VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – During the Easter Vigil, Pope Francis told attendees not to be overcome by sadness in the face of life’s difficulties, but to be open to hope, which is not the absence of problems, but is a gift from God when we allow him to enter our lives.
“We, like Peter and the women, cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope,” the Pope said March 26.
He urged the faithful not to “stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord so that he may enter and grant us life. Let us give him the stones of our rancor and the boulders of our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls.”
As we anticipate Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, the first stone which must be moved aside is “the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves,” he said.
The Pope then prayed that the Lord would free us from the trap of being “Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives.”
Pope Francis spoke to the thousands present inside St. Peter’s Basilica for the Easter Vigil, which is celebrated the night before Easter in anticipation of Jesus’ rising from the dead.
The vigil began in the atrium of the basilica with the traditional blessing of the fire and the preparation of the Easter candle. The Pope then led a procession with the lit candle to the main altar, where he continued with the rest of the Mass.
In the course of the celebration, Francis administered the Sacraments of Christian Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist – to 12 newcomers in the Catholic Church, hailing from Italy, Albania, Cameroon, Korea, India and China.
Those being baptized included Yong Joon Lee, the Korean ambassador to Italy, and his wife Hee Kim.
In his homily, the Pope noted how the women in the Gospel, after going to anoint Jesus’ body, had run to the disciples and told them about how they had found the tomb empty.
Peter and the others did not initially believe the women, yet Peter ran to the tomb anyway, he said.
“There was doubt in Peter’s heart, together with many other worries: sadness at the death of the beloved Master and disillusionment for having denied him three times during his Passion,” he said.
But still, something in Peter’s behavior had changed. Instead of staying sedentary and remaining at home with the others, Peter rose, refusing to succumb to the somber atmosphere in the days following Jesus’ death or to be overcome by his doubts.
Peter, the Pope said, “was not consumed by remorse, fear or the continuous gossip that leads nowhere.”
“He was looking for Jesus, not himself. He preferred the path of encounter and trust. And so, he got up, just as he was, and ran towards the tomb from where he would return amazed.”
This, Francis observed, “marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart.” Without giving in to sadness or darkness, Peter “made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it.”
Like Peter, the women also had the same experience of awe when they went to Jesus’ tomb with oil and met the angel, who told them that the Lord had risen, Francis said, adding that like them, we can’t allow ourselves to be overcome by a lack of hope.
Pope Francis stressed that there will always be problems “both within and without,” which won’t go away. What’s important, he said, is to place them in the light of the Risen Lord, “and in a certain sense, to evangelize them.”
The resurrection of the Lord is “the foundation of our hope,” he said, clarifying that this hope is neither “mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous.”
Rather, he said, Christian hope “is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him.”
Hope will never disappoint us because we have been given the Holy Spirit, the Pope said, noting that the Spirit doesn’t seek to make things look appealing or “remove evil with a magic wand.”
The Holy Spirit, he said, “pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, death and fear.”
Pope Francis emphasized that each person, after having met Jesus, is then sent out by him to proclaim the Easter message, and “to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life.”
However, he cautioned that we shouldn’t proclaim ourselves, but must rather be “joyful servants of hope” who announce the Risen Lord through our lives and the ways in which we love.
“Otherwise we will be only an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs,” he said.
Francis concluded his homily by telling attendees that their hope can be strengthened by following the angel’s advice to the women in the Gospel: “Remember what [Jesus] told you.” He urged them to always remember Jesus’ words and deeds, “otherwise we will lose hope.”
He urged everyone to “open our hearts to hope and go forth,” praying that the constant memory of Jesus’ works and words would be “the bright star which directs our steps in the ways of faith toward the Easter that will have no end.”
– Elise Harris