The family faced with death


The Vatican (Wednesday, 06-17-2015, Gaudium Press) Bereavement in the family was the theme of Pope Francis’ catechesis during this Wednesday’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, attended by more than fifteen thousand people.

“Death is an experience that affects all families, without exception. It is part of life; however, when it touches someone close to us, it never appears natural to us. For parents, the loss of a child … is an affront to the promises, gifts and sacrifices of love joyfully offered to the life we have brought into being. The whole family is paralyzed, silenced. And a child suffers something similar when he or she is left alone by the loss of one or both parents. The emptiness and abandonment that opens up inside the child is even more distressing on account of the fact that he does not have the sufficient experience to ‘give a name’ to what has happened. In these cases death is like a black hole that opens up in the life of families, for which we are unable to give any explanation. And at times we even reach the point of blaming God”.

“But many people – and I understand them – become angry with God, and blaspheme. ‘Why have you taken my son, my daughter from me? There is no God, God does not exist! Why has He done this to me?’. But this anger arises from great pain; the loss of a son or a daughter, a father or mother, is an immense pain. … In these cases, death seems like a hole”.

But physical death, the Pope warned, has “accomplices” that are even worse: “hatred, envy, pride and greed, the sin of the world that works for death and renders it even more painful and unjust. Family ties appear to be the predestined and helpless victims of these powerful auxiliaries of death that accompany human history. Think of the absurd ‘normality’ with which, in certain moments and in certain places, the events that add horror to death are provoked by the hatred and indifference of other human beings. May the Lord free us from growing accustomed to this”.

Thanks to God’s compassion given to us in Jesus, “many families demonstrate in their actions that death does not have the last word. Every time that a bereaved family – even terribly – finds the strength to keep the faith and love that unite us to those whom we love, it prevents death from claiming everything. The darkness of death must be faced with more intense love. In the light of the Resurrection of the Lord, Who never abandons any of those whom the Father has entrusted to Him, we can remove the ‘sting’ from death, as the apostle Paul said; we can prevent it from poisoning life, from spoiling our affections, from making us fall into the darkest emptiness. In this faith, we are able to console each other, knowing that the Lord has defeated death once and for all. Our dear ones have not disappeared into the darkness of nothing: hope assures us that they are in the good and strong hands of God. Love is stronger than death”, the Pope emphasised. If we let ourselves be supported by this faith, “the experience of bereavement can generate a stronger solidarity in family ties, a new openness to the suffering of other families, a new fraternity with those families who are born and reborn in hope”.

Faith gives us birth and rebirth in hope, reiterated Francis, recalling the passage from the Gospel in which Jesus revives the widower’s son, restoring him to his mother. “This is our hope”, he exclaimed. “Jesus will restore to us all our dear ones who have passed away, He will return them to us and we will meet them again. … Let us remember this gesture of Jesus … as the Lord will do the same with the loved ones in our family”. This faith, he said, “protects us from a nihilistic vision of death, as well as from the false consolations of the world, ‘so that the Christian truth does not risk mixing itself with myths of various types'”, giving way to rites of superstition, ancient or modern”.

The Pope concluded by urging all pastors and all Christians to express in the most concrete way the sense of faith in relation to the family experience of bereavement. “The right to weep must not be denied”, he exclaimed. “Even Jesus was deeply moved and profoundly troubled by the bereavement of a family he loved. We can, instead, draw from the simple and powerful witness of many families who have known how to grasp, in the difficult passage of death, also the safe passage offered by the Lord, crucified and risen, with his irrevocable promise of the resurrection of the dead. The work of God’s love is stronger than the work of death. We must seek to be ‘accomplices’ to that love, with our faith. … Death was defeated by Jesus on the cross. Jesus will restore all of us to our families”.

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