Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell celebrates Mass at the CL Fraternity Exercises. Rimini, April 15, 2023 (Photo: Roberto Masi/Fraternity CL)

"The foundation of our faith is a fact: Christ is risen!"

The homily of Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life at the CL Fraternity Exercises in Rimini.
Kevin Joseph Farrell*

Dear brothers and sisters, in this octave of Easter we still experience the fullness of light, peace and joy that emanates from Jesus Christ’s victory over death. The Gospel we have just heard is taken from the so-called 'canonical ending of Mark,' missing in the oldest manuscripts of the second gospel, but rich in content for our faith. The theme of the Apostles’ unbelief recurs several times: they do not believe the testimony of Mary Magdalene who tells them that she saw Jesus alive; they also do not believe the testimony of two other disciples who met Jesus “as they were on their way into the country.” Finally, Jesus himself, appearing to them “while they were at table,” rebukes them “for their incredulity and obstinacy.”

The Apostles’ persistent and almost stubborn unbelief is an important aspect that the New Testament revelation has transmitted to us, without eliminating or 'softening' it. So many times in history attempts have been made to attack the Christian belief by saying that the resurrection of Jesus is a myth constructed by the community of his first disciples, the result of collective exaltation or posthumous glorification of the master, as happened in many other religious beliefs of the past.

In fact, the very striking testimony of the Gospel accounts contradicts all these assumptions. Jesus’ group of disciples was not in a state of 'collective exaltation' at all. On the contrary, the Gospels tell us that they were fearful, distressed and dejected. Nor do we find an attitude of easy belief in them, or an inclination toward religious mysticism. Indeed, it is clear, as we have heard from today’s Gospel, that the very idea that Jesus was still alive seemed incredible to the Apostles. It was extremely difficult for them to convince themselves that Jesus had conquered death!

Thus, the Apostles’ very unbelief is a strong sign of the credibility of the Gospel. At the heart of our faith is not a myth, not a collective illusion, not a legend created by the community for the purpose of consolation. No! The foundation of our faith is a fact: Christ is risen! Christ has truly conquered death! Christ, by rising again, entered with his holy humanity into the very dimension of God and eternity! This unexpected and astonishing event has been encountered by many eyewitnesses, as we are hearing these days in the accounts of the apparitions of the Risen One that the liturgy offers us.

I am sure that you too have experienced the risen Christ in your lives, that is why you are here, that is why you are in the Church, that is why you are trying to live as Christians in today’s world. You have encountered the risen Christ in the Christian community that has authoritatively transmitted His word to you: in the word of the Church, in fact, we recognize the very voice of the living Christ speaking to the depths of our hearts. In the Christian community you have recognized the risen Christ 'in the breaking of the bread,' as was the case with the disciples at Emmaus. In the Christian community you have encountered the merciful face of the risen Jesus who responded with forgiveness to our sin, our indifference, our pride, as happened to St. Paul on the road to Damascus. In the Christian community you have encountered the risen Christ who has given us his Spirit, who has become in us a source of renewal, rebirth, enlightenment and infinite creative energies to be put at the service of our brothers and sisters, as happened for the disciples at Pentecost.

Dearest, for you, the Christian community in which you encountered the risen Christ has taken on the concrete face of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. Here you may have come across a 'Mary Magdalene' who spoke to you about Jesus with gratitude and zeal. Here you came across the two disciples “returning from the country” who enthusiastically told you that they had had a shattering encounter.

Perhaps you too reacted at first with 'incredulity' and 'obstinacy,' but gradually the serenity, the reasonableness of faith, and the joy of those who brought you the announcement won you over. Those Christians showed that they were certain of a good destiny that lies at the origin and culmination of our existence, a destiny that came to us and made itself known. This fascinated you. The way of living and being together of those who said they had encountered Christ, their passionate involvement with life, which excluded nothing from their interests, all of this surprised you and aroused in you a desire to live in that way as well. You thought that if Christ is the one who helps people live so fully and happily, and so authentically human, then he is worth accepting and following.

And indeed, as you began to follow Jesus and live in the companionship of His disciples, you began to experience a great peace, you began to discover with surprise that the answers to your deepest questions and desires were in Christ, and that your outlook on life, your humanity, your work, your friendships, your ability to love, all acquired a new depth and greater 'truth.' This, in effect, means encountering the risen Christ. It is an event of rebirth, of transformation, of inner and outer reconciliation.

Always remain grateful to the Lord for this immense grace and also for those concrete “instruments” that the Lord has used: people, charism, community. Safeguard also the lucidity and freedom to consider them instruments for the real encounter, that is, the encounter with the risen Christ.

In Mark’s account we heard that to the very disciples who were “incredulous” and “obstinate”, Jesus entrusts the mission of “proclaiming the Gospel to all creation.” To all of us, though weak and with an often faltering faith, Jesus entrusts great tasks. I was struck by a passage from a letter, which I happened to read recently, written by Fr. Giussani in 1960, when he dreamed of leaving as a missionary to Brazil together with a group of young people, in which he writes: “only the whole world is the horizon of the Christian, whoever works without this ideal may be doggedly honest, richly ascetic, perhaps even heroic, but cannot be a true Christian.” (cfr. Osservatore Romano, March 8 2023, insert "Religio"). These words of Fr. Giussani are true! And so are so many of his other words, yet to be fully valued and assimilated. I therefore invite you to return to the integrity of Fr. Giussani’s teaching, which constitutes a great wealth for the Church today.

The encounter with the Risen Christ truly broadens our horizons and opens us to the 'whole world,' puts in our hearts the desire to reach out to every person and to bring the joy of the Good News to all. May you, too, never lose this universal outlook, this missionary impulse and this great love for all people that Jesus points out to his disciples and that Fr. Giussani always felt burning within him.

This universal mission of the Church, even if carried out with momentum and enthusiasm, will never be easy; indeed it will encounter opposition, as we heard in the first reading. The account of the Acts, however, testifies that in the face of prohibitions of proclaiming Christ and of healing 'in his name,' Peter and John maintain great frankness and freedom of spirit, and affirm, “we cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.”

This apostolic testimony is of great help to us. It appears here that the 'charism' of Peter and the Apostles is precisely to keep the proclamation of the Gospel alive, even when it is met with indifference or even rejection by the world. Therefore, only if we maintain firm communion with Peter and the Church will we also have the strength to say, “we must obey God rather than men.” Our bond with the successors of the Apostles gives a guarantee of ecclesiality and authority to our proclamation, and will help us not to be 'proclaimers of ourselves,' but people seized by the mystery, also risen with Christ and heralding His victory over death. This is the precious service we Christians are called to perform out of love for the men and women of our time: to keep the world open to the mystery of God, to proclaim the undoubtable 'fact' of Christ’s resurrection with our lives, with all the light and hope that emanates from it.

May the Virgin Mary sustain you in your Christian journey and in the mission that the Lord entrusts to your Fraternity and to each of you individually. Amen.

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