During his homily for the Easter Vigil last night, April 8, 2023, Pope Francis returned to a theme of his Easter preaching from years past, and invited us to follow the women in Matthew’s Gospel account of the Resurrection who found the tomb empty and “return to Galilee.”
They leave the tomb behind and run to the disciples to proclaim a change of course: Jesus is risen and awaits them in Galilee. In their lives, those women experienced Easter as a Pasch, a passage. They pass from walking sorrowfully towards the tomb to running back with joy to the disciples to tell them not only that the Lord is risen, but also that they are to set out immediately to reach a destination, Galilee. There they will meet the Risen Lord. The rebirth of the disciples, the resurrection of their hearts, passes through Galilee. Let us enter into this journey of the disciples from the tomb to Galilee.
The women returned to the sealed tomb, prepared to mourn the Jesus they had seen killed just days earlier. How often do we arrive at the evening of Holy Saturday, as prepared as the women for mourning at “sealed tombs,” not sure that the joy of the Resurrection will enkindle anything new in our hearts? The sorrows and pains of our own lives and relationships, the experiences of personal failure or failing health, all set against the backdrop of injustice, scandal, and a lingering pandemic in our world and in our Church, can leave us feeling grieved or despairing. Pope Francis–only a week after leaving the hospital–highlighted the weariness these experiences can bring to our souls.
Then it is easy to yield to disillusionment, once the wellspring of hope has dried up. In these or similar situations – each of us knows our own plights, our paths come to a halt before a row of tombs, and we stand there, filled with sorrow and regret, alone and powerless, repeating the question, “Why?” That chain of “why”…
This paralyzing effect of grief, and the powerlessness it can bring up in us, is a familiar experience for me. Unadulterated sadness I can do; it’s being blindsided again by an unpredicted and unpredictable loss, wrong turn, or personal or global crisis that is wearying. Keeping hope alive that things can get better, that God still saves and will make all things new–including His Church–can feel impossible when hardly a week goes by without cause for scandal. Who among us hasn’t asked “Why?”. Demoralized, we can even forget our first living encounter with Jesus.
But the traumatized women who had accompanied their Savior to the Cross, who were likely as unprepared for the surprise that awaited them at the empty tomb as we are today for inklings of Easter joy, were open to the gift of His rising. They were surprised–not blindsided–in that graced moment of the Risen Jesus’ appearance. Embracing His feet, they received their call, and with it, the courage to go and tell the others of their mission:
“The women at Easter, however, do not stand frozen before the tomb; rather, the Gospel tells us, “they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples” (v. 8).”
They were not expecting the journey their Lord would invite them on to Galilee to meet Him there. Often, neither do we. We’d prefer to see the path laid out for us, and have a say in the plans for us. Perhaps Jesus’ gracious gift can give each of us, even those who may find the Church to be a place of trauma, the courage to see God’s work and hear His call today.
As the Lord calls us forward, He does not ask us to forget the past, but to remember it anew:
Let us ask ourselves today, brothers and sisters: what does it mean to go to Galilee? Two things: on the one hand, to leave the enclosure of the Upper Room and go to the land of the Gentiles (cf. Mt 4:15), to come forth from hiding and to open themselves up to mission, to leave fear behind and to set out for the future. On the other hand, and this is very beautiful, to return to the origins, for it was precisely in Galilee that everything began. There the Lord had met and first called the disciples. So, to go to Galilee means to return to the grace of the beginnings, to regain the memory that regenerates hope, the “memory of the future” bestowed on us by the Risen One.
This, then, is what the Pasch of the Lord accomplishes: it motivates us to move forward, to leave behind our sense of defeat, to roll away the stone of the tombs in which we often imprison our hope, and to look with confidence to the future, for Christ is risen and has changed the direction of history. Yet, to do this, the Pasch of the Lord takes us back to the grace of our own past; it brings us back to Galilee, where our love story with Jesus began, where the first call took place. In other words, it asks us to relive that moment, that situation, that experience in which we met the Lord, experienced his love and received a radiantly new way of seeing ourselves, the world around us and the mystery of life itself.
“Galilee” is not mere poetry here: Pope Francis invites each of us to revisit the personal encounter with Jesus that is our reason for our living faith. He wants us to have a moment in mind; to prayerfully allow the Lord to illuminate our memory of it. Because it is in that place of our “sealed tombs” of memory that Jesus wants to roll away the stones, and give us the same grace He gave to the women at the tomb that allowed them to move forward and meet him again, in Galilee. It is by remembering our own Galilees that we will be able to return there to meet Him:
Remember your own Galilee and walk towards it, for it is the “place” where you came to know Jesus personally, where he stopped being just another personage from a distant past, but a living person: not some distant God but the God who is at your side, who more than anyone else knows you and loves you. Brother, sister, remember Galilee, your Galilee, and your call. Remember the Word of God who at a precise moment spoke directly to you. Remember that powerful experience of the Spirit; that great joy of forgiveness experienced after that one confession; that intense and unforgettable moment of prayer; that light that was kindled within you and changed your life; that encounter, that pilgrimage…
Each of us knows where our Galilee is located. Each of us knows the place of his or her interior resurrection, that beginning and foundation, the place where things changed. We cannot leave this in the past; the Risen Lord invites us to return there to celebrate Easter. Remember your Galilee. Remind yourself. Today, relive that memory. Return to that first encounter. Think back on what it was like, reconstruct the context, time and place. Remember the emotions and sensations; see the colours and savour the taste of it. […]
That is when you experienced sorrow and, like the disciples, you saw the future as empty, like a tomb with a stone sealing off all hope. Yet today, brother, sister, the power of Easter summons you to roll away every stone of disappointment and mistrust. The Lord is an expert in rolling back the stones of sin and fear. He wants to illuminate your sacred memory, your most beautiful memory, and to make you relive that first encounter with him. Remember and keep moving forward. Return to him and rediscover the grace of God’s resurrection within you! Return to Galilee. Return to your Galilee.
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Rachel Amiri serves as Production Editor for Where Peter Is and has also appeared as the host of WPI Live. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with degrees in Theology and Political Science, and was deeply shaped by the thought of Pope Benedict XVI. She has worked in Catholic publishing as well as in healthcare as a FertilityCare Practitioner. Rachel is married to fellow WPI Contributor Daniel Amiri and resides in St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising three children.