Letter #88, 2023 Wednesday, May 10: Destination Galilee
Going back in time in one’s life is not easy. Recovering one’s past requires patience, effort, remembrance. So many things are forgotten with the years. And yet the Pope encouraged us to do that on the eve of East this year, in his Easter Vigil homily. He encouraged us to go back, to remember, in order to go forward.
“Brothers and sisters, to rise again, to start anew, to take up the journey, we always need to return to Galilee, that is, to go back, not to an abstract or ideal Jesus, but to the living, concrete and palpable memory of our first encounter with him,” Pope Francis said in a crowded St. Peter’s Basilica on April 8. “Yes, to go forward we need to go back, to remember; to have hope, we need to revive our memory. This is what we are asked to do: to remember and go forward!”
Reflecting on his words in the days that followed, I recalled a memory of my own father, when I was a young boy, holding his head in his hands. He must have been about 33 then, and I must have been about six years old. (So it was still the time when the old Mass was the ordinary Sunday liturgy for all Latin-rite Roman Catholics.)
And the way my father placed his hands over his face, was an indication to me of the person he was — a man who took his life as something having deep value, needing to be led with a focus on doing what is right, and good, by making a moral choice for the right, the good. Of not living only by instinct, and satisfaction of self, but also, and primarily, by reflection, and by a commitment of the will to the “better way,” the “higher road” and “deeper love” — even if it required difficult repentance and a burdensome change of direction.
This was not my only memory. This was not my only “Galilee.” There were a number of moments in my life that, when I recalled them as the Pope urged all of us to do, seemed to me to speak of “Galilee” — to speak of the presence of the Risen Lord — and I was grateful to recall these moments.
But I focused on that moment, kneeling next to my father, and wrote about it in the Editorial that opens the latest issue of Inside the Vatican.
I re-publish that Editorial below. (To subscribe and obtain a copy of the issue, click here.)
I felt a peculiar sadness then, when I read that the Pope in recent days said something seemingly quite different to a group of Jesuits with whom he met while in Hungary during his trip of April 26-28.
“The flow of history and grace goes from the roots upward like the sap of a tree that bears fruit,” Pope Francis told the Jesuits, “But without this flow you remain a mummy. Going backwards does not preserve life, ever.”
And he went on to explain that this was the reason that he took the decision to restrict the old Mass. Here is what Francis said:
“The danger today is indietrismo [an Italian word that means, more or less, “going back” or “going backward into the past”] the reaction against the modern. It is a nostalgic disease.
“This is why I decided that now the permission to celebrate according to the Roman Missal of 1962 is mandatory for all newly consecrated priests.
“After all the necessary consultations, I decided this because I saw that the good pastoral measures put in place by John Paul II and Benedict XVI were being used in an ideological way, to go backward.
“It was necessary to stop this indietrismo, which was not in the pastoral vision of my predecessors.”
An article about these remarks of the Pope to the Hungarian Jesuits, published in the Catholic Herald earlier today, May 10, in a piece by Simon Caldwell, entitled “Pope cracked down on Latin Mass to halt ideological ‘restorationism’”, may be found here.
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Inside the Vatican magazine, May-June 2023
by Robert Moynihan
A reflection on the Easter Vigil 2023 homily of Pope Francis on April 8. Francis focuses on meeting the Lord in our own personal “Galilee,” the place where we first met him and became his disciples
“But the angel said to the women… ‘Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead and, behold, He is going before you to Galilee.’”—Matthew 28:1-8, describing the first news of the Resurrection of Jesus. (Pope Francis reflected on these lines in his Easter Vigil homily on April 8, 2023)
I was in St. Peter’s Basilica on April 8 when Pope Francis delivered his very eloquent and very personal Easter Vigil homily.
The heart of the Pope’s message was that we, like the Apostles, should “return to Galilee” to meet the Risen Christ.
“The night is drawing to a close and the first light of dawn is appearing upon the horizon as the women set out toward Jesus’ tomb,” the Pope began. “They make their way forward, bewildered and dismayed, their hearts overwhelmed with grief at the death that took away their Beloved. Yet upon arriving and seeing the empty tomb, they turn around and retrace their steps. They leave the tomb behind and run to the disciples to proclaim a change of course: Jesus is risen and awaits them in Galilee… There they will meet the Risen Lord.
“The rebirth of the disciples, the resurrection of their hearts, passes through Galilee.”
I listened to the Pope intently, weighing his words.
Francis continued: “Let us ask ourselves today, brothers and sisters: what does it mean to go to Galilee?”
Yes, I thought, what does it mean?
“Two things,” the Pope said. “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.”
OK, I thought, to come forth from hiding, even in our very secular age, our “post-Christian” age — to come forth and (in my case) to write, and to speak, as a Catholic, as a disciple of Christ, and not to be silent, tongue-tied, afraid… even in such places as in this editorial…
Francis continued: “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.
“In other words,” Francis went on, the good news of Christ’s Resurrection “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.
“Brothers and sisters, to rise again, to start anew, to take up the journey, we always need to return to Galilee, that is, to go back, not to an abstract or ideal Jesus, but to the living, concrete and palpable memory of our first encounter with him. Yes, to go forward we need to go back, to remember; to have hope, we need to revive our memory. This is what we are asked to do: to remember and go forward!
“If you recover that first love, the wonder and joy of your encounter with God, you will keep advancing. So remember, and keep moving forward.
“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… 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 colors and savor the taste of it. For it is when you forgot that first love, when you failed to remember that first encounter, that the dust began to settle on your heart. 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… Let us return to Galilee, to the Galilee of first love.”
As I reflected on the Pope’s words in St. Peter’s Basilica on the Vigil of Easter, I recalled my own “Galilee,” my experience as a boy attending Mass in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And in my mind’s eye, I saw my father, kneeling. He was then in his early 30s. I saw him place his face in his hands in prayer. I saw him strike his chest with his hand as he said, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” — “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” I recalled wondering, “What is he thinking? What is the fault that he is accusing himself of, and asking forgiveness for? And why does he place his face in his hands?”
And I recall in those moments conceiving of our universe as a moral one, one in which we have freedom to act rightly or wrongly. One in which, if we act wrongly, as may occur, we may turn to One who can forgive, and heal, and enable us to go forward again. In other words, a world of possible redemption.
And I remember sensing that we were in the presence, in that chapel, of the “highest,” the “best,” the “most holy” — the very “Word of God,” whom we referred to as Dominus, “Lord,” as when we said Dominus vobiscum, “The Lord be with you.”
And so it was that, as I reflected on the homily of Pope Francis on the Vigil of Easter, I did return to my own personal Galilee, a parish church in a small town in Connecticut, kneeling by my father, watching him, and watching as the priest lifted the host and chalice, and hearing my father say, “My Lord and my God.”
From the May-June 2023 issue of Inside the Vatican magazine