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The Empty Tomb – Encouragement from St John Henry Newman

Pope Francis described Peter running to the empty tomb as ‘the beginning of the resurrection of his heart’. This commentary reminded me of an expression in a book I’d read which recommended that we let Jesus ‘Easter in us’. In other words, open ourselves up to be missionary disciples.

Saint John Henry Newman anticipated this type of ‘Paschal mystery thinking’ in two of his homilies. He begins by stating how fundamental it is to long for a renewed faith.

‘We cannot change ourselves; this we know full well, or, at least, a very little experience will teach us. God alone can change us; God alone can give us the desires, affections, principles, views, and tastes which a change implies: this, too, we know.’ (Parochial and Plain Sermons V,16)

Newman’s reflections then focus on the post-resurrection period as being crucial for the vitality of the early Church. The disciples find themselves re-interpreting the whole of Jesus’ life in light of it. Newman invites us to do likewise:

‘What a time must that forty days have been, during which, while He taught them, all His past teaching must have risen in their minds, and the thoughts then must have recurred in overpowering contrast to their thoughts now. His manner of life, His ministry, His discourses, His parables, His miracles, His meekness, gravity, incomprehensible majesty, the mystery of His grief and joy; the agony, the scourge, the cross, the crown of thorns, the spear, the tomb; their despair, their unbelief, their perplexity, their amazement, their sudden transport, their triumph – all this was in their minds; and surely not the least at that awful hour, when He led His breathless followers out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them and carried up into Heaven. Surely all His history, all His dealings with them, came before them, gathered up in that moment. (Parochial and Plain Sermons VI,16)

Saint John Henry proclaims all this with wonder, awe and in anticipation of Pentecost’s gifts to energise his pilgrim way.

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