Cardinal Farrell during the Mass at the CL Fraternity Exercises (Roberto Masi/CL Fraternity)

"An encounter that happens, again and again"

Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell's homily at the Mass during the CL Fraternity Exercises. Rimini, Saturday, April 13, 2024.
Kevin Joseph Farrell*

Dear brothers and sisters, in the joy of the Easter season and in the context of your Spiritual Exercises, we have the joy of experiencing the encounter with the Lord Jesus present in the Eucharist. The Gospel we have heard speaks to us precisely of this encounter.

After the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, which took place near Tiberias, in order to escape from the crowd that wanted to make him king, Jesus withdrew alone to the mountain (cf. Jn 6:15). When evening came, after waiting for a long time, the apostles decided to set out alone towards Capernaum, the home town of some of them, where Jesus had also set up his residence. They did not receive a command from Jesus, as is narrated in the Gospel of Mark (cf. Mk 6:45), they took this initiative themselves.

After being together with the Master and helping him to feed the crowds, a separation then took place: Jesus ‘went up’ the mountain, while the disciples ‘went down’ to the lake (cf. Jn 6:16). At this very moment, on their way home, they found themselves alone, in the dark, in the middle of the ‘sea’ of Galilee, agitated by the strong wind that was rising.

We can identify ourselves again in the disciples' situation. The ‘successes of Tiberias’ were exhilarating, but they did not last forever! It was then necessary to return to the ‘normality of Capernaum’, where each of their homes was, where family members were waiting, where there was the safety of living. And to do this they had to face the sea again. In biblical tradition, the sea is often a symbol of the evil powers that God alone can subdue to save his people.

In our many ‘returns to normality’ after spiritual consolations, after missionary successes, after the most intense joys, we too – as individuals or as a movement – can experience not only loneliness and separation from the Master, but the awakening of the forces of evil, which seems to cancel out all the moments of grace experienced. It is precisely in moments like this that the encounter takes place.

In this Gospel, Jesus’ coming is a theophany, it is the manifestation of the very presence of God. Jesus in fact appears walking on the water, an action that is never attributed to man in the Old Testament, but only to God, as stated for example in the book of Job: "He alone (God) stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea" (Job 9:8).

When Jesus manifested himself in the fullness of his divinity, the disciples "wanted to take him into the boat", says the Gospel, "but the boat immediately arrived at the shore." If the sea represented danger, the land represented safety. In the very instant that the disciples are willing to accept Jesus, the boat touched land: this is equivalent to saying that when we recognize Jesus in His divinity, and, above all, when we welcome His saving presence into our life, we immediately "touch land", we pass from the domain of death to that of life.

This is what always happens in the encounter with Jesus. It is an encounter that brings salvation, that rescues life from the dark force of despair, of evil, of sin, of meaninglessness. It is an encounter that brings us back to 'solid ground', that is, to the certainty that life rests on a solid foundation because it originates from a generative act of God, is accompanied by His paternal and providential help, and is directed towards a good destiny. The ‘return to Capernaum’, i.e. to daily normality, which for us, as for the Apostles, runs the risk of turning into a crisis, is transformed thanks to the encounter with Jesus: it is no longer a return to the banality of a godless existence, dispersed in trivial matters, but the beginning of a new phase of the mission, which opens up to new graces and new revelations, as the Gospel subsequently narrates.

Dear friends, this Gospel strengthens our hope. The encounter with Jesus that enlightened and gave meaning to our lives does not remain an isolated event in the past. No! It happens again and again. Even now! Even in these days of the Exercises! Perhaps some have come here with darkness and loneliness in their hearts, but they will return home with the light and joy of rediscovered communion in Christ. The Church, the community of believers, is the ‘human and divine’ environment, desired by the Lord, where this event of grace can always happen. And, in the Church, it is precisely the charisms aroused by the Holy Spirit that are the particular place where the encounter with Christ becomes more easily accessible to people. The charism of Communion and Liberation was also given by God to the Church so that all people can encounter the consoling presence of Christ in the nights of their existence. Your charism, like the others in the past, must bring the resurrection of Christ our Saviour out of the past and out of oblivion, so that it may be close to and be experienced by every person.

You have been called to this lofty task, and for this you have received a Christian formation. This is what your charism urges you to do. Therefore, it is vitally important to preserve the unity of the spiritual companionship that the Holy Spirit has generated among you. The Gospel describes the disciples who together, as one body, welcomed Jesus into the boat. Even the Holy Father, in his last letter to you addressed to your President, urged you to care for unity. It is a gift to be invoked in prayer and to be realized with one's life, practising humility, putting the desire for self-affirmation and one's own views in second place, renouncing the identification of charism with one's own convictions or, even worse, with one's own person. The charism is always greater than a single idea, it is always greater than a single individual, it is always greater than a single generation or a single historical season, even if that of the beginning. The charism is also greater than the founder who received it for the benefit of the entire Church.

Let us, therefore, ask the Lord that, in these days, all of you may be consoled by a new encounter with the Risen Christ, and that you may be heralds and bearers of peace in the midst of the so many conflicts and tensions that afflict the world. We pray that the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation will always remain a blessed place of discovery of the beauty of faith for thousands of people, and that it will be preserved in unity to carry out the mission entrusted to it by the Lord. For all this we invoke the help of Mary, Mother of Hope, protector of the unity of the Church. Amen.

*Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life