Pope Francis recently reminded us that –
“being Christian is not first of all a doctrine or a moral ideal; it is a living relationship with the Risen Lord”.
And he is right. We can be the best of theologians and know all about God and yet still not know God – or even believe in Him. ‘Knowledge of’ is a very different thing to ‘relationship with’.
At Easter, the Holy Father said that –
“Jesus is the Risen One, the Lord who passed through death in order to lead us to safety. Even before we begin to seek Him, He is present beside us. He lifts us back up after our falls. He helps us grow in faith”.
And so the starting point of any relationship with Jesus comes not from us – but from the Lord. Whatever we do is, in fact, a response – not an initiation; we respond to what the Lord extends toward us. This is how the relationship begins – He moves toward us first, and it is only then that we are able to move toward Him.
To sustain this burgeoning relationship, we need something very particular, the spiritual air required that the relationship might not simply survive, but begin to grow; Pope Francis tells us what this spiritual air is –
“The breath of faith is prayer: we grow in faith inasmuch as we learn to pray”.
Prayer, then is an absolute necessity – our relationship with the Lord cannot survive without it; whilst He will remain close to us regardless, without prayer we will find ourselves moving very far from Him. The Holy Father goes on to enlighten us on just how powerful this spiritual air really is –
“Even death trembles when a Christian prays, because it knows that everyone who prays has an ally who is stronger than it: the Risen Lord”.
The Holy Father tells us something else about prayer and about it’s communal nature, when we pray on behalf of another –
“The first way to pray for someone is to speak to God about him or her. If we do this frequently, each day, our hearts are not closed, but open to our brothers and sisters. To pray for others is the first way to love them and it moves us toward concretely drawing near”.
Reminding us of the need we all have to experience mercy, the Holy Father says –
“Today is the day to ask, ‘Am I, who have so often received God’s mercy, merciful to others?’ Let us not live a one-way faith, a faith that receives but does not give. Having received mercy, let us now become merciful.. Mercy is made tangible, it becomes closeness, service, care for those in difficulty. I hope you will always feel you have been granted mercy, so as to be merciful to others in turn.”
At times, prayer will come easily to us; but at other times, the very act of praying can seem almost impossible. And for those occasions, the Holy Father reminds us that –
“Amid the many hardships we are enduring, let us never forget that we have been healed by the wounds of Christ. In the light of the Risen Lord, our sufferings are now transfigured. Where there was death, now there is life. Where there was mourning, now there is consolation.”
And in a further consoling note, he adds –
“Dear brother, dear sister: if on this night you are experiencing an hour of darkness, a day that has not yet dawned, a light dimmed or a dream shattered, open your heart with amazement to the message of Easter – ‘Do not be afraid, He has risen!'”
The Pope reminds us that this Lord to whom we pray – He, too, has suffered and so He understands our own suffering. Pointing to the Wounds of the Risen Lord, Pope Francis says –
“The wounds of Jesus are open channels between Him and us, shedding mercy upon our misery. They are pathways that God has opened up for us to enter into His tender love and actually ‘touch’ who He is. Let us never again doubt His mercy.. Jesus’s Cross is God’s silent throne. Let us daily contemplate His wounds. In those gashes, we recognize our emptiness, our shortcomings, the wounds of our sin. His wounds were inflicted for our sake, and by those wounds we have been healed.”
This relationship with Christ crucified and risen is worth the effort – for the fruit it offers is true peace between God and man, and true peace within the human heart –
“Let us never tire of seeking the risen Christ who gives life in abundance to those who meet him. To find Christ means to discover peace in our hearts.”
Listening to all these words of the Shepherd, let us spare nothing in responding to, establishing, maintaining, developing, deepening and growing that relationship with the Living Lord which He offers us in this life, that we might be worthy of an eternity in His presence in Heaven.