At the Easter Triduum, Prelatic Church of Our Lady of Peace, Rome (April, 2019)
Homily for Holy Thursday, April 18, 2019
1. In the first reading of the Mass, we have recalled the institution of the Jewish Passover, which commemorated the freeing of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Centuries later, Jesus chose the days when this liberation was remembered to celebrate, during the Last Supper, his Passover in instituting the Eucharist. Saint Paul gives an account of this in the second reading. The words Christ pronounced that night, and that we priests repeat in each Mass, changed the bread and wine into his Body and Blood. “This is my body which is given for you … This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:24-5). What does all this have to do with our own lives? Isn’t it something distant, far removed from our own problems?
2. We are beginning the Paschal Triduum. You have come to Rome to take part, with greater intensity, in these three days that are the most important ones in the year for a Christian. The freeing of the people of Israel, under Moses’s guidance, was an image of what later the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus would mean for all mankind. So it has a lot to do with each one of us. In the slavery imposed on the Jewish people we can see an image of the slavery of sin. And Israel’s freedom foretold a new and higher freedom: the freedom of the children of God, which Christ’s grace attains for each one of us.
3. But we can ask ourselves another question: do I truly need to be freed? Don’t I usually do what I want? Saint Paul, who from his youth sought God by paths other than Christian ones, wrote: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (Rom 7:18-19). It is the experience of the lack of strength to do all the good that needs to be done. Chesterton, with his typical British humor, said that the overwhelming evidence of human weakness shows that the action of sin is the part of Christian doctrine that can be proven even scientifically. We need Christ to definitively heal our own freedom. And it is on the Cross where he has attained for us the deepest liberation: the liberation from sin, which purifies our heart so that we can discover our true identity as God’s children.
4. The Eucharist “is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down through the ages” (Enc. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 11). At each Mass, whose institution we celebrate today, this sacrifice of salvation becomes present in a sacramental way. So the freedom that Christ won for us by his Passion, Death and Resurrection is not distant from us, neither in time nor geographically. Moreover, the Eucharist is already a pledge of eternal life. As Saint Josemaria said: “Receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord in communion is, in a certain sense, like loosening the bonds of earth and time, in order to be already with God in heaven” (Conversations, no. 113).
5. We can experience the freedom that Christ won for us in the strength we are given especially through the sacraments. As a Father of the Church wrote many centuries ago, when the first Christians met to celebrate the Eucharist, amid fierce persecution, truly present there was “the sign of freedom” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Adversus Haereses, IV, 18, 2). Tonight, when visiting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in the churches of Rome, we can reflect: in the Eucharist is my true freedom.
On this night, when we also recall the institution of the priesthood and the washing of the apostles’ feet, let us ask our Mother Holy Mary to help us contemplate, marvel at, give thanks for, and approach with faith and love our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. Amen.
Homily on Good Friday, April 19, 2019
In the account we have read of the Passion, written by St. John, an eyewitness to the events, we find four scenes in which we can hear words spoken directly by Jesus: in the Garden of Olives, when being questioned in the house of Annas, in his conversations with Pilate, and finally when on the Cross. The Gospels record many moments when God made man spoke our language: from that first conversation with his Mother, when he was only twelve years old, to the long farewell speech at the Last Supper. We have sermons, parables, explanations, which will always tell us new things. However, the words that come from Jesus’ heart on the Cross reach us especially. Here I would like to focus on one of those phrases: “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28).
From the physical point of view, with a shattered body like Jesus’, the thirst would surely have come much earlier. Besides, he probably hadn’t eaten or drunk since he was captured. And above all we know that, minutes before being crucified, he had been offered a narcotic drink to alleviate a little of the pain, but Christ did not take it (Mt 27:34; Mk 15:23). Why now, already nailed to the wood out of love of us, a few moments before dying, does Jesus again manifest his thirst?
On the one hand, St. John himself tells us: so that the Scripture might be fulfilled (see Jn 19:28). These are moments in which Jesus had wanted to take on our sins, our sufferings, our weaknesses. The Gospel tells us that our Lord, in saying “I thirst,” knew that everything was already accomplished (see Jn 19:28). In those moments of maximum pain, Jesus thought of each one of us. St. Thomas Aquinas comments that, with the intense thirst of someone who is almost completely dehydrated, Jesus wanted to manifest his ardent desire to save us (see Super Ioan., chapter 19, l. 5). In other words, this thirst of someone who is between life and death is the image of how much Jesus loves us, how much he wants us to open our hearts to him. It is difficult to hear these words, to understand their meaning, and to not give them importance. Let us take advantage of this Holy Week in Rome, where we can even admire some relics of the Holy Cross, to let ourselves be challenged by these words of Christ. May we be able to say in the depths of our soul: Jesus, I really want to quench your thirst a little! Jesus, help me to correspond to your love!
We have asked ourselves: Why did Jesus manifest his thirst? The Gospel of John shows us another scene in which the theme of Christ’s thirst is also central: when, tired from his journey, Christ asks a Samaritan woman for water. If we read the whole passage we realize that Jesus is thinking about the salvation of that woman. The thirst of our Lord is a thirst that is only quenched by the peace of the soul that he meets on his path. The scene ends with the conversion of the Samaritan woman. And not only that; later, she returns to her city, saying: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn 4:29). Jesus’ thirst quickly transformed into an apostle a woman who did not even fully share Israel’s faith.
The thirst for Christ extends to everyone equally, even to those who do not yet know him or who are somewhat distant: from the Cross it is impossible to view people in a superficial way. The thirst for Jesus extends to our friends, to our families, to all the people around us. It is significant that the inscription that Pilate had placed on the Cross, as the cause of the condemnation, was written in the three main languages of that time: Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. It is an image of Christ’s love on the Cross, which cannot be contained in one language alone.
We are people here from very different places, but the Cross of Christ speaks equally to all of us. St. Josemaría said: “On the Cross he cried out Sitio!, ‘I thirst.’ He thirsts for us, for our love, for our souls and for all the souls we ought to be bringing to him” (Friends of God, no. 202). We are here, in this liturgical celebration, because God wanted to bring us closer to him. Let us thank our Lord for calling us to this great task of quenching his thirst, despite all our weaknesses.
In a few minutes we will have the adoration of the Cross; let us accompany our gesture of kneeling down and kissing it with a strong inner desire not to forget what Jesus has done for us. May the images that we see of the Cross throughout our day, at our work table, in our room, in a painting, remind us of those words of Christ that we have meditated on “I am thirsty,” and the task of bringing to our Lord the people we encounter on our path. To do so we ask the help of Mary, our Mother, who listened directly to Jesus’ words. We are comforted by the conviction that, just as she never separated herself from her Son, even in the most difficult moments, she never separates herself from us. Amen.
Homily at the Easter Vigil, April 20, 2019
The Gospel we have just heard points to the approximate time when the women ran to the tomb: “very early in the morning” (Lk 24:1). Jesus, whom they loved so much, had died; the One who from the moment they had first found him had filled their lives with meaning, had been crucified. The world for these women had suddenly become an empty and confusing place again. The last few nights they may have been afraid of being discovered as followers of the One who had been condemned to death. The Pope during last year’s Easter Vigil called these difficult moments “the hours of the silent disciple.” And that may be the same feeling we too will have if we are a little distant from God or if we feel that the problems of our family, of the Church or of the world are too great; in short: if we are overcome by some insecurity.
However, in the Easter proclamation we have joined in the exclamation of the whole Church: Haec nox sicut dies illuminábitur. This night will be as clear as day. Without depending on our own strength, a light comes to dissipate the darkness, just as the fire of the Easter candle, an image of Christ, little by little through each one’s small candles restored light to this church of Our Lady of Peace.
“Christ, who has been raised from the dead, dies no more” (Rom 6:9), St. Paul tells us in the epistle we have read. Therefore the women who came to the tomb, after so many hours of solitude, can be reassured: Jesus will never abandon them. And that’s what makes this night brighter than any other. There is no darkness that Christ’s resurrection cannot illuminate. There is no worry so great that it makes us forget that Christ is stronger than evil, sin and death. As St. Josemaría wrote: “Christ always conquers” (The Forge, no. 660). We can ask ourselves: do I often remember the resurrection of our Lord, which is the foundation of our faith? Am I aware, in the midst of my personal difficulties, that Christ is alive and is close to me?
Jesus is alive. That is what the angels help the women at the tomb to understand. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? (Lk 24:6). At that moment, perhaps they remember the Master’s own words and make their own the truth of the announcement: Jesus is alive. Then their attitude changes completely: from being “speechless,” as though they had nothing inside to share, their hearts overflow with joy. As the prophet Ezekiel says in one of the readings, their heart of stone is exchanged for a heart of flesh (see Ez 11:19), for a heart that immediately thinks of others. They need to run. They need to communicat this news to the apostles as soon as possible. Let us ask our Lord that this Easter may be for us the same as it was for those holy women. May we find in the risen Christ the joy to awaken the people around us to happiness. God counts on our life to dispel the fear of those who, for one reason or another, doubt Jesus’ power to overcome death and evil.
And what is the first reaction of the apostles? How do those men react who, over time, will have the courage to go all over the world announcing the resurrection of Jesus until they are martyred? Surprisingly, they think the women’s words are an “idle tale” (see Lk 24:11). That’s how deep their discouragement is. They think it is impossible that this could have happened. But the risen Christ himself destroyed all these pessimistic calculations. Soon they were talking about Jesus openly in their homes, at their jobs, in the public squares. Over the years they would travel along many roads until they reached Rome, from where the news of the Resurrection spread to all the known world, although certainly with many difficulties and persecutions.
Haec nox sicut dies illuminábitur. We have said, joining the whole Church in the Easter proclamation, that this night will be as clear as day. Tonight is not night. Let us be filled with joy like those women because Jesus is alive, because we will never be alone again. Let us be filled with a joy like that of the apostles, which is renewed every day, and which allows us to take the message of the Resurrection, from Rome, to every corner of the world, especially to the people who are closest to us. St. Josemaría liked to think that the first person that the risen Christ visited will have been his Mother. Let us ask Mary, when discouragement threatens to darken our path, when “the hour of the silent disciple” arrives, to remind us that Jesus always conquers. Amen.
Romana, n. 68, January-June 2019, p. 84-89.