Every year, on Black Saturday, while preparing for an all night Easter Vigil of the Neocatechumenal Way that my wife and I have been attending for more than 25 years now, I always meditate on the “harrowing of hell”, described by one reference as “the triumphant descent of Christ into Hell between the time of his Crucifixion and his Resurrection when he brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world (excluding the damned)”. In particular, I use an ancient homily, included in the Office of Readings, which describes how Jesus comes to wake up Adam and Eve:
“Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
What is remarkable to me is how this message, written and conveyed thousands of years ago, continues to resonate today in a world and a country that continually calls for renewal.
That is why in the Easter Vigil mass in Rome the other day, Pope Francis recalled how after the death of Christ, “the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died.” But then they heard the news, from the women who found an empty tomb: “The news spread: Jesus is risen as he said. And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: “Let them go to Galilee; there they will see me”.
According to Pope Francis: “To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory. To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.”
Pope Francis reminds us that there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus. Going back to Galilee is to rediscover our baptism “as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience”. Returning to Galilee is going back to that “blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey”. Returning to Galilee recalls that particular moment “when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me”.
And so Pope Francis asked during the Easter Vigil: “Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it? Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.”
And as the ancient homilist describes in that meditation on the harrowing of hell, Pope Francis too describes what the Lord is telling us in this season of grace: “Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”
Happy Easter everyone!
Visit this website to access the article.