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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
My dear brothers and sisters, it is with joy that we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. During Holy Week, the Great Week that we have just lived through, we meditated and contemplated Jesus in the greatest thing He did for us: die on a cross. After having lived thirty-three years on earth, Jesus died, they laid Him in the tomb, and He rose again. That is how He spread His light.
I remember how, when I was a little boy, the ceremony of light during the Easter Vigil made an enormous impression on me. It is not by chance that the Church wanted a ceremony so powerful in images and symbols, precisely to strike the minds of children of all ages.
At the beginning of the Easter Vigil, all the lights are put out. Everything is in the dark, in darkness and silence. Then you glimpse a very feeble ray of light coming from the back of the chapel, the symbol of Jesus coming out of the tomb. The priest walks forward carrying the Paschal Candle as the deacon intones Lumen Christi, “The Light of Christ.” The further the Candle advances, the more everything becomes luminous.
During the ceremony, the children light their little candles from the flame of the large Paschal Candle. Then each assistant lights his candle by the contact of the children’s candles. Then, from candle to candle, the flame is communicated to the entire congregation.
This is exactly what happens in the supernatural realm. The little child must make a personal effort to draw close to the large Candle in order to have the light. Scarcely does he receive the light when he can already communicate it to another, who also makes the gesture of holding out his candle. It is in this way that Jesus uses His children to communicate light to the world. But there is a gesture that must be made. Each one must make his effort, each one must perform acts in his life to receive the light that is offered, in order to receive all of Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus came in His Father’s name to communicate His teaching to us. I am the light of the world. He who follows Me does not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.1 By ourselves, we are in darkness. Who among you has never experienced darkness? The slightest bit that we leave God aside a little, we experience it. The more we withdraw from Him, the more we are in darkness. To be in the light we must voluntarily, as in the Easter Vigil ceremony, draw near to Jesus. We must put ourselves in contact with Him, in contact with the Gospel, in contact through prayer, in contact through the Eucharist, Communion, Holy Mass. And then we must maintain this contact with God in order to keep the light. That is the explanation of this beautiful ceremony which we have just performed.
Jesus, Light of the world: He came, He did all His part, He gave His life upon the cross. On the eve of His Passion, He gave Himself in the Eucharist as food. But we must make the effort to receive Communion worthily, fittingly. In this way Jesus enlightens us, illuminates our life. Our very little candle is lit, and we begin to see our way.
Why is it be that people do not know very well where they are going? Draw near to Jesus, the true Light, and you will see the way! Enter into prayer. Put yourself in contact with the Gospel. Apply yourself to living it. Implore Jesus to give you that grace, and you will have the light. I assure you, my brothers, my sisters, my friends, God will guide your life. Those who want to come into contact with the Light and make their personal effort will receive it. The three main ways to draw near to the Light are prayer, meditation of the Gospel, and reception of the Sacraments. This is how Jesus wanted it to be.
The leaders, the Pharisees and priests, were afraid of Jesus after His death. Having witnessed His miracles, they recalled that He had said He would rise again. When they asked Jesus, What sign can You show us to act in this way? He replied, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.2 And on another occasion, the Scribes and Pharisees said to Him, Master, we want a sign from You that we can see. – No sign shall be given other than the sign of Jonas the Prophet. Jonas was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, and so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.3
The Jews understood this so well that as soon as Jesus was dead, they went to speak to Pilate who, as the governor of Judea, represented Roman authority. They said to him: “We have remembered how that deceiver said, when He was alive, After three days I will rise again. Give orders, therefore, that the sepulcher be guarded until the third day, lest His disciples come and secretly remove His body and say to the people: He has risen from the dead. This last imposture would be even worse than the first.”4 You must guard this dead man so that He does not come out of the tomb! Exasperated, Pilate answered, “You have guards, post them! And do not bother me any more.”5
I put you in the context so that you may have a clearer idea of what happened. The Apostles had forgotten that Jesus had predicted several times that He would rise again the third day. The disciples of Jesus, His friends and relatives, were afraid, they were in hiding. But apparently His enemies believed so much in the resurrection of Jesus that they had the tomb guarded by soldiers. Jesus had given numerous proofs that He was truly the Son of God. Many signs had drawn attention to His death, among others a powerful earthquake on Good Friday at the moment the Saviour expired upon Calvary. The Gospel relates that again on Easter morning, the earth quaked violently.6 The soldiers, terror-struck, falling down from fear like dead men, witnessed the spectacle: an Angel shining like lightning rolled back the tombstone and sat upon it.
6Recovering from their fright, the soldiers went to look into the tomb and saw that it was empty. Jesus was already gone when the Angel rolled back the stone. The guards went to report to the priests, the Jewish authorities who had posted them, and related what had happened. They were still trembling in every limb. The Gospel says: They held a council with the Elders of the people; and after deliberation, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers and imposed these orders on them: “Say that His Disciples came by night and stole Him while you were sleeping. And if the governor finds out anything about it, we will persuade him and protect you from any penalty.”7
Now, Roman law condemned to death ipso facto any sentinel who slept at his post. Perhaps the soldiers did not know how to read and write, but they knew that these words would imperil their lives. “Say that we were sleeping? They will put us to death!” The Gospel does not record this detail, but the answer of the Scribes implies it: “Do not worry about the governor, we will take care of him. We give you money, and we have some for him too. We will arrange everything. We know the governor; we’ve been dealing with him for a long time. You will say that the Apostles took away the body of Jesus while you were sleeping.”
First of all, when you are sleeping, do you know what is going on? If the guards were sleeping, how could they have seen the Apostles taking the body? And if the Apostles had taken it, the Roman governor and all the authorities in Jerusalem would have set everything in motion to find the corpse. Do you think they would have let this happen so easily? But this assertion, absurd as it was, passed into history. The devil thinks he is very smart, but his fabrication is far from brilliant. The fact of having guards posted at the tomb provided one more proof of the truth of the Resurrection. Had there been no guards, we might say that we have no evidence. But we do.
In a way, these unfaithful Jews believed in the Resurrection of Jesus more than the Apostles did. You can see how far hardening of the heart can take you. In spite of obvious signs, we can become hardened and fight against God because we do not want to obey Him. We want to follow our whims, we want to follow our pride, our vanity, and God thwarts us.
Shortly before He died on the cross, Jesus said to us, each one of us: “My little children, My little boys, My little girls, if you wish to be My disciples, deny yourselves, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.”8 If Jesus were not God, He would be rather insolent to say such a thing. But He is God, and He has proved it.
To prove that He is truly the Son of God, He predicts His Resurrection: “They are going to destroy Me, put Me to death, but I will rise again.” Saint Paul says, If Christ has not risen, vain is your faith.9 If Jesus had not resurrected on Easter Day, all that He taught us does not hold up. My brothers and sisters who are religious, and you who have come to pray with us for three days, if Jesus has not risen, you are wasting your time. You might just as well have stayed home and enjoyed yourselves.
But Jesus is risen, and He is risen because He is God. If He is God, His teaching and His examples are true, and we are all obliged to follow them. From the moment of His birth, and during the thirty years He lived hidden, Jesus teaches us by His examples, so that we may do as He did. And during the three years of His public life, He teaches us with His words written in the Gospel. It is serious. We can no longer trifle. Everything holds together in our religion, there are no missing pieces. And we see the central piece today: the Resurrection of Jesus, the supreme proof of His divinity.
Jesus is God incarnate. He left Heaven and took the body of a man to show me the way. He says: I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.10 We cannot go to God, to Heaven, to our blessed eternity, without following Jesus. On this day of the Resurrection, a beautiful day of joy, we are still talking about the Cross, the Passion, we cannot avoid it. I speak to you about the Resurrection, but as long as we are on earth, we are always brought back to the Passion of Jesus. We too are called to resurrect and take part in His happiness one day. But in order for us to resurrect with Him, first we must follow Him, not only for a little stretch of the road, and then run away when things start getting rough. When things become costly, difficult, sorrowful, shall we be tempted to go off on a tangent, take another direction? No, we must follow Jesus right to the end. That is our religion. That is the truth.
Very early in the morning, Mary Magdalen makes her way to the tomb of Jesus with perfumes, wanting again to manifest her respect for Him.11 While the Apostles are fearful and the soldiers alarmed, Mary Magdalen is full of love. When she reaches the sepulcher, finding the stone already rolled back, she hastens to enter in without any hesitation. When you love, you are not afraid, you follow, even up to Calvary. Mary Magdalen truly loved. A great sinner woman converted by the Master, she had remained on Calvary. No soldier frightened her. And she was the first at the tomb, which she found empty.
The Apostles loved Jesus also, but their love was too weak, and fear got the upper hand. Magdalen knew where they were hidden; she went to see Peter and John, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and I do not know where they have laid Him!” Peter and John ran immediately to the tomb. John, who arrived first, remained at the entrance of the sepulcher waiting for Peter, who was older and ran less quickly. These are little details that say a lot. Already at this moment, John recognized the authority of Peter, established by Jesus, as the head of His Church. He is aware of Peter’s fall, his denial; he knows that he did not follow the Saviour on Calvary, whereas he, John, had been there. He remained humbly at the entrance and let Peter enter first, out of respect for his authority. The Gospel says that on seeing the empty tomb, they saw and they believed. Note well: they did not believe in the Resurrection. They believed in the word of Magdalen who said that Jesus was no longer there.
Returning to the sepulcher, Magdalen tearfully sees two Angels in the tomb. And turning, she sees Jesus but does not recognize Him. Thinking that He is the gardener, she asks Him: “If you are the one who removed Him, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will go and take Him. I want to see Him.” Jesus says to her, “Mary!” Recognizing Him at once, Mary replies: “Rabonni! My Master, my God!”
Believing instantly, she rushed towards Jesus. He stops her, saying: “Do not touch Me, keep your distance, for I have not yet gone up to My Father. But go to My brothers and tell them: I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” Go and tell My brothers: what touching words! Jesus will employ these same words when He appears to the holy women. “Go and tell My brothers that I will go before them in Galilee.”
The Apostles remained His children, remained His friends, as He called them at the Last Supper. But now that Jesus has risen from the dead, things take on a new dimension. Jesus calls them “My brothers.” The Master must soon depart, and they will have to take over. They are His Apostles, they are other Christs. They will have to go and teach the truth to the world.
When Mary Magdalen returns to tell the Apostles that she has seen Jesus, they do not believe her. Neither do they believe the holy women who declare that they too have seen Him.
Another episode takes place on this same Easter Sunday. It is the story of the “disciples of Emmaus.” Having followed Jesus and lived in His very pleasant company, they had listened to His voice and seen His acts. They had regarded Him as the hope of Israel, the Messiah awaited for thousands of years. Jesus was their hope, their love. But the Master was dead. They had seen Him condemned, humiliated, scorned, berated in the worst way, climbing Calvary, crucified, laid in the tomb. For our two men, since Jesus was dead, it was pointless for them to remain in Jerusalem. So they were going back home in mortal dejection. I invite you to read the episode related in the Gospel.12 Their story really hits home.
On their way back to Emmaus, we see them sad and despondent, looking as if they have experienced disappointments on every level. Have you ever seen people who are discouraged, on the verge of despair? They drag their feet, their shoulders are rounded, the sun no longer shines. Nothing matters to them any more, it is death. The two disciples are returning in full daylight, on the Sunday of the Resurrection, in extreme sorrow, for they do not yet believe that Jesus has risen, despite the affirmations of the holy women.
On the way, a stranger meets up with them, joins them and begins a conversation: “My good friends, you look very sad. What has happened to you?” Cleophas and his companion reply: “Are You such a stranger in Israel that you have not heard of the things that have happened these last few days?”
“No, what things?”
“Jesus was a prophet among us, a man mighty in word and works. If you had only heard Him! When He spoke, the crowds vibrated. We were very down-to-earth people, living only for material things. Once we heard this Man, the earth no longer mattered to us. We wanted to live for God, do something for Him. We witnessed miracles that He worked. But His enemies succeeded in doing away with Him. We do not understand what happened. We thought He was the Son of God, the Messiah. This is the third day since they killed Him. He is dead, it is all over.” And Jesus said to them: “O foolish men, slow of heart to believe in all that the Prophets have foretold! Did not the Christ have to suffer all these things before entering into His glory?”
And as He walked with them, He began to explain Holy Scripture, quoting from the prophecies of the Old Testament. “Did not a certain prophet predict that the Messiah would be rejected by His own people, that He would be abandoned, scorned, humiliated, and die a most cruel death? Look! This prophet predicted it, and that other one too. This Jesus you are talking about fulfilled the Scriptures. Therefore, He is truly the Messiah.”
They reached the little village of Emmaus in the evening; it was getting dark. The Stranger acted as though He would go His way. Our two men urged Him to stay: “It is nighttime. You cannot go on. Come in and have supper with us.” Their invitation was motivated a little by self-interest. They wanted to continue having their hearts warmed up! This man spoke to them so well about the things of God that they wanted to hear more. The Stranger accepted. Sitting down with them, He took some bread and broke it. The Gospel says that at that precise moment, the disciples recognized Jesus. They had witnessed the institution of the Holy Eucharist on the evening of Holy Thursday. You can imagine how their hearts melted, and how deeply ashamed they were over seeing themselves abandoning Jesus after having followed Him and loved Him. In His immense mercy, Jesus Himself, hidden under the appearance of a stranger, had come to them and revealed the meaning of the Scriptures to them. The disciples would later say: “Our heart was burning with love while He was speaking to us on the road and revealing to us the meaning of the Scriptures.”
But Jesus has already left, He is gone. Finding themselves alone together, they review these events in their mind. The Gospel says that these same men, who had walked under the hot sun from Jerusalem to Emmaus by day in the bright sunshine, totally despondent, with heavy hearts like two condemned men, now rush off to retrace their steps in the opposite direction in the dark of night. They go back to Jerusalem to tell the Apostles: “He is risen! We saw Him! We walked with Him. We spoke with Him. He explained the Scriptures to us. He revealed everything to us.”
When the faith of the disciples of Emmaus wavered, they abandoned everything. Upon recovering the faith, they rebounded. My brothers and sisters, when we have faith, when we have hope, when we have love in us, we run, we fly. We don’t drag our feet. Why do we drag our feet sometimes? It is because we lose faith, because we lose love, we lose hope. We drag along: “It’s not funny, what God is asking us to do. It is really hard. He makes us climb Calvary.” But when we have faith, when we have hope, when we have love, it is not the same anymore. We take the way of God, we walk in His footsteps, we follow Him with an ardor, a will, an energy, and the grace of God carries us along.
My brothers and sisters, on this Easter Day, this is the grace I wish for you: the grace of faith, real faith. When we have faith, we love. When we have faith, we hope. Keep the faith, my brothers. Increase it. When we lose faith, we lose everything. We lose it through our negligences, through the habit of sin, through love of and attachment to our little sins. If we do not receive the sacraments, or if we receive them unworthily, with negligence and distraction, we lose faith. We must not play with God’s graces.
I would like to end by adding a word in honor of our good heavenly Mother, the Virgin Mary. During these days we have accompanied Her in Her sorrow, especially yesterday, Holy Saturday, specifically consecrated to contemplation of the Sorrowful Virgin. Her Son is dead, He is in the tomb, but She remains. Our good Mother is there alone, holding the Church, while the Apostles have all taken fright and run away. She keeps the faith, and She knows that Jesus will rise again.
But what sorrow is Hers! It is an immense, boundless, infinite sorrow. On this Holy Saturday, She alone bears all the sufferings of the world. The Virgin Mary continues the Redemption. She has faith, She has hope, She has love at its highest level.
Jesus has left, He has relied on Her. He knew who He could rely on. The Gospel does not report it, but we can believe that the very first manifestation of Jesus was to His Mother. If there was anyone who was happy on the Sunday of the Resurrection, it was the Virgin Mary. She exulted with joy all the more because She was the One who had suffered the most, by following Her Son on His way of sorrow, His way of the cross.
To the Virgin Mary on this Easter Sunday be all the praise, all the glory that She deserves. She carried the Church, She carried the cross, She continued to suffer. Jesus repays Her well for it today, He gives Her a consolation that surpasses all human conception. The Gospel says nothing about it. The Virgin Mary effaced Herself. When She saw Her risen Son, whose death She had witnessed and whose corpse She had held, what joy is Hers! What a sorrowful drama She had lived through with Her Son, and how She suffered after the death of Her Jesus! Now He is risen!
Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Resurrection, we ask You for the great grace of faith. We ask it of You for ourselves and for all our brothers and sisters.
On the day of the Resurrection, the Church very rightly recommends that we ask for faith. Faith is the foundation of the entire supernatural edifice. We are going to offer this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to ask for this immense gift of faith. May nothing stop us. May we truly believe that Jesus is God.
True faith makes us active. A faith that does not cause you to act is mere fiction. Faith without works is dead,13 says Saint James. If I say that I believe and I do not act, do I have faith? No. These are only empty words. True faith makes us act. If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we must follow Him, we must walk in His footsteps, follow His way of the cross, His sorrowful way. We must climb Calvary with Him.
During this Easter Mass, let us ask for the grace of faith, the grace to be true, to fully live our faith. Faith is not very widespread today. There are not many people on this earth, unfortunately, even among Christians and perhaps among us, who have a true and active faith, a faith which makes them follow this way of Calvary. We must be true before God. That is the grace we are going to ask of Him, this supreme gift of true faith which will put us in motion to truly follow Jesus.
As Jesus immolates Himself in my hands on the altar, let us make this prayer together for all our brothers and sisters of the earth, for all souls of good will. Look at the disciples of Emmaus: they were men of good will, they were not evil. But they were losing the faith and were in the process of abandoning Jesus. Let us make an attentive prayer, a prayer of the Church, to ask for this gift of faith for all souls of good will. A great number of souls have gone much further than the disciples of Emmaus in their abandonment of the faith. These people are not evil, perhaps they do not have bad will, but they have abandoned the way of faith. Let us ask for this gift of true faith, which will make us and our brothers and sisters walk upon the true way. It is this inestimable grace that I wish for you and that we are going to pray for.
Mary had Her day of trials; She also had Her day of triumph!… God proportions consolations to sufferings, and since the Lord wanted to appear with such tender haste to His Mother’s holy companions, who could doubt that His first apparition, upon leaving the tomb, was for His Mother Herself?
Fr. Theodore Ratisbonne, Miettes évangéliques