On Dying in Christ

«One Who Practices Mercy Does Not Fear Death»

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Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s continuing catechesis on the Creed during today’s General Audience in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Good morning and congratulations because you are brave to be here in this square with this cold [weather]. Many compliments!

I want to bring to a close the catechesis on the “Creed,” carried out during the Year of Faith, which ended last Sunday. In this and the next catechesis I would like to consider the subject of the resurrection of the flesh, taking two aspects as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, namely our dying and rising in Jesus Christ. Today I shall pause on the first aspect, to “die in Christ.”

Usually, among us, there is a mistaken way of seeing death. Death concerns everyone, and it questions us in a profound way, especially when it touches us up close, or when it strikes the little ones, the defenseless in a way that seems to us “scandalous.” I have always been struck by the question: why do children suffer? Why do children die? If death is understood as the end of everything, it frightens, terrifies, and is transformed into a threat that shatters every dream, every prospect, which breaks every relation and interrupts every way. This happens when we consider our life as a time enclosed between two poles: birth and death; when we do not believe in a horizon that goes beyond the present life; when one lives as if God did not exist. This idea of death is typical of atheistic thought, which interprets existence as finding oneself accidentally in the world and walking towards nothingness. But there is also a practical atheism, which is to live only for one’s own interests and earthly things. If we allow ourselves to be taken in by this mistaken vision of death, we have no other choice than that of hiding death, of denying it, or of trivializing it, so that it won’t make us afraid.

However, this false solution reveals man’s “heart,” the desire that we all have for the infinite, our nostalgia of the eternal. So, then, what is the Christian meaning of death? If we look at the most painful moments of our life, when we have lost a dear person – parents, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a child, a friend — we remember that, even in the tragedy of the loss, even lacerated by the detachment, the conviction arises in our heart that everything cannot be finished, that the good given and received was not useless. There is a powerful instinct within us, which tells us that life does not end with death.

This thirst for life has found its real and reliable answer in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ Resurrection not only gives us the certainty of life beyond death, but it also illumines the mystery itself of the death of each one of us. If we live united to Jesus, faithful to Him, we will be able to face the passage of death with hope and serenity. The Church in fact prays: “If the certainty of having to die saddens you, you are consoled by the promise of future immortality.” This is a beautiful prayer of the Church!  A person tends to die the way they have lived. If my life has been a journey with the Lord, of trust in His immense mercy, I will be prepared to accept the last moment of my earthly existence as the definitive and confident abandonment in his welcoming hands, in the expectation of contemplating his countenance face to face. This is the most beautiful thing that could happen: to contemplate face to face that wonderful countenance of the Lord, to see him as he is, beautiful, full of light, full of love, full of tenderness. We go towards this end: to see the Lord.

Understood in this horizon is Jesus’ invitation to be always ready, vigilant, knowing that life in this world is also given to prepare for the other life, the one with the heavenly Father. And because of this, there is a sure way: to prepare well for death, staying close to Jesus (…) with prayer, in the Sacraments and also in the practice of charity. We remember that He is present in the weakest and neediest. He himself identified himself with them, in the famous parable of the Last Judgment, when he says: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. … All that you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did to me” (Matthew 25:35-36.40). Therefore, a sure way is to recover the meaning of Christian charity and fraternal sharing, to take care of the corporal and spiritual wounds of our neighbor. Solidarity in sharing sorrow and infusing hope is the premise and condition to receive in inheritance the Kingdom prepared for us. One who practices mercy does not fear death. Think well of this: who practices mercy does not fear death! Do you agree? Shall we say it together so as not to forget? One who practices mercy does not fear death. And why does he not fear death? Because he looks at it in the face in the wounds of brothers, and overcomes it with the love of Jesus Christ.

If we open the door of our life and of our heart to our littlest brothers, then even our death will become a door that will introduce us to Heaven, to our blessed homeland, toward which we are directed, longing to dwell forever with our Father, with Jesus , Mary and the Saints.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Creed, we now reflect on “the resurrection of the body”. Christian faith illumines the mystery of death and brings the hope of the resurrection. Death challenges all of us: apart from belief in God and a vision of life as something greater than earthly existence, death appears as wholly tragic; we misunderstand it, fear and deny it. Yet human beings were made for something greater; we yearn for the infinite, the eternal. Christ’s resurrection not only offers us the certainty of life beyond death, it also shows us the true meaning of death. We die as we live: if our lives were lived in loving union with God, we will be able to abandon ourselves serenely and confidently into his hands at the moment of our death. Our Lord frequently tells us to be watchful, knowing that our life in this world is a preparation for the life to come. If we remain close to him, especially through charity to the poor and solidarity with those in need, we need not fear death, but rather welcome it as the door to heaven and to the joy of eternal life.

Pope Francis (In Italian):

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England, the Philippines and the United States. Upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

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I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the faithful of Ravenna-Cervia, of Trieste and of Concordia-Pordenone, accompanied by their respective Bishops, as well as the directors of the Italian Catholic Weeklies, who have come here for the end of the Year of Faith. I greet the children affected by the Rett Syndrome; the Apostles of Divine Marcy, with the Bishop of Palestrina, Monsignor Sigalini; the spiritual advisers of the Notre Dame Team; the Confraternity of Saints Cosmas and Damian of Rome; the members of the Department of Surgery and Medicine of Biocca University of Milan and the students of several schools adherents of the initiative of the “Sister Nature” Foundation.

In addition, I greet the parishes, the military men and Groups present, in particular the Association City of the Most Holy Crucified of Gravina in Puglia and the delegation of Mayors of the “Cities of Saint James of the Marca.” I hope that this meeting will awaken in all the desire for a renewed adherence to Christ and his Gospel.

Finally my affectionate thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds.

Next Sunday we will begin the liturgical season of Advent. Dear young people, prepare your hearts to receive Jesus the
Savior; dear sick, offer your suffering so that all will see in Christmas the encounter of the Christ with fragile human nature; and you dear newlyweds, live your marriage as the reflection of the love of God in your personal story. Thank you.

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