Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Pope meditates on death for All Souls Day
On today's Solemnity of All Souls, Pope Benedict XVI reflected upon death and the hope that Christian faith brings to it.
“As human beings, we have a natural fear of death and we rebel against its apparent finality,” Pope Benedict said to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly general audience.
“Faith teaches us that the fear of death is lightened by a great hope, the hope of eternity, which gives our lives their fullest meaning. The God who is love offers us the promise of eternal life through the death and resurrection of His Son.”
Therefore, said the Pope, “in Christ, death no longer appears as an abyss of emptiness, but rather a path to life which will never end.”
In the Catholic Church, the month of November is dedicated to praying for the dead. Today priests around the world are given special permission to say three Masses – one for the Pope, one for the dead and one for a personal intention. It is also customary to visit family graves on this day. In some Spanish speaking countries – such as Mexico – this has evolved into a pious national festival known as the “Day of the Dead.”
The Pope said that a visit to the cemetery “to pray for loved ones who have left us” is a good reminder of the “Communion of Saints” and that there is a “close link between we who still walk upon the earth and our countless brothers and sisters who have already reached eternity.”
And yet many of us still fear death, observed the Pope, giving three reasons why this is the case. He pointed to fear of the unknown, the apparent destruction of “all that was beautiful and great” in our lifetime, and also a fear of judgement, in particularly for those actions that “with skill, we often remove or attempt to remove from our consciousness.”
The Pope said that modern society often tries to approach death using the “criteria of scientific experimentalism,” so that the “great question of death must be answered not with faith, but with testable, empirical knowledge.”
But this approach, he cautioned, can end up in a form of spiritualism where, in an attempt to have contact with the world beyond death, we almost imagine “a reality” that is “a copy of the present.”
This worldview reduces man to “a horizontal dimension” and causes life to lose “its deeper meaning.”
The life of a person is understandable, Pope Benedict said, “only if there is a love that overcomes all isolation, even that of death.” The practical impact of this is that “only those who can recognize a great hope in death, can also live a life based on hope.”
The Pope then reminded pilgrims of the numerous occasions where Christ confirmed the reality of life after death, including upon the Cross on Calvary when he “addressed the criminal crucified on his right,” with the words, “Truly I tell you, with me today you will be in Paradise.”
“Christ is the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in him will never die,” Pope Benedict said in conclusion.
Before imparting his apostolic blessing, Pope Benedict also prayed that the economic meeting of the G-20 Head of State or Government in Cannes, France, over the next two days “will help to overcome the difficulties that, worldwide, impede the promotion of an authentically human and integral development.”
The Pope rounded off his public duties for the Solemnity of All Souls with a 6 p.m. visit to the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he prayed at the tombs of his papal predecessors who are buried there.