Perhaps it is only to be expected that, in an apostolic exhortation that focuses on the joy of the Gospel, death is not a subject or a theme in itself. Death is discussed, when it is discussed, always in relation to the resurrection, or as the fate from which Jesus Christ saved us.
Borrowing from an encyclical of Pope St. John Paul II’s, for instance, Pope Francis pinpoints the missionary’s driving impulse: “‘The missionary is convinced that, through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death. The missionary’s enthusiasm in proclaiming Christ comes from the conviction that he is responding to that expectation.’ Enthusiasm for evangelization is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint …. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.”
On other occasions, however, Pope Francis has offered a closer look at the inevitable. A year ago, for instance, he spoke against “a mistaken way of seeing death.” We should not trivialize or disguise or hide the fact that death “questions us in a profound way, especially when it touches us up close or when it strikes the little ones, the defenseless in a way that seems to us scandalous,” he said.
And we should not let its seeming terminal-ness dictate our view. “If death is understood as the end of everything, it frightens, terrifies and is transformed into a threat that shatters every dream, every prospect, which breaks every relation and interrupts every way.”
In fact, Christians believe that death is only the beginning. “The conviction arises in our hearts that everything cannot be finished, that the good given and received was not useless … There is a powerful instinct within us, which tells us that life does not end with death.” Infinite sadness is cured by Christ’s infinite love.