Near the cross of Jesus are Mary and John. The Mother who gave birth to the Son of God mourns his death as darkness envelops the world. The beloved disciple, who had left everything to follow him, is now at the feet of the crucified Master. All seems lost, all seems over forever. And as he takes upon himself the wounds of humanity, Jesus prays: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? » (mt 27, 46; Mc 15, 34). This prayer is also ours in times of life marked by suffering. It is the prayer which, each day, rises from your hearts to God, Sandi and Domenico: thank you for the perseverance of your love and thank you for your testimony of faith!
And yet, the hour of Jesus – which in the Gospel of John is the hour of his death on the Cross – is not the end of history, but it marks the beginning of a new life. . For on the cross we contemplate the merciful love of Christ who opens his arms wide to us and, through his death, opens us to the joy of eternal life. At the last hour, a life opens up. In this hour of death, another hour appears, full of life: it is the time of the Church being born. From this original cell, the Lord will gather a people who will continue to walk the rugged paths of history, carrying in their hearts the consolation of the Spirit with which they will wipe away the tears of humanity.
Brothers and sisters, in this sanctuary of Ta’ Pinu, we can meditate on the new beginning that springs from the hour of Jesus. Before the splendid building we see today, there was only a small abandoned chapel here. The demolition had been ordered: everything seemed to be over. But a series of events changed the course of things, as if the Lord wanted to say to this population: “You will no longer be told: ‘Forsaken!’ To your country, no one will say: “Desolation!“ You will be called “My Preference“, this land will be called “The Bride“. » (Is 62, 4). This small church has become the national shrine, a destination for pilgrims and a source of new life. You reminded us of it, Jennifer: many people here entrust their sufferings and their joys to Our Lady, and everyone feels welcomed. Saint John Paul II, whose death anniversary today is, came here as a pilgrim. A place that seemed lost and which today regenerates the faith and hope of the people of God.
In this light, let us also try to grasp for ourselves the invitation of the hour of Jesus, of this hour of salvation. He tells us that, to renew our faith and the mission of the community, we are called to return to this beginning, to the nascent Church that we see near the cross in Mary and John. But what does it mean to return to this beginning? What does back to basics mean?
First of all, it is a matter of rediscovering the essentials of faith. Returning to the original Church does not mean looking back to copy the ecclesial model of the first Christian community. We cannot “step over history”, as if the Lord had not also spoken and done great things in the life of the Church in successive centuries. Nor is it to be too idealistic, imagining that there were no difficulties in this community. On the contrary, we read that the disciples argued and even came to quarrel; and that they did not always understand the teachings of the Lord. Returning to the origins rather means rediscovering the spirit of the first Christian community, that is, returning to the heart and rediscovering the center of faith: the relationship with Jesus and the proclamation of his Gospel to the whole world. That’s the main thing! This is the joy of the Church: to evangelize.
We see, in fact, that after the hour of Jesus’ death, the first disciples, like Mary Magdalene and John, at the sight of the empty tomb, run, without wasting time, with uneasy hearts, to announce the good news of the Resurrection. The cry of pain from the cross is transformed into the joy of proclamation. And I am also thinking of the Apostles of whom it is written: “Daily in the Temple and in their homes, without ceasing, they taught and proclaimed the Good News: the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42). The main concern of the disciples of Jesus was not the prestige of the community and its ministers, it was not social influence, it was not the refinement of worship. No. The concern that animated them was the proclamation and witness to the Gospel of Christ (cf. Rom 1:1), because the joy of the Church is to evangelize.
Brothers and sisters, the Maltese Church can take advantage of a precious history from which it can draw many spiritual and pastoral riches. However, the life of the Church – let us always remember – is never only “a past history to be remembered”, but a “vast future to be built”, docile to God’s plans. It is not enough to have a faith made up of transmitted customs, solemn celebrations, beautiful popular festivities, strong and moving moments; we need a faith that is founded and renewed in the personal encounter with Christ, in daily listening to his Word, in active participation in the life of the Church, in the soul of popular piety .
The crisis of faith, the apathy of religious practice, especially in the post-pandemic period, and the indifference of so many young people to the presence of God, are not issues that we should “water down” by thinking that , after all, a certain religious spirit still resists. Sometimes, indeed, the scaffolding can be religious, but behind this garment, the faith grows old. The elegant wardrobe of religious ornaments, in fact, does not always correspond to a living faith animated by the dynamism of evangelization. Care must be taken that religious practices are not reduced to the repetition of a repertoire from the past, but express a living, open faith, spreading the joy of the Gospel, because the joy of the Church is to evangelize .
I know that through the Synod you have begun a process of renewal, and I thank you for this journey. Brothers and sisters, the time has come to return to this beginning, under the cross, looking towards the first Christian community. To be a Church that has friendship with Jesus and the proclamation of his Gospel at its heart, and not the search for space and attention; a Church that puts testimony at the center and not some religious tradition; a Church that wants to meet everyone with the lit lamp of the Gospel and not form a closed circle. Do not be afraid to commit yourselves, as you are already doing, to new, even risky paths of evangelization and proclamation that touch on life, because the joy of the Church is to evangelize.
Let’s look again at the origins, at Mary and John at the foot of the cross. At the sources of the Church there is their mutual act of trust. The Lord, in fact, entrusts each to the care of the other: John to Mary and Mary to John, so that “from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (jn 19, 27). Going back to the beginning is also develop the art of hospitality. Among Jesus’ last words on the cross, those addressed to his Mother and to John exhort us to make welcoming the enduring style of discipleship. It is not, in fact, a question of a simple gesture of filial piety, by which Jesus would entrust his mother to John so that she would not be alone after her death, but of a concrete indication of the way of life. the supreme commandment, that of love. The worship rendered to God passes through closeness to the brother.
And how important are love among brothers and welcoming one’s neighbor in the Church! The Lord reminds us of this at the hour of the cross, in the mutual welcome of Mary and John, exhorting the Christian community of all times not to lose this priority: “Behold your son”, “Behold your mother”. (vv. 26.27). It’s like saying: you are saved by the same blood, you are one family, so welcome each other, love each other, heal each other’s wounds. Without suspicion, without divisions, rumours, gossip or mistrust. Brothers and sisters, make “synod”, that is to say “walk together”. Because God is present where love reigns!
Dear friends, mutual acceptance, not as a mere formality but in the name of Christ, is a permanent challenge. It is above all a challenge for our ecclesial relations, because our mission bears fruit if we work in friendship and fraternal communion. You are two beautiful communities, Malta and Gozo, Gozo and Malta – I don’t know which is the most important or which is the first – as Mary and John were two! May the words of Jesus on the cross be your North Star, to welcome one another, to create familiarity, to work in communion! And always forward in evangelization, because the joy of the Church is to evangelize.
But reception is also the litmus test to ascertain how effectively the Church is imbued with the spirit of the Gospel. Mary and John welcome each other not in the warm shelter of the Upper Room, but near the cross, in that dark place where criminals were condemned and crucified. Neither can we welcome each other alone, in the shadow of our beautiful churches, while outside so many brothers and sisters suffer and are crucified by pain, misery, poverty and violence. . You are in a crucial geographical position, facing the Mediterranean, pole of attraction and port of salvation for so many people tossed about by the storms of life who, for various reasons, arrive on your shores. In the face of these poor people, it is Christ himself who presents himself to you. This is what happened to the apostle Paul who, after a terrible shipwreck, was warmly welcomed by your ancestors. The Acts of the Apostles says: “The natives treated us with unusual humanity. They had lit a big fire, and they took us all with them because the rain had started to fall and it was cold” (Acts 28:2).
This is the Gospel that we are called to live: to welcome, to be experts in humanity, to light fires of tenderness when the cold of life weighs on those who suffer. And here again, something important arises from a dramatic experience. Paul proclaimed and spread the Gospel, then many heralds, preachers, priests and missionaries followed in his footsteps, moved by the Holy Spirit, to evangelize, to bring the joy of the Church which is to evangelize. I would like to say a special thank you to them, to these evangelizers, to the many Maltese missionaries who spread the joy of the Gospel throughout the world, to the many priests, men and women religious and to all of you. As your Bishop, Bishop Teuma said, you are a small island, but with a big heart. You are a treasure in the Church and for the Church. I say it out loud: you are a treasure in the Church and for the Church. To preserve it, it is necessary to return to the essence of Christianity: the love of God, motor of our joy, which makes us go out and travel the roads of the world; and welcoming our neighbour, which is our simplest and finest witness in the world, and thus moving forward, traveling the roads of the world, because the joy of the Church is to evangelize.
May the Lord accompany you on this journey and may the Blessed Virgin guide you. May she revive in us, her children, she who asked us to pray three “Ave Marias” so that we remember her maternal heart, the fire of the mission and the desire to take care of one another.
May Our Lady watch over you and accompany you in evangelization.