The Pope first thanked the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square – over 50,000 participants – praising them for braving the cold weather that has affected the Italian capital in these days, and complementing them on their “resistance” before beginning the catechesis.
“There is a wrong way of looking at death”, he said. “Death affects all of us, and challenges us profoundly, especially when it touches someone close to us, or when it strikes the very young or defenceless in a way that appears ‘scandalous’ to us. I am always struck by the question, ‘why do children suffer? Why do children die?’. If it is understood as the end of everything, death … terrifies us; it is transformed into a threat that … stops us in our tracks. This happens when we consider our life as a period of time closed between two poles, birth and death; when we do not believe in a horizon that goes beyond that of our present life; when we live as if God did not exist. This concept of death is typical of atheist thought, which interprets existence as a matter of appearing in the world by chance and walking a path towards nothingness. But there also exists a form of practical atheism, which involves living only for one’s own interests and for earthly goods. If we allow ourselves to be ensnared by this erroneous view of death, we have no choice other than that of evading death, denying it, or of trivialising it so that it no longer frightens us.
“But man’s heart – the desire we all have for the infinite, our nostalgia for eternity – rebels against this false solution. And so what is the Christian meaning of death? If we look at the most painful moments of our lives, when we have lost someone dear to us … we realise that, even in the drama of loss, there rises from the heart the conviction that it cannot all be over. … There is a powerful instinct within us that tells us that our life does not end with death”.
“This thirst for life finds its true and reliable answer in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus not only gives us the certainty of life beyond death, but it also casts light on the mystery of the death of every one of us. If we live united with Jesus, faithful to Him, we will be capable of facing even the passage of death with hope and serenity”.
From this perspective, “we understand Jesus’ invitation to always be ready and watchful in the knowledge that life in this world is given to us also in preparation for the other life, that with the celestial Father. And for this there is a sure way: preparing oneself well for death, staying close to Jesus in prayer, in the Sacraments and also in the practice of charity. Remember that He is present in the weakest and neediest among us. He himself identified with them, in the famous parable of the final judgement, when he says ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’. Therefore a sure way is to recover the meaning of Christian charity and fraternal sharing, curing the bodily and spiritual wounds of our neighbour”.
“Those who live with mercy”, he concluded, “do not fear death, because they face it directly in the wounds of their brothers, and overcome it with Jesus Christ’s love”.