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Words and gestures of life: Christ is risen!


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Ramiro Pellitero

The Pope's preaching is always light and life. After Lent comes Easter. What should be the fundamental attitudes that correspond to the joyful advertisement that Christ is alive?

Lent opens to Easter, which is the passage to Life. Still within Lent, the Church recalls the resurrection of Lazarus to express that Easter is the fulfillment of hope. The Pope pointed out: "Jesus gives life' even when it seems that there is no more hope. It happens, at times, that one feels without hope - this has happened to all of us - or that one finds people who have stopped hoping, embittered because they have lived through bad experiences, the wounded heart cannot hope"(Angelus 26-III-2023, Fifth Sunday of Lent). 

Perhaps we too, he added, carry some weight, some suffering, some sin, something that weighs us down, like the stone that covered the tomb of Lazarus. "And Jesus says, 'Come out!' But this requires opening the heart, looking towards his light, discarding fear. He awaits our partnership, "like little mirrors of love", to "illuminate the environments in which we live with words and gestures of life", to witness to the hope and joy of Jesus. 

Jesus suffered for us, for me

Already on the threshold of Holy Week, the homily of Palm Sunday (2-IV-2023) brought us forward to the contemplation of the sufferings of Jesus, up to his feeling of "withdrawal" on the cross. "And why did he come so far?" the Pope asks, and immediately answers, "For us". And also concretely: "let each one say to himself: for me", there is no other answer. For us. Everyone, listening to the withdrawal of Jesus, "let each one say to himself: for me". "He did it for me, for you, so that when I, you or anyone else sees his or her back against the wall, lost in a dead end, sunk in the abyss of withdrawal, sucked into the maelstrom of so many unanswered whys, there is hope. Him, for you, for me". 

Francis combines pains and sins, perhaps because of that mysterious link (necessarily causal) between sin and suffering. "So that each one can say: in my falls - each one has fallen many times - in my desolation, when I feel betrayed, or have betrayed others, when I feel rejected or have discarded others, when I feel abandoned or have abandoned others, let us think that He has been abandoned, betrayed, discarded. And there we find Him. When I feel bad and lost, when I can't take it anymore, He is with me; in my many unanswered whys, He is there".

What is Jesus' attitude on the cross? "While experiencing an extreme withdrawal , he does not let himself be driven to despair - that is the limit - but prays and trusts" (cf. Ps 22:2; Lk 23:46), and forgives his executioners (v. 34). In this way he shows that "this is God's style: closeness, understanding and tenderness". Francis turns to us and points to himself: "I too need Jesus to caress me and draw near to me, and that is why I go to look for him in the abandoned, in the lonely". Because even now "there are many 'abandoned Christs'":entire peoples, the poor, migrants, unborn children, the elderly alone.

The Holy Spirit and priestly anointing

At the Chrism Mass the Pope preached on the Holy Spirit and the meaning of priestly anointing (cf. Homily on Holy Thursday, April 6, 2013). For every Christian, and especially every priest, can say: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me" (Lk 4:18), "for the Lord has anointed me" (Is 61:1). But the Anointed One par excellence (that means Messiah and Christ) is Jesus. Anointed by God the Father with the Holy Spirit from the womb of Mary, he manifests himself as anointed on the occasion of his baptism in the Jordan. Then, the Holy Spirit always accompanies him in his life and ministry. Jesus anointed his apostles definitively at Pentecost. He then changed their hearts and led them to overcome difficulties and weaknesses, for the witness they were to give of him. 

Every priest has to walk this path, passing through a "paschal stage" of crisis, temptation or test, more or less lasting: "Sooner or later, we all experience disappointments, hardships, weaknesses, with the ideal that seems to wear out amidst the demands of reality, while a certain routine imposes itself and some trials, once difficult to imagine, make fidelity seem more uncomfortable than at onetime". 

There, the successor of Peter points out, lurks the risk of mediocrity, which presents itself in the form of three temptations: "that of compromise, by which one is satisfied with what one can do; that of substitutes, by which we try to 'recharge' ourselves with something more than our anointing; that of discouragement - which is the most common - in which, dissatisfied, we continue by inertia".

But that crisis, Francis adds, can also become a turning point, as one author writes: "Decisive stage of the spiritual life, in which the final choice must be made between Jesus and the world, between the heroicity of charity and mediocrity, between the cross and a certain well-being, between holiness and an honest fidelity to religious commitment" (R. Voillaume, The Second Call, in S. Stevan, ed. The Second Call. The Courage of Fragility, Bologna 2018). It is time to resume the path of trust in God, humility and fortitude. And thus be able to receive as a "second anointing" with the Holy Spirit precisely in the fragility of our reality. 

The Pope emphasizes: "It is an anointing that makes the truth profound, that allows the Spirit to anoint our weaknesses, our hardships, our interior poverty. Then the anointing smells anew: of Him, not of us".

In this way every presbyter can collaborate with the harmony promoted by the Holy Spirit, in unity and diversity (cf. H Mühlen, Der Heilige Geist als Person. Ich - Du - Wir, Münster in W., 1963). And this will be manifested in his words, in his comments, in his kindness..., in his gestures.

On the evening of Holy Thursday, the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples manifests "the nobility of the heart" of the Lord, especially in the washing of the feet (cf. Homily at the Mass "In Coena Domini", April 6, 2023). Washing the feet was a slave's task. And Jesus makes this gesture to make them understand that he is going to die for us, to free us from our sins. He is not afraid of our weaknesses, he only wants to accompany us in our lives, in the face of so much pain and injustice. Francis observes: "It is a gesture that announces how we should be, one with the other". And each of us can also think : "Jesus has washed my feet, Jesus has saved me, and I have this difficulty now". And the Pope comforts us, in the name of Christ: "But it will pass, the Lord is always at your side, he never abandons you, never". 

Remembering and walking

Through the cross, which was already announced on Palm Sunday, we arrive at the Easter Vigil. The Pope encouraged us to undertake "the disciples' journey from the tomb to Galilee" (Homily, April 8, 2023). 

In the face of difficulties, sealed tombs, our disappointments and bitterness, we should not remain in lamentation, thinking that there is nothing more to do, that things will not change. Rather, we must follow the example of the holy women, who transmitted the news of the resurrection and the indication to go to Galilee. 

But what does it mean to go to Galilee, Francis asks. And he offers two complementary answers. On the one hand, "tocome out of hiding to open oneself to the mission statement, toflee from fear to walk towards the future". "And on the other hand, and this is very beautiful, it is to return to the origins, because everything began in Galilee. There the Lord met and called the disciples for the first time. So to go to Galilee is to return to the original grace, it is to recover the report that regenerates hope, the 'report of the future' with which the Risen One has marked us."

That is to say: the Lord invites us to move forward, to look to the future with confidence; and at the same time he returns us to our "past of grace", to the Galilee of our history of love with him, of our first call. 

"Brothers and sisters," the Bishop of Rome urges us, "in order to rise again, to begin again, to resume the journey, we always need to return to Galilee, that is, not to return to an abstract, ideal Jesus, but to the living report , to the concrete and pulsating report . of the first meeting with him. Yes, to walk we must remember; to have hope we must nourish the report" .

It does us a lot of good, Francis insists, to return to that first moment: "Ask yourself how it was and when it was, reconstruct its context, time and place, relive its emotions and sensations, relive its colors and flavors. The paschal power enables us to "remove the stones of disillusionment and mistrust", to remember and to walk, proclaiming the Lord of our lives.

This proclamation that the Lord is "the resurrection and the life" for us and for the world (cf. Jn 11:25) is the core of the Easter advertisement : Christ is risen! And the content of what we wish to be effective for everyone, with this greeting: Happy Easter!

This is what the Pope said on Easter Sunday: "At Easter, the road speeds up and becomes hurried, because humanity sees the goal of its path, the meaning of its destiny, Jesus Christ, and is called to run towards Him, the hope of the world" (Urbi et Orbi Message, April 9, 2023).

The Lord comes when we proclaim Him

Already in the Easter season, in the "Regina caeli" (which replaces the "Angelus"), Francis has broken down the attitudes, words and gestures proper to Christians. 

On Easter Monday he recalled the example of the women, the first to go to the tomb to honor the body of Jesus with aromatic ointments. They are not paralyzed by sadness and fear. "Their will to carry out this gesture of love prevails over everything. They are not discouraged, they come out of their fears and anxieties.""Here," Francis insists, "isthe way to encounter the Risen One: to come out of our fears, out of our anxieties" (Homily 10-IV-2023).

The Pope invites us to pay attention to this detail: "Jesus meets them when we go to proclaim him. When we proclaim the Lord, he comes to us. And he explains: "Sometimes we think that the way to be close to God is to have him close to us; because then, if we expose ourselves and begin to speak, judgments, criticisms arrive, perhaps we do not know how to respond to certain questions or provocations, and then it is better not to speak and keep quiet: no, that is not good! On the other hand, the Lord comes while he is being announced. You always find the Lord on the way to advertisement. Announce the Lord and you will find him. Seek the Lord and you will find him. Always on the way, this is what women teach us: Jesus is found by bearing witness to Him. Let us put this in our hearts: Jesus is found by bearing witness to him.

This always happens with good news: when we share it, we relive it and it makes us happier. It also happens with the Lord: "Every time we announce it, the Lord comes to us at meeting. He comes with respect and love, as the most beautiful gift to share. Jesus dwells more in us each time we proclaim him".

And so he invites us to ask ourselves: "When was the last time I bore witness to Jesus? What am I doing today so that the people who meeting may receive the joy of his advertisement? And also: can anyone say: this person is serene, happy, good because he has found Jesus? Can this be said of each one of us?"

We find you with and in others 

Divine Mercy Sunday (which began in 2000 on the initiative of John Paul II) presented us with the figure of Thomas, the "unbelieving apostle" (cf. Jn 20:24-29). This apostle, says Francis, represents a little of all of us. He has suffered great disappointment, seeing his master nailed to the cross without anyone doing anything to prevent it. Now he leaves the cenacle, without fear of being arrested, and then returns, although he finds it hard to believe. And then Jesus rewards him, showing him his wounds. 

"Jesus told them to sample, but in an ordinary way, coming before everyone, in community, not outside" (homily 16 April 2023). For the Pope, it is as if Jesus said to Thomas: "If you want to know me, do not look far away, stay in the community, with the others; and do not go away, pray with them, break bread with them". 

And this he also says to us: "That is where you can find me, that is where I will show you, imprinted on my body, the signs of the wounds: the signs of the Love that conquers hatred, of the Forgiveness that disarms vengeance, the signs of the Life that defeats death. It is there, in the community, that you will discover my face, while with your brothers and sisters you share moments of doubt and fear, clinging even more tightly to them. Without the community it is difficult to find Jesus". This is a lesson in ecclesiality, for without the Church, the family of God, we would not be able to meet the Lord.

Therefore, the Pope asks us, "Where do we look for the Risen One? In some special event, in some spectacular or flashy religious act, solely in our emotions and sensations? Or in the community, in the Church, accepting the challenge to remain there, even if it is not perfect?"

And he assures us that, "inspite of all its limitations and downfalls, which are our limitations and downfalls," he says., our Mother Church is the Body of Christ; and it is there, in the Body of Christ, that the greatest signs of his love are still and forever imprinted". 

This reflection of the successor of Peter strikes a deep chord. And he still challenges us when he concludes with the last question: "If in the name of this love, in the name of the wounds of Jesus, we are ready to open our arms to those who are wounded by life, excluding no one from the mercy of God, but welcoming everyone.