“Suddenly Jesus met them and greeted them, saying: ‘Rejoice’” (see Mt 28:9).
It is the first word of the Risen One after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary discovered the empty tomb and came across the angel. The Lord meets them to transform their mourning into joy and to comfort them in the midst of affliction (see Jer 31:13). He is the Risen One who wants to resurrect the women to a new life and, with them, all of humanity. He wants us to begin to participate from now in the resurrected condition that awaits us.
An invitation to joy could seem like a provocation, and even like a bad joke in the face of the serious consequences we are suffering from Covid-19. Like the disciples at Emmaus, some could think of it as a gesture of ignorance or irresponsibility (see Lk 24:17–19). Like the first disciples who went to the tomb, we have been living surrounded by an atmosphere of pain and uncertainty that makes us wonder: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (Mk 16:3). How can we deal with this situation that has completely overwhelmed us? The impact of everything that is happening, the serious consequences that are already being reported, and those things which we have glimpsed, the pain and mourning for our loved ones, all have the capacity to disorient, distress and paralyze us. It is the heaviness of the tombstone that imposes itself on the future, and that threatens, with its realism, to bury all hope. It is the heaviness of the anguish of vulnerable people and elderly people who are going through quarantine in total solitude; it is the heaviness of those families who cannot now put a plate of food on their tables; it is the heaviness of health personnel and public servants feeling exhausted and overwhelmed ... that heaviness that seems to have the last word. However, it is moving to highlight the attitude of the women of the Gospel.
Faced with doubts, suffering, perplexity in the face of the situation and even with fear of persecution and of everything that could happen to them, they were able to keep going and not be paralyzed by what was happening.
Out of love for the Master, and with that typical, irreplaceable and blessed feminine genius, they were able to confront life as it came, cunningly circumventing obstacles in order to be close to their Lord. Unlike many of the apostles who fled as prisoners of fear and insecurity – who denied the Lord and escaped (see Jn 18:25-27) – they [the women], without evading reality or ignoring what was happening, without fleeing or escaping ... they knew how to just be and to accompany others. The first women disciples, in the midst of darkness and grief, loaded their bags with perfumes and set out to anoint the buried Master (see Mk 16:1). Recently, we too, like them, have been able to see many who have sought to anoint others, through co-responsibility: they have offered care, and have avoided putting the lives of others at risk. Unlike those who fled with the hope of saving themselves, we witnessed how neighbors and family members set out with effort and sacrifice, to stay in their homes and thus curb the pandemic. We were able to discover how many people who were already living and suffering the pandemic of exclusion and indifference continued to strive, to accompany each other and to sustain themselves so that this situation is (or was) less painful. We saw anointing poured forth from doctors, nurses, supermarket shelf stackers, cleaners, carers, people who transport goods, agents of law and order, volunteers, priests, women religious, grandparents and educators and many others, who had the courage to offer everything they had, to bring some care, calm and courage to the situation. Although the question remained the same: “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?” (Mk 16:3), all of them did not stop giving what they felt they could give, and had to give.
It was precisely there, in the midst of their cares and concerns, that the women disciples were surprised by an overwhelming announcement: “He is not here, he is risen.” His anointing was not an anointing for death, but for life. Their watching and accompanying the Lord, even in death and in the midst of great despair, had not been in vain, but had allowed them to be anointed by the Resurrection: They were not alone, He was alive and preceded them on their way. Only this overwhelming piece of news was able to break the cycle which prevented them from seeing that the stone had already been rolled away; and that the perfume poured forth could diffuse further than the reality which threatened them.
This is the source of our joy and hope, which transforms our actions: Our anointings, dedication ... our watching and accompanying in all possible ways at this time are not, and will not be, in vain; they are not a dedication to death. Every time we take part in the Passion of the Lord, we accompany the passion of our brothers and sisters; living that same passion too, our ears will hear the novelty of the Resurrection: We are not alone, the Lord precedes us on our way, removing the stones that block us. This good news made those women retrace their steps to look for the apostles and the disciples who remained hidden, so as to tell them: He “reawakened to that same life (naturally in a new form) which death has destroyed.” This is our hope, the hope that cannot be stolen, silenced or contaminated. The whole life of service and love that you have given in this time will pulse again. It is enough to open a crack so that the anointing that the Lord wants to give us expands with an unstoppable force and allows us to contemplate the reality of suffering with a renewing outlook.
And, like the women of the Gospel, we too are invited again and again to retrace our steps and allow ourselves to be transformed by this announcement: the Lord, with his newness, can always renew our life and that of our community. In this wasteland, the Lord is committed to the regeneration of beauty and the rebirth of hope: “Behold, I am doing something new: right now it is sprouting, don’t you see it?” (Is 43:19). God never abandons his people, he is always close to them, especially when pain becomes more present.
If we have learned anything in all this time, it is that no one saves himself. Borders fall, walls collapse and all fundamentalist discourse dissolves before an almost imperceptible presence that manifests the fragility of which we are made. Easter summons us and invites us to remember His presence, which is discreet and respectful, generous and reconciling, capable of neither breaking the cracked reed nor extinguishing the wick that burns weakly (see Is 42:2–3); so that the new life that He wants to give us all, might pulsate. It is the breath of the Spirit that opens horizons, awakens creativity and renews us in fraternity to say I am present (or here I am) before the enormous and imperative task that awaits us. It is a matter of urgency to discern and find the pulse of the Spirit to give impetus, together with others, to dynamics that can witness and channel the new life that the Lord wants to generate at this concrete moment in history. This is the favorable time of the Lord, who is asking us not to conform or content ourselves, let alone justify ourselves with substitutive or palliative logic, which prevents us from sustaining the impact and serious consequences of what we are living. This is the right time to find the courage for a new imagination of the possible, with the realism that only the Gospel can offer us. The Spirit, who does not allow himself to be locked up or manipulated by fleeting or fixed schemes, modalities and structures, invites us to unite to his movement, which can “make all things new” (Rv 21:5).
In this time we realized that it is important “to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.” Every individual action is not an isolated action, for better or for worse. It has consequences for others, because everything is interconnected in our common house; and if it is the health authorities who order confinement in the house, it is the people who make it possible, aware of their co-responsibility to curb the pandemic. “An emergency like that of Covid-19 is overcome with, above all, the antibodies of solidarity.” A lesson that will break all the fatalism in which we may have immersed ourselves, and this will allow us to feel once again as creators and protagonists of a common history and, thus, to respond together to so many evils that afflict millions of people around the world. We cannot afford to write present and future history by turning our backs on the suffering of so many. It is the Lord who will ask us again: “Where is your brother?” (Gn 4:9), and in the way we respond, may the soul of our peoples be revealed to us.
This is the reservoir of hope, faith and charity in which we have been born, and which, for so long, we have anesthetized and silenced. If we act as one people, even in the face of other epidemics that threaten us, we can make a real impact. Will we be able to act responsibly in the face of the hunger that so many suffer, knowing that there is food for all? Will we continue to look the other way with a complicit silence in the face of those wars fueled by desires for domination and power? Will we be willing to change those lifestyles that cause so many to suffer poverty, and promote and find the courage to lead a more austere and human life for a fair sharing of resources? Will we, as an international community, take the necessary measures to curb the devastation of the environment or will we continue to ignore the evidence? The globalization of indifference will continue to threaten and tempt us in our journey... May we find within us the necessary antibodies of justice, charity and solidarity. We must not be afraid to live the alternative – the civilization of love. This is “a civilization of hope: against anguish and fear, sadness and discouragement, passivity and tiredness. The civilization of love is built daily, uninterruptedly. It requires a committed effort by all. For this reason it requires a committed community of brothers and sisters.”
In this time of tribulation and mourning, I hope that, where you are, you will be able to experience Jesus, who comes to meet you, greets you and says: “Rejoice” (see Mt 28:9). And may this greeting mobilize us to invoke and amplify the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
(“Vida Nueva” Magazine, 17 April 2020)
This English translation has been carried out by LEV staff.
1 Romano Guardini, The Lord, Gateway Editions – Regnery Publications, Washington, DC 1996², 473.
2 See Apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, 11.
3 Encyclical letter Laudato si’, 13.
4 Pontifical Academy for Life, Global Pandemic and Universal Brotherhood. Note on the Covid-19 Emergency, 30 March 2020, 5.
5 Eduardo Pironio, Diálogo con laicos, Patria Grande, Buenos Aires 1986.