The Resurrection, the heart of the Christian message, and the two ways it is announced— through profession of faith and narration—were the themes with which Pope Francis returned to the catechesis for the Year of Faith in this morning's general audience.
As is becoming his custom, the Holy Father travelled around St Peter's Square in the white, open-top Jeep to greet the dozens of thousands of people who want to meet him, many of whom put their babies forward so he could take them in his arms. After his warm greeting of the faithful, the Pope prayed with those present and, after giving them a “good morning!”, he began his catechesis with the quote of the celebrated passage of St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain”.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “there have often been attempts to obscure the faith in Jesus' Resurrection and doubts have crept in even among believers themselves. Our faith is 'watered down', we might say; not strong faith. Sometimes this has been because of superficiality, sometimes because of indifference, because we are busy with thousands of other things that seem more important than our faith, or even because we have a limited view of life. But it is precisely the Resurrection that offers us the greatest hope because it opens our lives and the life of the world to God's eternal future, to complete happiness, to the certainty that evil, sin, and death can be conquered. This leads us to living our everyday lives more confidently, to facing them courageously and committedly. Christ's Resurrection shines new light on our everyday realities. Christ's Resurrection is our strength!”
Moving on to explain the two ways that the truth of the Resurrection is shared in the New Testament, Francis spoke first of professions of faith, that is, of the concise formulas expressing the core of the faith. Such examples can be found in the Letter to the Corinthians or the Letter to the Romans in which St Paul writes: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). From the Church's first steps, her faith in the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection has been steadfast and clear.”
However, the Pope preferred to emphasize the witness that takes the form of a story, recalling above all that, in these types of testimonials, women are the first witnesses. They are the ones who, at dawn, go to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body and find the first sign: the empty tomb. They then encounter the divine messenger who tells them: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, is not here. He is risen.
“The women,” he attested, “are compelled by love and know how to welcome this announcement with faith. They believe and immediately they share the announcement. They don't keep it for themselves but convey it. They can't contain the joy of knowing that Jesus is alive, the hope that fills their hearts. This should also happen in our lives. We should feel the joy of being Christians! We believe in the Risen One who has conquered evil and death! We must have the courage to 'go out' to bring this joy and this light to all the areas of our lives. Christ's Resurrection is our greatest certainty. It is our most precious treasure! How can we not share this treasure, this certainty, with others? It is not just for us: it is to be proclaimed; to be given to others; to be shared with others. This is precisely our witness.”
Francis noted another element of the profession of faith in the New Testament: that only men are recorded as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles but no women. “This is because,” he explained, “according to Jewish law of the time, women and children couldn't give reliable, credible witness. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. We can see here an argument in favour of the historical actuality of the Resurrection. If it had been made up, in the context of the time, it would not have been connected to the testimonials of women. The evangelists instead simply narrate what had happened: the women were the first witnesses. This says that God's choices are not made in accordance with human criteria. The first witnesses of Jesus' birth are the shepherds, simple and humble people. The first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. This is beautiful. And this is a part of the mission of women, of mothers and women: witnessing to their children and their grandchildren that Jesus is alive. He is the Living One. He is the Risen One. Mothers and women, go forward with this witness! For God, what counts is our hearts.”
“This also leads us to reflect on how women, in the Church and in the journey of faith, have had and still today have a unique role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and conveying his face, because seeing with faith always takes love's gaze, which is simple and profound. It is more difficult for the Apostles and disciples to believe: not for the women. Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb. Thomas has to touch the wounds on Jesus' body with his own hands. Even in our faith journeys it is important to know and to feel that God loves us; not to be afraid to love him: faith is professed with the mouth and with the heart, with words and with love.”
The Holy Father recalled that, after the apparitions to the women, there were others in which Jesus made himself present in a new way. “He is the Crucified One but his body is glorious. He did not return to his earthly life, but rather in a new condition. At first they don't recognize him and only through his words and his deeds are their eyes opened. Encountering the Risen One transforms them, gives new strength to their faith, an unshakeable foundation. For us too, there are many signs by which the Risen One makes himself known: Sacred Scripture, the Eucharist, the other Sacraments, charity, these gestures of love bring a ray of the Risen One. Let us be enlightened by Christ's Resurrection and transformed by its power so that, through us too, the signs of death might give way to signs of life in the world.”
At the end, seeing that there were many young persons in the square, the Pope addressed them: “Take this certainty to all, the lord is alive and walks beside us in our lives. This is your mission. Take this hope forward with you. Be anchored to this hope, this anchor that is heaven. Hold tight to the lifeline. Be anchored and carry this hope forward. You, witnesses of Jesus, carry forward the testimony that Jesus is alive and that this will give us hope; it will bring hope to this world that has grown a bit old because of wars, evil, and sin. Young people, go forward!"