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A Love Stronger Than Death

A Homily by Pope Benedict XVI

A Love Stronger Than Death: A Homily by Pope Benedict XVI

In his farewell discourse, Jesus announced his imminent death, “I will go away, and I will come to you,” he said (John 14:28). Dying is a “going away.”

Even if the body of the deceased remains behind, he himself has gone away into the unknown, and we cannot follow him (see 13:36). Yet in Jesus’ case, there is something utterly new, which changes the world. In the case of our own death, the “going away” is definitive; there is no return. Jesus, on the other hand, says of his death: “I go away, and I will come to you.” It is by going away that he comes. His going ushers in a completely new and greater way of being present. By dying he enters into the love of the Father. His dying is an act of love. Love, however, is immortal. Therefore, his going away is transformed into a new coming, into a form of presence which reaches deeper and does not come to an end. During his earthly life, Jesus, like all of us, was tied to the external conditions of bodily existence: to a determined place and a determined time. Bodiliness places limits on our existence. We cannot be simultaneously in two different places. Our time is destined to come to an end. And between the “I” and the “you,” there is a wall of otherness. To be sure, through love we can somehow enter the other’s existence. Nevertheless, the insurmountable barrier of being different remains in place. Yet Jesus, who is now totally transformed through the act of love, is free from such barriers and limits. He is able not only to pass through closed doors in the outside world, as the gospels recount (see John 20:19). He can pass through the interior door separating the “I” from the “you,” the closed door between yesterday and today, between the past and the future. On the day of his solemn entry into Jerusalem, when some Greeks asked to see him, Jesus replied with the parable of the grain of wheat which has to pass through death in order to bear much fruit. In this way he foretold his own destiny: these words were not addressed simply to one or two Greeks in the space of a few minutes. Through his cross, through his going away, through his dying like the grain of wheat, he would truly arrive among the Greeks, in such a way that they could see him and touch him through faith. His going away is transformed into a coming, in the risen Lord’s universal manner of presence, yesterday, today and forever. He also comes today, and he embraces all times and all places. Now he can even surmount the wall of otherness that separates the “I” from the “you.” This happened with Paul, who describes the process of his conversion and his baptism in these words: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Through the coming of the risen One, Paul obtained a new identity. His closed “I” was opened. Now he lives in communion with Jesus Christ, in the great “I” of believers who have become—as he puts it—“one in Christ” (3:28).

So, dear friends, it is clear that, through baptism, the mysterious words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper become present for you once more. In baptism, the Lord enters your life through the door of your heart. We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another. He passes through all these doors. This is the reality of baptism: he, the risen One, comes; he comes to you and joins his life with yours, drawing you into the open fire of his love. You become one, one with him, and thus one among yourselves. . . . Believers—the baptized—are never truly cut off from one another. Continents, cultures, social structures, or even historical distances may separate us. . . . We experience that in our inmost depths we are anchored in the same identity, on the basis of which all our outward differences, however great they may be, become secondary. Believers are never totally cut off from one another. We are in communion because of our deepest identity: Christ within us.

—Homily, March 22, 2008

Excerpted from The Joy of Knowing Christ, Pope Benedict XVI (The Word Among Us Press, 2009). Available at wau.org/books

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