Saturday 30 March 2024

Resilient Pope says empty tomb means hope amid life’s anguish

Pope presides over Saturday Easter Vigil after missing Good Friday  procession - Jersey Evening Post

Despite having skipped a key Holy Week event the night before due to concerns over lingering symptoms of bronchitis, Pope Francis presided over an Easter vigil Mass Saturday night, insisting that the empty tomb signifying Jesus’ resurrection from the dead gives hope amid life’s suffering and disappointments.

On Good Friday, the pope presided over a lengthy Passion service in St. Peter’s Basilica but pulled out of the traditional praying of the Via Crucis at Rome’s Colosseum at the last minute, in order to preserve his strength for Saturday’s Easter Vigil and Mass on Easter Sunday. In part, the decision was likely due to the cool and humid air in Rome at nighttime this week, with doctors likely advising the pontiff to avoid prolonged exposure.

During Saturday’s liturgy, the pope entered St. Peter’s Basilica in his wheelchair and led the ceremony from a chair on a platform to the side of the main altar. He also administered the church’s sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist – to eight people hailing from Italy, Korea, Japan and Albania.

Pronouncing his homily in his own voice, Francis pointed to the women who went to Jesus’s tomb after his crucifixion to anoint his body, wondering aloud to themselves, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

However, the pope noted that when the women arrived, they discovered that the stone had already been rolled back.

The stone, he said, was “an overwhelming obstacle” which symbolized “what the women felt in their hearts. It represented the end of their hopes, now dashed by the obscure and sorrowful mystery that put an end to their dreams.”

This feeling, the pope said, is something everyone can experience when stones block the doors of the heart, “stifling life, extinguishing hope, imprisoning us in the tomb of our fears and regrets, and standing in the way of joy and hope.”

These stones are encountered throughout life in all sorts of experiences and situations that impede the ability to persevere, whether it be sorrow, fear or failure, as well as selfishness and indifference that prevent one from being generous and attentive to others, he said.

He said these stones are also found “in all our aspirations for peace that are shattered by cruel hatred and the brutality of war.”

“When we experience these disappointments, do we also have the sensation that all these dreams are doomed to failure?” he asked, noting that the same women who worried about their inability to move the stone covering Jesus’s tomb also discovered, when they looked up, that it had already been rolled back.

The image of looking up and finding the stone rolled back, Pope Francis said, “is the Pasch of Christ, the revelation of God’s power: the victory of life over death, the triumph of light over darkness, the rebirth of hope amid the ruins of failure.”

“It is the Lord, the God of the impossible, who rolled away the stone forever, he said, saying that even now, God rolls opens the tombs of human hearts “so that hope may be born ever anew.”

Francis urged believers to look up to Jesus, who after assuming human flesh descended to the depths of death and filled them with life, “allowing an infinite ray of light to break through for each of us.”

By rising from the dead in human flesh, he said, Jesus “turned a new page in the history of the human race.”

“If we allow Jesus to take us by the hand, no experience of failure or sorrow, however painful, will have the last word on the meaning and destiny of our lives…if we allow ourselves to be raised up by the Risen Lord, no setback, no suffering, no death will be able to halt our progress towards the fullness of life,” he said.

Quoting famed German Jesuit theologian Father Karl Rahner, Pope Francis said Christians can confidently say that this history has “a meaning no longer tainted by absurdity and shadows…a meaning that we call God.”

“All the waters of our transformation converge on him; they do not pour down into the depths of nothingness and absurdity,” he said.

Jesus, the pope said, is the one who brings humanity from darkness to light, and who rescues each person from sin and death, bringing them instead to a place of forgiveness and eternal life.

Francis urged believers to welcome Jesus into their lives, saying, “then no stone will block the way to our hearts, no tomb will suppress the joy of life, no failure will doom us to despair.”

“Let us lift our eyes to him and ask that the power of his resurrection may roll away the heavy stones that weigh down our souls,” he said.

Believers, the pope said, must look to the risen Jesus and “press forward in the certainty that, against the obscure backdrop of our failed hopes and our deaths, the eternal life that he came to bring is even now present in our midst.”

Pope Francis closed quoting Jean-Yves Quellec, a French Benedictine priest, writer, and former prior of the Clerlande abbey, saying, “All peoples beset by evil and plagued by injustice, all peoples displaced and devastated: on this holy night cast aside your songs of sadness and despair. The Man of Sorrows is no longer in prison: he has opened a breach in the wall; he is hastening to meet you.”

“In the darkness, let an unexpected shout of joy resound: He is alive; he is risen! And you, my brothers and sisters, small and great…you who are weary of life, who feel unworthy to sing…let a new flame be kindled in your heart, let new vitality be heard in your voice. It is the Pasch of the Lord; it is the feast of the living,” he said.