In the hour of darkness when humanity is grappling with the pandemic and other ills, Christians need to take to heart the Easter message of the angel not to be afraid, assured that in Galilee where the Lord precedes them, their expectations will be fulfilled, their tears will be dried and their fears will be replaced by hope. Pope Francis made the point in his homily at the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Saturday night.
Reflecting on the Easter episode of the women at the tomb, the Pope drew attention to what the angel told them. “Wonder at hearing the words: ‘Do not be afraid!” the Pope said. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen’. And a message: ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him’.”
Always possible to begin anew
After the initial rite of the blessing of the fire and the Paschal candle inside the basilica, Pope Francis and the concelebrants proceeded towards the altar of the chair, with a deacon bearing the lit Easter candle. During the procession in the darkened church, the flame of the candle was first passed on to the Pope and then gradually to the concelebrants and the limited number of faithful. After the Pope walked up the main aisle, the basilica's lights were switched on.
Ushering in the 9th Easter of his pontificate, the 84-year-old pontiff in his homily reflected on what it means to go to Galilee. First of all, it means to begin anew. Galilee was the place of the first encounter of the disciples with the Lord, their first love. It was here that they listened to Him preach and perform miracles. It was also where they misunderstood His words and in the face of the cross abandoned Him and fled.
In spite of everything, the Lord invites them to start over from where they began. “In this Galilee,” the Pope said, “we learn to be amazed by the Lord’s infinite love, which opens new trails along the path of our defeats.”
Hence, he said, the first Easter message of returning to Galilee is that “it is always possible to begin anew despite all our failures. “From the rubble of our hearts,” the Pope said, “God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can prepare a new history.” “In these dark months of the pandemic,” the Pope urged all to “listen to the Risen Lord as He invites us to begin anew and never lose hope”.
Jesus surprises, makes faith alive
Going to Galilee also means setting out on new paths by walking away from the tomb. For many, the Pope said, faith is made up of habits, things from the past, lovely childhood memories, but no longer a faith that moves me, or challenges me. On the other hand, going to Galilee means making faith alive, and getting back on the road. We must daily renew the amazement of the first encounter and humbly allow ourselves to be surprised by God’s ways. “God,” the Pope said, “cannot be filed away among our childhood memories, but is alive and filled with surprises. Risen from the dead, Jesus never ceases to amaze us.”
Therefore, the second Easter message of Pope Francis is that Christ is alive here and now. According to him, “Faith is not an album of past memories; Jesus is not outdated.” “He walks beside you each day, in every trial you have to endure, in your deepest hopes and dreams. Even if you feel that all is lost, let yourself be open to amazement at the newness Jesus brings: He will surely surprise you.”
The Galilee of peripheries
Going to Galilee also means going to the peripheries. Galilee, an outpost farthest from the ritual purity of Jerusalem, was where Jesus began His mission. There, He brought His message to "those struggling to live from day to day, the excluded, the vulnerable and the poor".
It is in the peripheries that God tirelessly seeks out those who are discouraged or lost. He goes to the "very peripheries of existence, since in His eyes no one is least, no one is excluded". Thus, the Risen Lord is asking His disciples to go to the settings of daily life, the streets we travel every day, the corners of our cities. "There the Lord goes ahead of us and makes Himself present in the lives of those around us, those who share in our day, our home, our work, our difficulties, and hopes." The Pope said, "We will be amazed how the greatness of God is revealed in littleness, how His beauty shines forth in the poor and simple."
The third Easter message, therefore, is that the Risen Lord, loves us without limits and is there at every moment of our lives. "He invites us to overcome barriers, banish prejudices and draw near to those around us every day in order to rediscover the grace of everyday life." “Let us recognize Him here in our Galilees, in everyday life,” the Pope urged. “Beyond all defeats, evil and violence, beyond all suffering and death," the Pope said, "the Risen One lives and guides history.”