April 11 Audience: On Easter's Spiritual Joy

"Sadness and the wounds themselves become sources of joy"

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, April 11.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

After the solemn celebrations of Easter, our meeting today is pervaded by spiritual joy; even if the skies above are grey, in our hearts we carry the joy of Easter and the certainty of the Resurrection of Christ, who has definitively triumphed over death. First, I wish to renew my cordial Easter greetings to each one of you: in every home and heart, may the joyous announcement of Christ’s Resurrection resound, bringing new hope.

In this catechesis, I would like to show the transformation that Easter brought about in Jesus’ disciples. Let us begin with the evening of the day of the Resurrection. The disciples are locked in the house where they are staying for fear of the Jews (cf. John 20:19). Fear grips their hearts and prevents them from going out to encounter others, to encounter life. The Master is gone. The memory of His Passion fuels their uncertainty. However, Jesus has at heart those who are His own, and He is about to fulfill the promise He had made during the Last Supper: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18); and He says this also to us, even when times are grey: “I will not leave you orphans”.

The disciple’s anxious situation changes radically with Jesus’ arrival. He enters in through closed doors, He stands in their midst and He gives them the peace that puts them at ease: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19b). It is a common greeting, yet now it acquires a new meaning, for it effects an interior transformation; it is the Easter greeting, which overcomes all of the disciples’ fears. The peace that Jesus brings is the gift of salvation, which He had promised during His farewell discourse: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). On this day of Resurrection, He gives it in full, and for the community it becomes a source of joy, certainty of victory and security in relying on God. “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27b), He says also to us.

After this greeting, Jesus shows His disciples the wounds in His hands and His side (John 20:20), the signs of what had gone before and what shall never be erased: His glorious humanity will be forever “wounded”. This act is intended to confirm the new reality of Christ’s Resurrection: the Christ who now stands in the midst of His disciples is a real person, the same Jesus who just three days prior was nailed to the Cross. Thus it is that, in the brilliant light of the Resurrection, in the encounter with the Risen One, the disciples grasp the salvific meaning of His passion and death. Then do they pass from sadness and fear to the fullness of joy. Sadness and the wounds themselves become sources of joy. The joy born in their hearts comes from “seeing the Lord” (John 20:20). He again says to them: “Peace be with you” (verse 21).

At this point, it is evident that it is not only a greeting. It is a gift, the gift that the Risen One wills to make to His friends, and at the same time it is a handing on: this peace, which Christ obtained by His blood, is for them but it is also for everyone, and the disciples will have to carry it throughout the world. In fact, He adds: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (ibid.). The Risen Jesus returned among His disciples in order to send them out. He completed His work in the world; now it is their turn to sow faith in hearts, so that the Father -- known and loved -- may gather together all of His scattered children. However, Jesus knows that His followers are still very much afraid, always. Therefore, He breathes on them and regenerates them in His Spirit (cf. John 20:22); this act is the sign of the new creation. Indeed, a new world begins by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which comes from the Risen Christ. With the sending out of the disciples on mission, the journey of the people of the new covenant is inaugurated, the people who believe in Him and in His work of salvation, the people who bear witness to the truth of His Resurrection. This newness of a life that never dies -- which Easter brings -- is intended to be spread everywhere, so that the thorns of sin that wound man’s heart may give way to the buds of Grace, to the presence of God and of His love, which conquers sin and death.

Dear friends, today too the Risen One enters into our homes and into our hearts, even though at times the doors are shut. He enters, bestowing joy and peace, life and hope, gifts that we need for our human and spiritual rebirth. Only He can roll back those sepulchral stones that we often place over our sentiments, our relationships and our behavior; stones that sanction death: divisions, hatred, resentments, jealousies, mistrust and indifference. He alone, the Living One, can give life meaning and enable the one who is weary and sad, discouraged and deprived of hope, to continue on the journey.  

This is what the two disciples experienced, who were making their way on Easter day from Jerusalem to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35). They talk about Jesus, but their “saddened faces” (cf. Verse 17) express disappointed hopes, uncertainty and melancholy. They had left their native land to follow Jesus with His friends, and they had discovered a new reality, where forgiveness and love were no longer merely words but concretely touched their lives. Jesus of Nazareth had made all things new; He had transformed their lives. But now He was dead and everything seemed to have come to and end.

Suddenly, however, there were no longer two but rather three persons walking. Jesus draws near to the two disciples and walks with them, but they are unable to recognize Him. Certainly, they had heard rumors of His Resurrection; in fact, they refer to it: “Some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find His body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive” (verses 22-23). And yet, this had not been enough to convince them, since “Him they did not see” (verse 24). Then Jesus, patiently, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (verse 27). The Risen One explains Sacred Scripture to the disciples, offering the fundamental key to their reading; namely, He himself and His paschal mystery: to Him do the scriptures testify (cf. John 5:39-47). The meaning of everything -- of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms -- suddenly is opened and made clear before their eyes. Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (cf. Luke 24:45).

In the meantime, they reached the village, probably the home one of the two. The wayfaring stranger “appeared to be going further” (verse 28), but then he stopped, for they ardently asked him, “Stay with us” (verse 29). We too, again and again, should ardently ask the Lord: “Stay with us”.

“When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them” (verse 30). The reference to the actions performed by Jesus at the Last Supper is evident: “And their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (verse 31). The presence of Jesus -- first by His words, then by the act of the breaking of the bread -- enables the disciples to recognize Him, and they are able to hear in a new way all that they had already experienced on their walk with Him: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the scriptures?” (verse 32). This episode indicates to us two privileged “places” where we can encounter the Risen One, who transforms our lives: the hearing of the Word in communion with Christ, and the breaking of the Bread; two “places” that are profoundly united since “Word and Eucharist are so deeply bound together that we cannot understand one without the other: the Word of God sacramentally takes flesh in the event of the Eucharist” (Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 54-55).

Following this encounter, the two disciples “rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said: ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’” (verses 33-34). In Jerusalem they hear the news of Jesus’ Resurrection, and in turn they recount their own experience, inflamed by love for the Risen One, who opened their hearts to an uncontainable joy. They were -- as St. Peter says -- “born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Indeed, enthusiasm for the faith, love for the community and the need to announce the good news were reborn in them. The Master is risen, and with Him all of life flourishes; to bear witness to this event becomes for them an insuppressible need.

Dear friends, may the Easter season be for us all the propitious occasion to joyously and enthusiastically rediscover the sources of faith, the presence of the Risen One among us. It means following the same path along which Jesus had the two disciples of Emmaus walk, through the rediscovery of the Word of God and the Eucharist; in other words, it means walking with the Lord and allowing Him to open our eyes to the true meaning of the Scripture and to His presence in the breaking of the bread. The summit of this journey, today as it was then, is Eucharistic Communion: in Holy Communion, Jesus feeds us with His Body and His Blood in order to be present in our lives, to make us new, enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, the experience of the disciples invites us to reflect on Easter’s meaning for us. Let us allow ourselves to be encountered by the Risen Jesus! He, living and true, is always present among us; He walks with us in order to guide our lives and to open our eyes. Let us trust in the Risen One, who has the power to give life, and to give us rebirth as children of God, capable of believing and of loving. Faith in Him transforms our lives; it frees them from fear, gives them sure hope and enlivens them by what gives full meaning to life, God’s love. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our General Audience today is marked by the spiritual joy of Easter, born of the Christ’s victory over sin and death. When the risen Lord appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room and showed them his saving wounds, their lives were changed. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ gave them the peace which the world cannot give (cf. Jn 14:27) and sent them forth to bring that peace to the world. The mission of the disciples inaugurates the journey of the Church, the People of the New Covenant, called to bear witness in every age to the truth of the resurrection and the new life which it brings. Today too, the Lord enters our hearts and our homes with his gifts of joy and peace, life and hope. Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, may we recognize his presence among us in his word and in the breaking of the bread. During this Easter season, let us resolve to walk in the company of the risen Christ and allow our lives to be transformed by faith in him and by the power of his resurrection.

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I offer a warm welcome to the newly-ordained deacons from the Pontifical Irish College, together with their families and friends. Dear young deacons, may you conform your lives ever more fully to the Lord and work generously for the building up of the Church in your country. I also welcome the distinguished delegation from the NATO Defense College, with prayerful good wishes for their service to the cause of peace. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord. Happy Easter!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian, he said:]

Lastly, my thoughts go to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Dear young people, especially you who have come from the diocese of Cremona, may you be increasingly more aware that only the Lord Jesus can respond completely to your desire for happiness and to your search for what is truly good for your lives; dear sick, especially you who belong to UNITALSI of Teano-Calvi, there is greater comfort in your suffering than the Resurrection of Christ; and you, dear newlyweds, may you live your marriage in concrete adherence to Christ and to the teachings of the Gospel.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]