany Jesus up to Jerusalem amidst the crowds crying out “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” A day filled with exceeding praise and jubilation, but looming on the horizon is a wave of hatred, destruction and death. We, too, are caught up with the crowd acclaiming their Messiah and King as he descends the Mount of Olives… coming not with the trappings of a royal motorcade but on a beast of burden. What striking images of royalty, humility and divinity all packed into this paradoxical scene of Jesus’ entering his city! Full of enthusiasm, they welcome him on Palm Sunday as the King of Peace and the Bearer of Hope. Full of hate, five days later, the people demand his death on the cross.

The Gospel Passion narratives recount how the sins of some of the people and their leaders at the time of Jesus conspired to bring about the Passion and death of Christ, and thereby suggest the fundamental truth that we are all to blame. Their sins and our sins bring Christ to the cross, and He bears them willingly. And we must learn from what happened to Jesus and ask ourselves not only about the identity of those who tried, condemned and killed Him long ago, but also what killed Jesus and what vicious circles of violence, brutality, and hatred continue to crucify Him today in His brothers and sisters of the human family.

Matthew’s Passion Narrative

This year we read Matthew’s Passion Narrative (Matthew 26:14-27:66). Matthew follows his Marcan source closely but with omissions (e.g., Mark 14:51-52) and additions (e.g., Matthew 27:3-10, 19). Some of the additions indicate that he utilized traditions that he had received from elsewhere; others are due to his own theological insight (e.g., Matthew 26:28 “…for the forgiveness of sins”; Matthew 27:52). In his editing Matthew also altered Mark in some minor details. But there is no need to suppose that he knew any passion narrative other than Mark’s.

As we listen to Matthew’s account, we are caught up in Jesus’ encounter with destiny made inevitable by the strong commitments of Jesus’ mission from God and the fierce resistance of the power of death. In the first chapter of “Jesus of Nazareth” entitled “The Entrance into Jerusaelm,” Pope Benedict invites us to consider Zechariah 9:9, the text that Matthew and John quote explicitly for an understanding of “Palm Sunday”: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Mt 21:5; cf. Zech 9:9; Jn 12:15). Benedict writes: “He [Jesus] is a king who destroys the weapons of war, a king of peace and a king of simplicity, a king of the poor. And finally we saw that he reigns over a kingdom that stretches from sea to sea, embracing the whole world; we were reminded of the new world encompassing kingdom of Jesus that extends from sea to sea in the communities of the breaking of bread in communion with Jesus Christ, as the kingdom of his peace. None of this could be seen at the time… .” (p. 4).

The Meaning of Hosanna

“Hosanna” was originally a pilgrim blessing that priests addressed in the Temple, but when it was joined to the second part of the acclamation “who enters in the name of the Lord” it took on Messianic significance. It had become a designation of the one promised by God. It now became praise of Jesus, a greeting to him as the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the one awaited and proclaimed by all the promises.

We can ask why the word “hosanna” was preserved for us in Hebrew. Why ask didn’t the Gospels translate it into Greek? The full translation of “hosanna” could read: “Help [or save], please, O Son of David. Blessed in the name of the Lord is he who comes. Help [or save], please, O Most High.” The crowd’s welcome of Jesus with cries of “hosanna,” for help, and the waving of palm fronds, thereby invoked the liturgical formulas of Sukkot, which had already been politicized by its use in the festival of independence, the first Hanukkah. The use of this liturgical formula to welcome Jesus was clearly purposeful. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem was followed by his cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:14-16). This was plainly a scenario in emulation of the Maccabean liberation, calculated to stir messianic hopes. When the crowd called “hosanna” and waved palm fronds, they knew full well what they were doing.

In the hosanna acclamation, we find an expression of the complex emotions of the pilgrims accompanying Jesus and of his disciples: joyful praise of God at the moment of the processional entry, hope that the hour of the Messiah had arrived, and at the same time a prayer that the Davidic kingship and hence God’s kingship over Israel would be reestablished (“Jesus of Nazareth” pp. 8-10).

“Hosanna” as an urgent plea to help and save is universally valid. It is perennially appropriate to the human situation. It is a one-word prayer with potential political impact to unsettle oppressors everywhere, now as in ancient days, and should thus be translated and understood.

The prophet from Nazareth

In the beginning when people had heard of the prophet from Nazareth, he did not appear to have any importance for Jerusalem, and the local inhabitants did not know him. The crowd that paid homage to Jesus at the gateway to the city was not the same crowd that later demanded his crucifixion. In this two-stage account of the failure to recognize Jesus— through a combination of indifference and fear— Benedict XVI says that we see something of the city’s tragedy of which Jesus spoke a number of times, most poignantly in his eschatological discourse.

Unique emphases of Matthew’s Passion

For Matthew, the ultimate turning point in Jesus’ history was his death and resurrection. At the very instant of Jesus’ death, a death suffered in fidelity to his mission, new life breaks out: The earth quakes, the rocks are split, the tombs are opened and the saints of old are raised from their tombs to march triumphantly into God’s city. In writing these words, Matthew evokes the great vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. God breathes spirit into the bones, and they rise from the dead to become a new people. Matthew believed that out of the death of Jesus came new life for the world; out of the seeming death of the Jewish Christian mission to Israel, the early community rose to envelop the Mediterranean world and to forge a new people from Jew and gentile. Death-resurrection was not only the pattern for Jesus’ destiny but would also be the pattern for the destiny of the community itself within history.

Contemporary Meaning

What does Matthew’s passion say to us today? I am convinced that it offers us distinct biblical lenses through which we look upon this current moment of the history of the Church and the world. We receive our marching orders and pastoral plan for mission, not only from the Church but also from the world in which we live. The tremendous biblical drama found in Matthew’s passion teaches us that what we often consider to be “secular events”, even those that are destructive, damaging and even terrorizing and blinding, move us forward into God’s future for us, and set the stage for God to reveal himself to us.

Greeting the Lord in the Eucharist

I conclude with Benedict’s words on this Palm Sunday Gospel scene:

“The Church greets the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into her midst. At the same time, she greets him as the one who continues to come, the one who leads us toward his coming. As pilgrims, we go up to him; as a pilgrim, he comes to us and takes us up with him in his “ascent” to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the communion that unites us with his body.” (Jesus of Nazareth p. 11).

[The readings for Palm Sunday are: Isaiah 50.4-7; Philippians 2.6-11; and Matthew 26.14-27.66.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Council of Jerusalem, the Advocate, and Pastoral Strategy

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Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2012

The readings for the 6th Sunday of Easter are Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29

The early Church community in Jerusalem was not without its problems! Several of the controversies are evident in today’s first reading from Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles.

When some of the converted pharisees of Jerusalem discover the results of the first missionary journey of Paul (vv 1-5), they urge that the Gentiles be taught to follow the Mosaic law. Recognizing the authority of the Jerusalem church, Paul and Barnabas go there to settle the question of whether Gentiles can embrace a form of Christianity that does not include this obligation. The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35) marks the official rejection of the rigid view that Gentile converts were obliged to observe the Mosaic law completely. From here to the end of the book of Acts, Paul and the Gentile mission become the focus of Luke’s writing.

Early Church controversies

If the Gentiles are to become Christian, does that imply they must observe the customs of the Jewish converts to Christianity? This would mean imposing circumcision, dietary restrictions, and marriage regulations. The scene from today’s first reading not only presents us with one of the first great controversies of the early Church, but also gives us some excellent insights into our own understanding of tradition and continuity, and the resolution of conflicts in the Church.

In the reading from the Book of Acts, some unauthorized members of the Jerusalem church tried to insist upon circumcision as a necessity for salvation within the church at Antioch. The classical problem of the early Church revolved around the necessity of the Mosaic law for salvation. Jesus certainly kept it perfectly, from his birth, for he was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and he never annulled the force of the Mosaic law. In fact he states quite clearly: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Yet, Peter on the impulse of the Spirit had baptized the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius without requiring circumcision.

The Apostles and elders gathered for deliberation and came to an agreement with the Mother Church at Jerusalem that the Mosaic laws were not to be required, nor the many traditions of the rabbis. The converts, out of courtesy, were asked not to partake of blood, nor of animals improperly slaughtered without draining the blood, nor of strangled animals for the same reason, nor of marriages within certain blood bonds. [Read more…]

A Call for Support

As a 22 year old, it is always humbling to have to ask for money from those whom I know, in many cases, are struggling financially themselves. There seems to be a financial need everywhere these days – coming to us from places like our homes, workplaces and places of worship. It is sobering to call to mind the fact that everything we have is thanks completely to the generosity of the many viewers and listeners who continually sustain our work.

And yet, at the same time, the entire office and I are filled with a profound conviction that what we are doing is critical for a Church that we believe is alive and young. Without Salt + Light Television, where else could people go to find the unique types of stories and documentaries that we have been able to produce these past 10 years?

Salt and Light’s goal over the past decade has been to teach and evangelize, inform, encourage and help build up the Catholic community. We have done this quite effectively by offering information and resources to priests, pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful across Canada.

So why does Salt and Light need financial support to ensure its continued activity? The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops explains:

“The Bishops of Canada are most appreciative of the balanced information and faith-inspired insights that Salt + Light provides. Your catechetical programs, especially your multi-lingual documentaries on the new Saints and Blesseds, make a significant contribution to the Church, helping form a new generation of the faithful while also keeping older generations inspired and rejuvenated. We pray that God strengthen you and all involved with the Foundation as by your ministry you help keep the Church itself “alive and young!”

Archbishop Richard W. Smith
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Francis marks Good Shepherd Sunday with first ordinations


Pope Francis chose a fitting day to preside at the first priestly ordinations of his pontificate. Tomorrow, April 21, is the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, an occasion instituted by Servant of God Paul VI in the midst of the Second Vatican Council. The fourth Sunday of Easter also represents Good Shepherd Sunday, due to the Gospel reading from St. John.

During Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis will ordain ten men to the priesthood from three seminaries in Rome. They include six seminarians from Italy, two from India, and one each from Croatia and Argentina. The liturgy will air on S+L TV and our live stream at 10:00am ET / 7:00am PT. You can follow the prayers of the mass with the online booklet for the celebration.

Another way for to observe the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations is to read the special message by Benedict XVI (published before his resignation). In his message, the Pope Emeritus quotes Paul VI, declaring that “wherever numerous vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are to be found, that is where people are living the Gospel with generosity.”
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Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis takes possession of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

This afternoon, Pope Francis celebrated mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome. Published below is the unofficial translation of his homily. For repeat broadcast times of the full liturgy, visit S+L’s Easter page.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

It is a joy for me to celebrate Mass with you in this Basilica. I greet the Archpriest, Cardinal James Harvey, and I thank him for the words that he has addressed to me. Along with him, I greet and thank the various institutions that form part of this Basilica, and all of you. We are at the tomb of Saint Paul, a great yet humble Apostle of the Lord, who proclaimed him by word, bore witness to him by martyrdom and worshipped him with all his heart. These are the three key ideas on which I would like to reflect in the light of the word of God that we have heard: proclamation, witness, worship.

In the First Reading, what strikes us is the strength of Peter and the other Apostles. In response to the order to be silent, no longer to teach in the name of Jesus, no longer to proclaim his message, they respond clearly: “We must obey God, rather than men”. And they remain undeterred even when flogged, ill-treated and imprisoned. Peter and the Apostles proclaim courageously, fearlessly, what they have received: the Gospel of Jesus. And we? Are we capable of bringing the word of God into the environment in which we live? Do we know how to speak of Christ, of what he represents for us, in our families, among the people who form part of our daily lives? Faith is born from listening, and is strengthened by proclamation.

But let us take a further step: the proclamation made by Peter and the Apostles does not merely consist of words: fidelity to Christ affects their whole lives, which are changed, given a new direction, and it is through their lives that they bear witness to the faith and to the proclamation of Christ. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter three times to feed his flock, to feed it with his love, and he prophesies to him: “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). These words are addressed first and foremost to those of us who are pastors: we cannot feed God’s flock unless we let ourselves be carried by God’s will even where we would rather not go, unless we are prepared to bear witness to Christ with the gift of ourselves, unreservedly, not in a calculating way, sometimes even at the cost of our lives. But this also applies to everyone: we all have to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel. We should all ask ourselves: How do I bear witness to Christ through my faith? Do I have the courage of Peter and the other Apostles, to think, to choose and to live as a Christian, obedient to God? To be sure, the testimony of faith comes in very many forms, just as in a great fresco, there is a variety of colours and shades; yet they are all important, even those which do not stand out. In God’s great plan, every detail is important, even yours, even my humble little witness, even the hidden witness of those who live their faith with simplicity in everyday family relationships, work relationships, friendships. There are the saints of every day, the “hidden” saints, a sort of “middle class of holiness” to which we can all belong. But in different parts of the world, there are also those who suffer, like Peter and the Apostles, on account of the Gospel; there are those who give their lives in order to remain faithful to Christ by means of a witness marked by the shedding of their blood. Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life. Those who listen to us and observe us must be able to see in our actions what they hear from our lips, and so give glory to God! Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.

But all this is possible only if we recognize Jesus Christ, because it is he who has called us, he who has invited us to travel his path, he who has chosen us. Proclamation and witness are only possible if we are close to him, just as Peter, John and the other disciples in today’s Gospel passage were gathered around the Risen Jesus; there is a daily closeness to him: they know very well who he is, they know him. The Evangelist stresses the fact that “no one dared ask him: ‘Who are you?’ – they knew it was the Lord” (Jn 21:12). This is important for us: living an intense relationship with Jesus, an intimacy of dialogue and of life, in such a way as to recognize him as “the Lord”, and to worship him. The passage that we heard from the Book of Revelation speaks to us of worship: the myriads of angels, all creatures, the living beings, the elders, prostrate themselves before the Throne of God and of the Lamb that was slain, namely Christ, to whom be praise, honour and glory (cf. Rev 5:11-14). I would like all of us to ask ourselves this question: You, I, do we worship the Lord? Do we turn to God only to ask him for things, to thank him, or do we also turn to him to worship him? What does it mean, then, to worship God? It means learning to be with him, it means that we stop trying to dialogue with him, and it means sensing that his presence is the most true, the most good, the most important thing of all. All of us, in our own lives, consciously and perhaps sometimes unconsciously, have a very clear order of priority concerning the things we consider important. Worshipping the Lord means giving him the place that he must have; worshipping the Lord means stating, believing – not only by our words – that he alone truly guides our lives; worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that he is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history.

This has a consequence in our lives: we have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the centre, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others. This evening I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord? Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the centre, as the highway of our lives.

Dear brothers and sisters, each day the Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity; he has made us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples; he sends us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one, but he asks us to do so by word and by the witness of our lives, in daily life. The Lord is the only God of our lives, and he invites us to strip ourselves of our many idols and to worship him alone. May the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Paul help us on this journey and intercede for us.