The Holy Eucharist we celebrate this evening is being offered for two reasons. The first is to give glory, praise and honour to God for the glorious resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ and the second is to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI as the successor of St. Peter.
"The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community" (Catechism of the Catholic Church CCC 638) and handed down to us by the apostles. The apostles were simple men, chosen by Jesus to be with him and to follow him during his journeys. They were the ones who listened to his preaching, witnessed his many miracles, saw his love in action and who also abandoned him when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were also eyewitnesses of his death on Calvary and three days later after his resurrection they encountered Jesus living again amongst them.
The Lord Jesus appeared to his apostles on a few occasions after the resurrection and one of the most direct encounters is described by the evangelist Luke (Lk 24:35-48) as follows: "He stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you"". As on previous occasions, the first words that Jesus says to his frightened and disbelieving disciples after his resurrection are "Peace be with you". No words of condemnation, no criticism or vengeance on the part of Jesus towards his companions who deserted him earlier during his most trying moment, but only words of forgiveness, pardon and friendship: "Peace be with you". This is our God, who is not a stern judge or policeman bent on punishing us for all our sins and mistakes, but a true friend who forgives us and offers us his constant friendship.
Jesus appeared to his apostles in order to dispel their fears. "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." It was the same Jesus who died on the cross that appeared to the apostles. The risen Lord was no phantom or ghost, he was real. The event seems too good to be true and for this reason Christianity is not based upon the imagined events of some inspired men, but on the experience of those who encountered the resurrected Lord Jesus and who witnessed these events.
These words of Christ also resonate for us today as well: "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?" Each of us can ask ourselves why we continue to have our questions about the Lord and often remain troubled. Lord, if you are not a ghost then who are you? Are you just an occasional nice feeling I experience? Are you a myth or some wonderful historical figure of the past? Or are you just a habit that I repeat once a week, nothing more than a ghost or imaginary idea that I can only wish were true? Christ himself said that he is not a ghost, for ghosts only frighten people, but rather, he is our peace. He is the present and the future of our lives. Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you. You are looking for me, not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled". In him we find words of eternal life which we live by. He is also the Bread of Life that nourishes our spirit, enlightens our conscience, enkindles love in our hearts and awakens hope. Jesus truly is alive, he is our close friend and lover of our souls, who we have come to know personally through faith.
On Easter Sunday this year, the Holy Father Pope Benedict said: "If Jesus is risen, then Ė and only then Ė has something truly new happened, something that changes the state of humanity and the world. Then he, Jesus, is someone in whom we can put absolute trust; we can put our trust not only in his message but in Jesus himself, for the Risen One does not belong to the past, but is present today, alive. Christ is hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith on account of discrimination and persecution. And he is present as a force of hope through his Church, which is close to all human situations of suffering and injustice. May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights. Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community." (Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi Message, 8 April 2012).
The Holy Father celebrated his 85th birthday one week ago today on April 16th, while the 7th anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter was on April 19th. In these first seven years of his pontificate he has already made 23 pastoral visits to the same number of countries in various parts of the world. He has also participated at 4 Synods of Bishops, 3 World Youth Day celebrations, written 3 Encyclicals, already celebrated the Year of St. Paul and the Year of the Priest, as well as confronting with courage, humility and determination, some very difficult situations within the Church such as the sexual abuse scandals. And while not avoiding the painful issues present in the Church resulting from human sinfulness, fortunately there have also been excellent examples of true Christian living and the Pope has proclaimed 843 new blessed and 37 saints of the Church. He has written two volumes on Jesus of Nazareth and is preparing a third, while more recently he gave a lengthy interview to a German journalist published in book form titled "Light of the World". In all of his teachings thus far, he has proven to be a true shepherd of the flock entrusted to his care in guiding the Church and indeed all of humanity towards a more profound search for God. To the one and only God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. In this process the Pope teaches that faith and reason complement each other in the search for the truth as revealed by God and that indifference to God and a relativistic mentality are the most dangerous risks of our times. On this day therefore, we must remember to constantly pray for the Holy Father and his intentions. May the Lord bless him and keep him in good health, so that he may continue to guide the Church on Earth according to the will of the Father and fulfill his Petrine ministry faithfully to the very end. The Holy Fatherís upcoming plans for this year are an International World Meeting of Families to be held at the beginning of June in Milano, Italy, a pastoral trip to Lebanon scheduled for September, a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the New Evangelization in October, and the inauguration of the Year of Faith during that same month which will last until November 2013.
The apostles once asked Jesus: "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent."" We are invited to believe in the One sent by God into the world to save us from our sins, who died and rose from the dead for us, so that we could live with him forever.
"The experience of the disciples invites us to reflect on Easterís meaning for us. Let us allow ourselves to be encountered by the Risen Jesus! He, living and true, is always present among us; He walks with us in order to guide our lives and to open our eyes. Let us trust in the Risen One, who has the power to give life, and to give us rebirth as children of God, capable of believing and of loving. Faith in Him transforms our lives; it frees them from fear, gives them sure hope and enlivens them by what gives full meaning to life, Godís love." (Benedict XVI, General Audience, 11 April 2012).
During this Easter season let us joyously and enthusiastically rediscover the sources of faith and the presence of the Risen One among us, who is constantly with us in Sacred Scripture and the Holy Eucharist. Let us be transformed by his Holy Spirit, who enables us to become his living temples and witnesses in the world. May we become more aware that we are a holy nation of people, members of the Body of Christ which is his Church, that we are called by the Lord to work for "the food that endures for eternal life", people who build up and do not destroy, who love and accept all men and women without distinction, who are co-creators with the Father-Creator of all of mankind, in order to contribute towards peace, reconciliation, mutual respect, goodwill and co-existence amongst all peoples and religions of the world.