Monday, April 21, 2014

Red Sky in the Morning: Sailors Take Warning

Cardinal Walter Kasper 
Pope Francis gave a remarkable homily during the Easter Vigil—very different in tone from papal “homilies” in the past which tended to be heavy theological treatises.  Francis’ homily—while theologically based—was more a call to the spiritual life, a call very appropriate for a Jesuit steeped in the rich tradition of Ignatian spirituality. 
The Holy Father has called us to an encounter with the Risen Jesus—a real encounter, not thinking about someone who has died or who lives on in our hearts only as a memory, but an encounter with the Person of the Living Christ.  I want to reprint the text of the homily and then draw your attention to what I think is a crucial message by which the Pope is preparing us to expect great things.

The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ begins with the journey of the women to the tomb at dawn on the day after the Sabbath.  They go to the tomb to honour the body of the Lord, but they find it open and empty.  A mighty angel says to them: “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5) and orders them to go and tell the disciples: “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (v. 7).  The women quickly depart and on the way Jesus himself meets them and says: “Do not fear; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (v. 10). “Do not be afraid”, “do not fear”:  these are words that encourage us to open our hearts to receive the message.
After the death of the Master, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died.  But now that message of the women, incredible as it was, came to them like a ray of light in the darkness.  The news spread: Jesus is risen as he said.  And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: “Let them go to Galilee; there they will see me”. “Do not fear” and “go to Galilee”.
Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began!  To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called.  Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets.  He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22).
To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory, fearlessly: “do not be afraid”.  To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.
For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus.  “To go to Galilee” means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience.  To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey.  From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters.  That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.
In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also another “Galilee”, a more existential “Galilee”: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission.  In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. To return there means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.
Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee?  I need to remind myself, to go back and remember.  Where is my Galilee?  Do I remember it?  Have I forgotten it?  Seek and you will find it! There the Lord is waiting for you.  Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it?  Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy. Do not be afraid, do not fear, return to Galilee!
The Gospel is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection.  This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia.  It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.  Go back to Galilee, without fear!
“Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt 4:15; Is 8:23)!  Horizon of the Risen Lord, horizon of the Church; intense desire of encounter…  Let us be on our way!

Pope Francis tells us not to be afraid—to keep our hearts open to receive the message.  This is a frequent theme with Pope Francis: we have no need to fear, now that the Lord is Risen we have nothing to fear.  Christians who live in fear have not encountered the Risen Christ. O, they may “believe” in the doctrine of his Resurrection, but they do not put their trust in the person and how could they: they have not yet met him.  In the Resurrection accounts, each and all of the disciples were in fear—until they encountered the Risen Lord.  Francis takes that rich tradition based on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius and wants us to move from the mind’s fascination with doctrine to the soul’s encounter in love.  It is only when we move beyond fear that we can be open to change—and Francis wants us to be open to change.  Francis has some great changes in mind for the Church and he warns us in this homily that we have to reexamine all that we hold sacred and infallible and immutable in the light of the Resurrection. 

To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory, fearlessly: “do not be afraid”.  To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.

We need to re-read everything in the light of Christ’s victory over death—this is a loaded statement.  There is a bit of a battle going on behind the scenes in Rome.  Cardinal Walter Kasper—at the Holy Father’s invitation—gave a controversial keynote address at the February consistory that marked the installation of new Cardinals in February.  Kasper said that while the Church needs to maintain its teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, it also must find concrete ways of offering pastoral assistance to families that have suffered marital breakdown.  In particular there is an issue of permitting divorced and remarried to receive the sacraments.   Pope Francis said that Kasper’s talk was “beautiful and profound.” Many of the Cardinals did not agree.   Cardinal Caffara (Archbishop of Bologna), Cardinal Tauran (President of the Pontifical Council for inter-religious dialogue), Cardinal Ruini (former Vicar for the Diocese of Rome), Cardinal Bagnasco  (President of the Italian Bishops Conference), Cardinal Scola (Archbishop of Milan), Cardinal Piacenza (Prefect of the Apostolic Penitentiary), and retired Cardinal Re, (former Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops) all opposed Kasper’s suggestions.  Cardinal Burke gave a particularly stinging critique in an interview with an American journalist.   
Negative reactions to Kasper’s talk are not limited to Cardinals. There are some theological experts who have weighed in as well.  Father Juan José Perez Soba and Professor Stanislaw Grygiel, both of the John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family at Rome’s Lateran University have also been highly critical of the Cardinal’s keynote.  Grygiel was a student of John Paul and a personal friend and advisor to the late Pope. 
Kasper was not speaking on his own—Pope Francis invited him to give this talk and has defended the talk even though many (by some accounts a great majority)of the Cardinals were appalled by Kasper’s suggestion.  Francis has sent an unmistakable signal where he stands and where he is ready to move the Church on a very sensitive issue.  Hold on to your hats.  When—and if—this tree is shaken, many of the nuts will fall loose. 

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