On this Easter day, the most holy and joy-filled day of the year, I look out and there is nobody in the Church. The Church is empty – where is the joy? – where are the people? John Carr, a professor at Georgetown University, said it best, “the traditions of our faith are being turned upside down at the moment, noting that honoring the Sabbath means staying at home and honoring your father and mother may mean keeping your distance in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus.” Our lives have been changed over these past few weeks.
Pope Francis asked the world to join him for evening prayer on March 28th as he offered a message to the world about the coronavirus pandemic. The message was one of hope. I urge you to view the video or read Pope Francis’ message. One Italian reporter wrote, “But the prayer for the end of the pandemic, the solemn Urbi et Orbi blessing, the solitude of the pope, will end up as one of those decisive moments in which television captures our history, our anguish, in real time.” The scene opened with Pope Francis the only figure in St. Peter’s Square in the late evening walking in the rain. When he reached the podium at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 4, verse 35 was read. We hear that Jesus is asleep in the boat during the storm and his disciples awaken Him because they are afraid for their lives. Pope Francis reminds us just like the disciples in the boat that we too are afraid; “It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While His disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, Jesus in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does He do? Despite the tempest, He sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father.” Jesus responds to the disciples with these words, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mark 5:40). Why does Jesus question the disciple’s faith? The disciples still have faith in Jesus, but they say to Him, “Do you not care?” Think that Jesus did not care about them! Pope Francis reminds us, “One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: ‘Do you not care about me?’ It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because He, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on Him, He saves His disciples from their discouragement.”
Jesus responds to His disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Pope Francis reminds us, “The Lord may ask us during our tempest, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith’?” He invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by His Cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by His Cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by His Cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from His redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: He is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from His Cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters and let us allow hope to be rekindled.”
In today’s Gospel from John which we hear proclaimed, there are three people mentioned, Mary Magdalene, Peter and the beloved disciple. We ask, were they afraid and did they have faith? Mary Magdalene, a woman who loved Jesus, “came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark and saw the stone removed from the tomb” (John 20:1). She ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb.” Can we ask, was she afraid or did she have faith to believe in the Resurrection? Why did she go to the tomb early in the morning? For Mary Magdalene, faith was one of learning. She knew Jesus. She trusted Jesus, but she was not yet not yet able to understand. She was searching for the Lord. When Jesus appeared to her, she did not recognize Him until Jesus called her by her name, Mary! She turned to Him and said in Hebrew “Rabbouni” which means Teacher (Jn 20:16). Mary Magdalene is like some of us – searching in order to know the Lord. The Lord may be calling you. Are you listening?
The beloved disciple was mentioned many times in the Scripture. Most Scripture scholars identify the beloved disciple as John. John was the only disciple to stand at the foot of the Cross with Mary, mother of Jesus. We recall the great exchange between Jesus, His mother and John; “Woman, behold your son.” “Son, behold your mother.” In the Gospel today, we hear John entered the tomb after Peter and saw what Peter saw “the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered His head.” We are told that Peter said nothing but John believed. John was one who reflected on everything about Jesus. John loved Jesus and his love of Jesus brought him faith.
Today’s first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. We see and hear a different Peter than we experienced within the Gospels. We hear Peter give witness and personal testimony to who Jesus Christ is. He is bold and brave in contrast to the scene of his three denials of Jesus Christ. There is a scene in the end of John’s Gospel after the Resurrection. Jesus comes to Peter. Jesus ask him three times, “Do you love me?” Peter, “the rock,” is challenged by Jesus to come to faith. We too are often challenged to come to faith in Jesus.
Pope Francis offers one final note, “Embracing His Cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By His Cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others.” The real gift of Easter is to embrace the Lord, “in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.” May you on this Easter day be renewed in your faith by the love of the Risen Christ.