Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Mystery of Faith

  Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

On Friday morning, I found myself at the graveside as a mother buried her only son—a life lost tragically, and much too young.  As things were winding down, she took my hand and said, “I’ve read the readings for Sunday, Father.  Why can’t Jesus do for me what he did for that mother in the gospel?”  It was a hard question to hear, and an even harder question to answer.

Not much more than an hour later, I was visiting the home of a widow in the parish—a mother of four, who had buried two of those children before they turned five.  Years later, she lost her husband.  Her living children moved away, and no longer practiced the Catholic faith she worked so hard to instill in them.  One of them was estranged from her mother—not even speaking to her.   This past winter was a long string of serious illnesses, leaving her pretty much confined to her home.  And yet she spoke to me with such a radiant smile: “Father, I’ve lived long enough and endured enough hardship and heartache to know that whenever I suffer, whenever I face a loss, whenever somebody or something dies, that just means the Lord has some even greater blessing in store for me.”  Here was a woman who understood that in order to get to Easter, one must pass by way of Good Friday.  When she feels the wood of the Cross pressing upon her shoulder, instead of being weighed down by it, her heart is uplifted and her spirit raised.  Her hope is clearly anchored in the core mystery of our faith: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.”

The four gospels record only three people ever being revived by Jesus during his earthly ministry.  I tend to think of this, not only as the most spectacular, but also the most cruel of his miracles.  Where are any of them now?  The young daughter of Jairus, and the Lord’s dear friend, Lazarus, and this son of the widow of Nain—they were all restored to life, only to die once again.   Yes, Jesus came to rescue us, but not from those things that pose a threat to the life of the body.

The first Christians of the city of Rome were called a most unusual nickname by their pagan neighbors: The Diggers—as in the gravediggers.  Long before Christians could build churches for public worship, they were digging out catacombs outside of town to reverently bury their dead.  This was not the Roman way.  The ancient Romans had a deep fear of death, and a deep distaste for looking upon a dead body.  They were rather unsure about a life after this one, yet dreaded being haunted by the departed.  The human body was seen as little more than a disposable container for the soul, to be discarded as swiftly as possible: into a mass grave for the poor, or by cremation for the rich.  These new Christians, however, were notably different.   They carried the bodies of their dead in procession.  They entombed their remains as something sacred.  They would regularly visit their graves.  They were not afraid of death nor of the dead—which affected not only how they treated their dead, but also how they treated the living.  This distinguishing feature of their lives was rooted in their faith “in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

The world around us is increasingly like that in which lived the first Christians of Rome.  We need to distinguish ourselves just like they did.  It’s not because, in the face of the hard questions raised by life and death, we have all the answers; it’s because we still know there’s only one source for sure hope: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.”


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