ROME — Jesus has risen and is alive today, not as a character from the past found in history books but in day-to-day life, Pope Francis said Saturday as he celebrated the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“To return to a lively love of the Lord is essential,” Francis said. “Otherwise, ours is a ‘museum’ faith, not an Easter faith. Jesus is not a personage from the past; he is a person living today. We do not know him from history books; we encounter him in life.”
The “Living One,” the pontiff reflected, must be “at the center of our lives,” and to accomplish this, Christians must ask for the grace not to be “carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear.”
The Roman Missal, which spells out specifics of how the vigil is to be celebrated, including the rite of Christian initiation and the renewal of the baptism vows, says the Easter vigil is the “greatest and most noble of all solemnities” and every Catholic Church around the world is to celebrate it.
As in Latin rite parishes throughout the world, the ceremony led by Francis began with the lights of St. Peter’s basilica dimmed. The pontiff processed into a silent church carrying a lone candle, lit in the atrium of the church, which he used to light the candles of worshipers nearby. They, in turn, shared the flame with those around themselves, eventually lighting thousands of candles provided by the Vatican for the occasion.
Despite the best intentions, the basilica was never fully dark, with cellphones and cameras illuminating the pope’s path. Some participants struggled to decide if they even wanted to light their candles, too distracted by capturing the moment.
The darkened church signifies Jesus’ tomb before his resurrection, and the candle-lit procession is a show of light after the darkness of Good Friday, which recalls Jesus’ death.
During his homily, Francis told those gathered that God asks each of them to view their lives “as he views it,” for each person is for God an “irrepressible kernel of beauty.”
“In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived,” the pope said. “Do not fear, then: The Lord loves your life, even when you are afraid to look at it and take it in hand.”
Easter is evidence of how much God loves each life, he said, to the point that Christ experienced “anguish, abandonment, death and hell,” to emerge triumphant and say to all: “You are not alone; put your trust in me!”
God’s gaze on his people is a reason for hope, the pontiff said, as it’s a reminder that each one is “loved unfailingly,” regardless of “how much we make a mess of things.”
“This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change,” he said.
Meditating on the passage of the day’s Gospel that speaks of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb looking for him only to find the stone that guarded the grave had been moved, Francis said that God takes “even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash.”
“Death, sin, fear, worldliness,” are all stones that God removes from the heart of those who follow him, the pontiff continued.
“We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment,” Francis said.
The Easter vigil is a call to rediscover that God has this ability to remove the stones that block hearts, before suggesting a few possible “stones” that seal the heart shut, such as the stones of discouragement or sin.
Upholding tradition, during the Easter Vigil ceremony Francis baptized a group of adult converts from Italy, Peru, Albania, Ecuador and Indonesia. There were eight in total.
The “mother of all vigils” headed by Francis wrapped up a series of ceremonies leading up to Easter Sunday, when tens of thousands are expected to join the Argentine pontiff for Mass in St. Peter’s Square which, as it is every year, will be adorned with hundreds of tulips and daffodils donated for the occasion by the Dutch government.
This is the 33rd year the European country has donated the flowers. This time, they sent some 55,000 in a shipment that left for Rome several days ago.
After the Mass on Sunday, Francis is scheduled to deliver the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing, “to the city and the world,” from the same central balcony in the basilica overlooking the square where he first appeared on the night of his election in March 2013.