In a programme curated by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication in collaboration with Italy’s RAI Cultura, which aired Easter evening on state-run TV station RAI1 in Italy, Pope Francis explores various Gospel encounters with Jesus and their protagonists.
“Love is continuous contact. It is continuous talking and listening. That is why I insist that we have direct contact with the Gospels… If you do not have contact with the living Christ, the one of the Gospel,” Pope Francis says, you will have contact with ideas, doctrines and ideologies about the Gospel, that may or may not have come from Jesus.
“Redemption was not done by doctrines, but by a Person.” Even if you know all the dogmas, but do not have contact with the Gospel, you will only be Catholic in your head and not in your heart. Being a Catholic, being a Christian, insists Pope Francis, requires contact with Jesus.
This is how the Pope began a programme entitled Volti dei Vangeli (‘Faces of the Gospels’), which was curated by the Dicastery for Communication in collaboration with the Vatican Apostolic Library, the Vatican Museums, and Italian television’s Rai Cultura, and aired Easter Sunday evening on Italy’s state-run TV channel RAI1 throughout Italy. Renato Cerisola directed and was responsible for photography, while Michelangelo Palmacci was responsible for the original music.
The vocation of Matthew
The start of the programme was preceded by a special talk by Italian actor, Roberto Benigni, who spoke about the joyful face of Jesus, and described the face of Mary as portrayed in Raphael’s painting entitled “The Sistine Madonna,” preserved in Dresden, Germany.
Then Pope Francis’ conversation began. After introducing the topic, talking about the need for continuous contact with the Gospel, the Pope presented one of the Gospel scenes that touches him most, that of the call of Matthew, the tax collector to whom Jesus turns His gaze.
This very Gospel was read on 21 September 1953, the day Jorge Mario Bergoglio realised he was going to become a priest.
The Pope’s words were illustrated by director Cerisola’s filming, which took the spectator “inside” the Caravaggio painting depicting the scene.
“What happened there?” the Pope wondered to himself. That is the strength of Jesus’ gaze. Surely, the Pope said, he looked at Matthew with such love, with such mercy; that look of the merciful Jesus: ‘Follow me, come.’
Matthew was resistant. Not only did he want money, the Pope reflected, he was a “slave to money,” Yet, he got up and followed Jesus, the Pope said.
Importance of ‘seeing’ in the Gospel
Pope Francis then spoke about the Good Thief.
“It is true,” he said. “He was a thief and had been stealing all his life. But in the end, repenting for what he had done, looking at Jesus so good and merciful, he managed to ‘steal’ heaven: this is a good thief!” The third figure presented during the programme was Judas Iscariot.
Then the Pope, in another passage of the wide-ranging interview granted to the programme’s authors, Andrea Tornielli and Lucio Brunelli, continued: “One of the things that will help us so much to do in the Gospels is to think of the encounter with Jesus: to look at Him in order to encounter Him. In reading the Gospel look and see, with eyes full of contemplation. And seeing also means listening. In the spiritual exercises, when we meditate on the life of Jesus, we must see them, listen to them. It is true that faith comes from hearing and listening, but the encounter comes from seeing. Zacchaeus was interested in seeing Jesus. Intrigued by Jesus, he climbed the tree, ‘I want to see Him.’ Even God, frequently in the Old Testament, presents Himself as the one who saves His people by performing miracles, and from there, says: ‘Remember what I have done with you: remember what you have seen!’ Seeing goes a long way towards memory, and the way of growth in the Christian life is memory: the memory of those things we have seen, and heard,” but especially seeing, stressed the Pope.
Pope Francis, who dedicated an entire jubilee year to St. Joseph, spoke movingly of Joseph, Mary’s spouse, the father who cherished Jesus’ life by agreeing to welcome and help raise a son who was not his own. Speaking of Joseph’s dismay after discovering the pregnancy of his betrothed Mary, the Pope reflected on “Joseph’s pain.”
“He knew her. ‘But this girl, I know her; I love her. She is pure. I do not understand this.’”
“In this pain, doubt, and suffering,” the Holy Father highlighted, “Joseph does not want to send Mary away, and decides to leave her in silence. He does not accuse her publicly, because he knew. In the midst of his doubt and pain, the Lord intervened, and did so in a dream. And in that dream, Joseph was told what happened, and Joseph obeyed. He believed and obeyed. He didn’t go to his friends to comfort himself, he didn’t go to the psychiatrist to interpret the dream … no: he believed. He went forward.”
The story of St. Joseph was accompanied by unpublished images of miniatures preserved in the Apostolic Library.
Jesus’ eyes on Peter
Then it was Peter’s turn, and the Pope described Jesus’ three gazes on the Galilean fisherman who would deny Him but then, after repenting, would hear the Nazarene invite him to lead the flock.
The Pope also recalled the death of the prince of the apostles: “After all his life serving the Lord, he ended up like the Lord: on the cross. But he does not boast: ‘I end up like my Lord!’ No, he asked: ‘Please put me on the cross with my head down, so that at least it may be seen that I am not the Lord. I am the servant.'”
The figure of Pontius Pilate was then described, illustrated by marble sculptures preserved in the Vatican Museums.
Importance of women
The Pope went on to explain the importance of women in the Gospel: “The Gospel starts with a woman!”
Speaking of the Gospel according to St. Luke, the Pope says “a woman, very young, in Nazareth, who has a vision of an angel. Think of God made man. It is a woman, Mary, who opens the door and says ‘yes, I accept.’ And the Resurrection? It is a woman, who had been a sinner, who is elected to tell the news: ‘He is risen.’ It is she. It is interesting: the Apostles do not believe women. They may have said, “yes, yes,” but they think to themselves, we will go to the tomb to see for ourselves. Those in Emmaus similarly were sceptical toward women, saying “some woman said there is no longer the body, that He was risen and there were angels.”
The Pope lamented “the phobia” towards women that is so common, “as if they were second-rate, second-class human beings. But the Lord revealed Himself to women, and through women, as we see throughout the Bible,” he said.
“You cannot understand Jesus without a woman, that is, His Mother”
Mary Magdalene and the Adulteress
This was followed by accounts of Jesus’ encounters with two women, Mary Magdalene and the Adulteress.
Speaking of Mary Magdalene, Pope Francis said: “We meet the one who, according to the Gospels, was the first to see the risen Jesus: Mary Magdalene. And Jesus calls her: ‘Mary!’ Try to think too, at this moment, with the baggage of disappointments and defeats that each of us carries in our hearts, that there is a God close to us Who calls us by name and says: ‘Get up, stop crying, because I have come to set you free!’ This is beautiful.”
The Pope spoke next about the adulteress, describing in detail the scene and trap inherent in the Scribes’ question to Jesus concluded.
“In the end,” the Pope said, “only Jesus and the woman remain there in the middle. ‘Misery and mercy remain,’ says St Augustine,” the Pope quoted. “Jesus,” Pope Francis said, “dismisses the woman with these wonderful words: ‘Go and from now on, sin no more.'”
Wonder of every encounter
Pope Francis then explained that “the purpose of the Word of God is the encounter.”
“There is a word that explains a feeling, when there is an encounter or there is not an encounter: when I encounter the Lord in His Word, there is this feeling of amazement. Astonishment comes when you encounter the Lord. If you read the Gospel intellectually as something historical, you will never feel wonder. Astonishment is precisely the scent that God is passing by: He leaves you with this. Many times, we read a passage of the Gospel and another time, we fall on the same one… but it doesn’t matter, because one day – knock on wood! – you are touched by amazement and we understand what is behind it. This is the presence of Jesus. Jesus is present in the Gospels: He is present. That’s why you can’t read it like a novel or a collection of fairy tales: no, no! ‘But how do you feel the amazement? Do I have to take some pills?’ someone may say to me. No: just take the Gospel with simplicity and love, and it will be God Who will give you amazement.”
Entire Gospel in two parables
The last two short episodes of the programme were dedicated to two famous and moving parables told by Jesus.
“Rereading the parable of the merciful Father always greatly impresses me,” said the Pope, “because it always gives me great hope. Think of the youngest son who was in the Father’s house. He was loved; yet he wants his share of the inheritance; he goes away, spends everything, arrives at the lowest level, farthest from the Father. When he has reached the bottom, he feels nostalgia for the warmth of his father’s home and returns.”
“And the Father? Had he forgotten his son?” asked the Pope. “No, never. He is there, he sees him from afar. He was waiting for him every day, every moment: he has always been in his heart as a son. Even if he had left him, even if he had squandered all his wealth, as soon as he sees his son far away, he runs to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach: he has returned! That is the joy of a father.”
Pope Francis then recounted the parable of the Good Samaritan, recalling that “some ancient theologians said that in this passage, is the whole Gospel. Each one of us is the man there, wounded, and the Samaritan is Jesus.”
The episode dedicated to the Good Samaritan ended with the image of the statue of the Good Shepherd, present in the Vatican Museums.
Fascination with Jesus
The “Faces of the Gospels’ programme concluded with the Pope’s answer to the question of why the figure of Jesus and the story of the Gospels have always fascinated non-believers, even those who are far away.
“Because He is the Lord,” the Pope replied. “He is not a character: He is the Lord. And even to non-believers, when they see this, something moves inside. It is the Lord, it is a grace of His life, to show that message that He came to bring us. But it is important to see Jesus, and for this reason to feel attracted by His person. This is a grace. It is a grace to see, to contemplate and also to feel, the attraction towards Him. Without His grace, without the Spirit, we would never be attracted to Him.”
With thanks to Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.