When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either. But later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs. (Mark 16:9-20).
After His resurrection, Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene, then to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and finally to the eleven apostles. Although He himself announced several times the fate that lay in store for the Son of Man, the disciples who had been called to follow Him, were involved in His life and had learned consistently from His authoritative teaching for at least three years, were still caught unprepared; the arrest, passion and death of Jesus wounded them terribly. Fear paralyzed them so much so that they found it difficult to believe in the apparitions of the Risen Lord.
While they were at table, Jesus appeared to the disciples and saw in their eyes fear and unbelief, the hardness of their heart, and their struggle to have faith.
How will they be able to announce the good news if they do not even believe? Jesus ascends into heaven but His loving gaze continues to guide and support the disciples. Despite their lack of faith, Jesus entrusts them with the task of continuing His mission, and thus they are invited to become witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. This mission, a fundamental experience in following Christ, is expressed in the Gospel passage above, and can be summed up with two verbs:
- to go: this does not simply mean leaving one’s country or going far away geographically, expresses above all the attitude of “getting out of one’s comfort and having the courage to reach all the suburbs that have need of the light of the Gospel,” as Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium (no. 20). It is not so much a physical movement of the body, but rather a movement of the heart.
- to proclaim: The joy of having met the Lord gives rise to the need to go and tell of the beautiful experience that one has lived.
Jesus sent his disciples on a mission with this mandate: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” To evangelize means to bring to others the Good News of salvation, and this Good News is a person: Jesus Christ. When I meet Him, when I discover to what extent I am loved and saved by Him, not only does the desire arise, but more strongly the need to make Him known to others. Every Christian is called to follow Christ and at the same time is called to become a missionary. This is not limited to a select few, but concerns all Christians. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature,” (Mk 16:15) is a mandate that applies to all of us.
By virtue of the baptism received, every member of God’s people has become a missionary disciple (cfr. Mt 28,19).
Faced with the difficulties of the mission to evangelize, we are sometimes tempted to repeat the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Ah, Lord God!” I said, “I know not how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord answered, “Say not, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak” (Jer. 1:6-7).
When we feel inadequate, incapable, or weak in announcing and witnessing the faith, we must not be afraid. Evangelization is not our initiative and does not depend on our gifts or talents, but it is a trusting and obedient response to God’s call, and therefore is based on His strength and not on our own. The Lord trusts us, our hands, our voice; He shows us the way and helps us realize that He is present, even in:
- banishing demons: in fighting the force of evil that destroys life. He drives away our fears, our sins. When the Word of Jesus arrives, these demons disappear.
- speaking new languages: or communicating with others in a new way. Sometimes we meet with a person we have never seen before, but it seems that we have known them for some time. This happens because we speak the same language, the language of love. This new language is the language of acceptance, of sharing.
- overcoming poison: there are many things that poison community. The temptation to gossip, for example, destroys relationships. Those who live in the presence of God know that they must depend on Him in order to not succumb to the effects of this terrible poison.
- cure the sick: where there is a clear and alive awareness of the presence of God, there is also a special care for those who are excluded and marginalized, especially towards the sick, making them feel welcomed and loved.
God calls us; He calls those who are fragile, inconsistent and inundated with so many worries and agitations. Even if the task entrusted to us seems great and arduous, let us not forget that our strength is found in faith. Because we believe, we abandon ourselves and in confident abandonment our poor “fishermen’s” hands are able to carry out this mission.
Our task is to say to ourselves and to those who suffer: “If you can believe in love and live in love, you have already found salvation.” The experience of death, of malice and of suffering can poison and paralyze us. How easy it is to cave under the weight of our sorrow and surrender to the difficulties of life! To believe, on the other hand, is to stop looking only at our own powerlessness; Jesus promises us his assistance in dealing with the struggles of daily life. He is always with us. In ascending to heaven, He did not go far, but went to the core of all things, of all people, and His hands are entwined with ours even more firmly than before.
But what does it mean to be a missionary? It means first of all being disciples of Christ, always listening to the invitation to follow him, the invitation to look to him: “Learn from me, who are meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29).
Our mission is to give light to the world. “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Mt 5,13-16). An authentic example of this light that radiates through the hearts of those who meet God is undoubtedly the story of Chiara Luce Badano, a girl who died when she was only 19 years old. She lived a short life, but one so intense as to leave a deep mark in the memory of those who knew her and who come into contact with her even today.
Chiara was able to find Jesus in everyone, even in nonbelievers, and her whole life was colored by a tangible love for all people. Every day of her life was a “gem to be raised unto God,” giving an eternal meaning to every gesture. She did not talk about Jesus with others, but she brought Him to them with her life. In fact, she said: “I do not have to speak about Jesus, but I have to reveal Jesus with my behavior.” The joy of living, enthusiasm for small things, contemplation of creation, and the happiness received in enjoying friendship were the nourishment of her days. In the summer of 1988, during a tennis match, she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder and shortly thereafter, Chiara was diagnosed with a malignant tumor. Her “pilgrimage” began as she made the rounds of various hospitals of Turin, living a real via crucis. On the morning of her surgery, before entering the operating room, she told her mother: “If I should die, celebrate a beautiful Mass and tell everyone to sing with all their hearts.”
She underwent chemotherapy and radiation, living everything as a means of unifying herself with the suffering of Christ. In moments of great pain, she would repeat: “If you want it, Jesus, I want it too.” To those who were blessed to be near her, Chiara communicated serenity, peace and joy; so much so that she earned the nickname Chiara “Luce” (“Light”), because of her radiant presence. Writing to fellow youth, she said: “Young people are the future. I cannot run anymore, but I would like to pass them the torch, like at the Olympics. They have just one life and it is worth spending it well.”
On October 7, 1990 she greeted her mother saying: “Be happy — I am!” and then she left this earth to meet her heavenly Spouse. Her life bears witness to an unconditional yes to the love of God, a yes repeated since she was a child, a yes that, with her parents and young people like herself, has been able to transform her disease into a luminous path towards the fullness of Life.
I commit myself to be “Jesus today”: to make known the love of God the Father to the people I meet, to those with whom I live, and those waiting to be found who are in need of help in faith and in life.