At the beginning of the Seventies, in a classroom of a university in Milan, a medical student who graduated successfully and with the highest marks in the anatomy exam asked his teacher that gave the exam, “Professor, could I ask you a question? What is medicine for?”. The professor looked at him perplexed, and, a bit embarrassed, responded, “To try to beat death, I suppose…” The student replied, “Then we have already lost…I think that medicine serves to accompany man in his pain and sickness. If it is not for this, we are all failures, and medicine is for nothing, because we will never beat death.”
To overcome death has been the obsession of man since the dawn of time. The obsession of man who searches, through medicine, science, and even magic, for the path to defeat the greatest fear that conditions existence. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the success of Yuval Harari, the new guru of postmodern thought and prophet of post-liberalism who, in the first chapters of his bestseller Homo Deus predicts that humanity will, in a not too distant future, thanks to the progress of biotechnology, finally reach the much-aspired realm of immortality.
But we don’t need to be utopian visionaries to ask ourselves about the needs of man, who decided to do without God, to search for a secular path that helps to overcome the terror of those who feel irremediably launched towards a certain and irremediable end. It is enough to be honest with ourselves like the journalist Antonio Polito to recognize that also a nonbeliever, in the depths of his soul, is not “willing to accept without a fight the idea that everything turns to dust, that the special, unique, and exceptional existence that he has led, all the feelings and emotions he has lived can dissolve into nothingness, without a trace in the universe.” He too, in his latest books, finds himself “having to believe in the possibility of a saving event that is comparable to a rebirth, to a new beginning.”
The problem of man is thus condensed in the obsession with which Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, insistently asks Sonja, “But you, do you believe in the Resurrection? Do you believe in the Resurrection of Lazarus, for example?” And this, at its core, is the question of each man: is the resurrection possible? In other words, is there something or someone greater than death?
A few years ago, a young boy entered the room where his young and gravely sick father was hospitalized. Seeing a crucifix on the wall, he turned to his mother saying, “But mama, Jesus is also here! And so, what is there to be afraid of?”. The new man is born the day the disciples locked themselves in their houses, petrified by terror, because it seemed that death had, once again, won. Then, suddenly, the women arrived from the tomb carrying the news that the tomb was empty. Peter and John did not wait an instant and began to run, and abandoning every fear, they grew themselves on the road, racing to be the first to arrive, to see the signs of the Resurrection, to believe that death is defeated.
This race is also the description of our lives, of we who received the news of the Resurrection. It is only the certainty that Christ is risen that allows us to embrace death as part of life. It is only a heart full of the desire to see the signs of this resurrection each day that renders man capable of offering even the most anguishing sacrifices with lasting peace. It is only if in that crucified man we also recognize the one who has risen that we can say with that child, “Mother what is there to be afraid of?”
The birth of a new man finds its origin here, as the end of Crime and Punishment states, “Here, now, a new story beings, the story of the rebirth of a man, of his gradual transformation, of his slow passage from a world to another world, of his encounter with a new reality before then completely ignored.”
While fear immobilizes, hope makes us move and renders us creative, constructive. What then distinguishes the Christian, the new creature? It is this energy, full of hope, that carries man, overcome by the news of the Resurrection of Jesus, to invest all of reality with this certainty, the only one that can render him capable of creativity and love for the other without reserve. As Father Giussani said, “The glory of Christ resurrected is the light, the color, the energy, the form of our existence.” Here is where the Church begins. Here is where mission begins.
(In the photo, a hike in the mountains during a summer vacation of the Fraternity of Saint Charles in Corvara, in 2015.)