Frightening and Sweet

From “Easter Homily on Mark” (591)

Listen to what the angel said to women when they arrive: “Do not be afraid”…This is why Matthew describes the apparition of the angel: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow” (Matt 28: 3). The lightning evokes fright and fear, but the whiteness of the snow, a caressing sweetness. Now the almighty God is both frightening for sinners and gentle for the righteous; It is therefore fitting that the angel, witness of the resurrection, showed himself with a lightning-like face and a white coat, so that even his appearance terrified the reprobate and reassured the saints.

The same reason explains that the people walking in the desert were preceded at night by a pillar of fire, and the day by a pillar of cloud (Exod. 13:21-22). Because the fire provokes fear, but the cloud is sweet to look at…The pillar, therefore, was manifested in the form of a cloud, and the night in the form of fire, because the Almighty God appears at once sweet to the just and frightening to the wicked….

[The angel tells the women] “go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you in Galilee.” We must ask ourselves why, after having mentioned the disciples, the angel still designates Peter by name. But if the angel had not mentioned the name of the one who had denied his master, he would not have dared to come among the disciples. He was therefore called by name, lest he should despair because of his denial…

We know that it was by a disposition of the great goodness of God, that the one who should be the shepherd of the Church learn by his own fault how he should have pity on others. God revealed Peter to himself before putting him at the head of others, so that the experience of his own weakness would make him know with what mercy he should bear the weaknesses of others.

St. Gregory the Great (ca. 540-604) served as Bishop of Rome from 586-604, during a series of invasions and political turmoil. He was a skilled administrator and diplomat, as well as a gifted preacher and writer on the spiritual life. His feast is celebrated on March 12.


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