“Blessed Are the Dead that Die in the Lord,” was the theme of Pope Francis address at his October 18, 2017 General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present. Then he made an appeal for the people of Somalia, stricken in past days by a terrorist attack that left 300 dead.
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The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dearest Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today I would like to compare Christian hope with the reality of death, a reality that our modern civilization tends increasingly to efface. Thus, when death comes, for one who is close to us or for ourselves, we find ourselves unprepared, deprived even of an appropriate “alphabet” to articulate meaningful words about its mystery, which in any case remains. Yet the first signs of human civilization transited in fact through this enigma. We can say that man is born with the cult of the dead.
Other civilizations, before ours, had the courage to look at it in the face. It was an event recounted by the elderly to the new generations, as an inescapable reality that obliged man to live for something absolute. Psalm 90 states: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). To number our days so that our heart becomes wise! — words that lead us to a healthy realism, dispelling the delusion of omnipotence. What are we? We are “almost nothing,” says another Psalm (Cf. 88:48); our days run off fast: even if we lived a hundred years, at the end it will all seem as if it was a flash. Many times I’ve heard elderly people say: “Life passed for me as a flash . . .”
Thus death strips our life. It makes us discover that our acts of pride, of wrath, of hatred were vanity, pure vanity. We realize with regret that we didn’t love enough and that we didn’t seek what was essential. And, on the contrary, we see what we sowed that was truly good: the affections for which we sacrificed ourselves, and that now hold our hand.
Jesus illumined the mystery of our death. With His conduct, He permits us to feel sorrowful when a dear person goes. He was “profoundly” upset before the tomb of His friend Lazarus, and He “wept” (John 11:35). In this attitude of His, we feel Jesus very close — our brother. He wept for His friend Lazarus.
And then Jesus prays to the Father, source of life, and orders Lazarus to come out of the sepulcher. And so it happens. Christian hope draws from this attitude, which Jesus assumes against human death: if it is present in Creation, it is, however, a scar that spoils God’s design of love, and the Savior wants to heal it.
Elsewhere the Gospels talk about a father whose daughter is very sick, and he turns to Jesus with faith so that He will save her (Cf. Mark 5:21-24.35-543). There is no more moving figure than that of a father or a mother with a sick child. And Jesus goes immediately with that man, who was called Jairus. At a certain point someone arrives from Jairus’ house to say that the girl is dead, and there’s no longer need to trouble the Teacher. However, Jesus says to Jairus: “Do not fear, only believe!” (Mark 5:36). Jesus knows that that man is tempted to react with anger and despair, because the little girl is dead, and he recommends to him to cherish the small flame burning in his heart: faith. “Do not fear, only have faith.” “Do not fear, continue to have that flame burning!” And then, arriving at the house, He awakes the little girl from death and restores her alive to her dear ones.
Jesus puts us on this “ridge” of faith. To Martha weeping for the death of her brother Lazarus He opposes the light of a dogma: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11: 25-26). It’s what Jesus repeats to each one of us every time that death comes to tear the fabric of life and of affections. Our whole existence is played out here, between the slope of faith and the precipice of fear. Jesus says: I am not death, I am the resurrection and the life; do you believe this? Do you believe this?” Do we, who are in the Square today, believe this?
We are all small and vulnerable before the mystery of death. However, what a grace if in that moment we cherish in our heart the little flame of faith! Jesus will take us by the hand, as He took the hand of Jairus’ daughter, and repeat once again: “Talita kum,” “Little girl, arise!” (Mark 5:41). He will say it to us, to each one of us: “Get up, arise!” I now invite you to close your eyes and to think of that moment of our death. Each one of us think of his death and imagine that moment that will come, when Jesus will take us by the hand and say to us: Come, come with me, arise.” Hope will end there and it will be the reality, the reality of life. Think about it: Jesus Himself will come to each one of us and will take us by the hand, with His tenderness, His meekness, His love. And each one repeat in his heart Jesus’ word: “Get up, come. Get up, come. Get up, arise!”
This is our hope in face of death. For one who believes, it’s a door that opens completely; for one who doubts it’s a chink of light that filters from a doorway that was not altogether closed. However, for all of us it will be a grace, when this light, of the encounter with Jesus, will illuminate us.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]