EASTER SATURDAY: CHRIST IS THE CURE FOR DEATH
VATICAN CITY, 3 APR 2010 (VIS) - At 9 p.m. today in St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope presided at the solemn Easter vigil, which began in the atrium of the basilica where he blessed the new fire and lighted the Easter candle. This was followed by the procession towards the altar with the singing of the "Exultet". During the course of the Baptismal liturgy, the Holy Father administered the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation to six catechumens from various countries.
After the Gospel reading, the Pope pronounced his homily which he began with a reference to the apocryphal Jewish book "The Life of Adam and Eve", an account of Seth's journey to Paradise in search of the oil of mercy to heal his father Adam. This "legend lays bare the whole of humanity's anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us", said the Holy Father, referring also to "man's resistance to death. ... Somewhere - people have constantly thought - there must be some cure for death".
"Today too, the search for a source of healing continues. Modern medical science strives, if not exactly to exclude death, at least to eliminate as many as possible of its causes, to postpone it further and further, to prolong life more and more". Yet, the Pope asked, would it be good to postpone death indefinitely? If we did, "humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die, and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation.
"The true cure for death", he added, "must be different. It cannot lead simply to an indefinite prolongation of this current life. It would have to transform our lives from within. It would need to create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity: it would need to transform us in such a way as not to come to an end with death, but only then to begin in fullness.
"What is new and exciting in the Christian message, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was and is what we have been told: that this cure for death, this true medicine of immortality, does exist. It has been found. It is within our reach. In Baptism, this medicine is given to us. A new life begins in us, a life that matures in faith and is not extinguished by the death of the old life, but is only then fully revealed".
"What happens in Baptism is the beginning of a process that embraces the whole of our life - it makes us fit for eternity, in such a way that, robed in the garment of light of Jesus Christ, we can appear before the face of God and live with Him for ever. In the rite of Baptism there are two elements in which this event is expressed and made visible in a way that demands commitment for the rest of our lives. First is the rite of renunciation and the promises. ... We remove the 'old garments', which we cannot wear in God's presence. ... This renunciation is actually a promise in which we hold out our hand to Christ, that He may guide us and re-clothe us".
The Pope explained how St. Paul calls these old garments "works of the flesh" and designates them thus: "'fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like'. These are the garments that we remove: the garments of death".
In the early Church, those being baptised turned towards the east, the symbol of light, because "it is God Who clothes us in the garment of light, the garment of life. Paul calls these new garments 'fruits of the spirit', and he describes them as follows: 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control'", said the Holy Father
Divested of his garments, the candidate for Baptism then "descended into the baptismal font and was immersed three times - a symbol of death that expresses all the radicality of this removal and change of garments. His former death-bound life the candidate consigns to death, with Christ, and lets himself be drawn up by and with Christ into the new life that transforms him for eternity".
"In the course of the centuries", Benedict XVI concluded, "the symbols were simplified, but the essential content of Baptism has remained the same. It is no mere cleansing, still less is it a somewhat complicated initiation into a new association. It is death and resurrection, rebirth to new life. Indeed, the cure for death does exist. Christ is the tree of life, once more within our reach. If we remain close to Him, then we have life".