Lord, Untie Us!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Life is not the highest value.  There are others that are higher: faith, charity, the possibility of giving your life for another.  The history of the Church has given us tens of thousands of examples in every century: the early martyrs, Maximilian Kolbe, Thomas More, the martyrs of the Spanish Civil War, Jose Sanchez del Rio.  It is not to say that life is not one of the greatest gifts God has given us, but there are things that are higher.  No one will ever win an award or the praise of others by caring for only his own life, right?  When this crisis is over they will not reward those who only did things to save themselves.  It would be ridiculous.  This pandemic is a good time to think about these higher values.  The gospel today seems to make the same point (John 11: 1-45).

Why did Jesus wait two days more before going to the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus?   The gospel gives the reason: to give glory to God.  To show us that what happened to Lazarus will happen to us.  If we have faith, we will never die.  And even if we die, we will live.   Jesus says, “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  And he asks Martha, and us, “Do you believe this?”  If you believe it why are you so worried and anxious about this virus?  Why the panic buying by the masses of people?  I sense deep down that you and I value our life more than anything else.  So this pandemic is a grace if it helps us to see that.   The gospel is not about being stronger or less selfish.  It is about receiving the Spirit of Christ, which makes us unafraid of death.

Two priests went to a hospital in New York on Friday where another priest was dying.  They had to beg to be allowed to see him.  What was striking to me was the panic they saw in the faces of the nurses and the aides.  They didn’t know how to accommodate these different values.  They knew the patient was dying, was contagious and was in need of the sacraments.  But fear set in and then we have to lockdown everything.  No more Masses, lock the churches, stay six feet away.  If you believe in me, you will never die, Jesus tells us.  I understand these restrictions but there is something more important at play here.

I like the way Martha tells Jesus about Lazarus: “The one you love is ill.”  She doesn’t say the one who loves you is ill, because she knows how fickle our love can be.  Martha doesn’t ask Jesus for anything.  She only puts before him this situation: the one you care for is sick.  And Jesus seems to ignore it as he did at Cana.  Christ acts in his time, not ours.  We want everything now, but Jesus had a point in waiting till the fourth day to raise him up: there could be no doubt that he was dead.  He was starting to decay, and the corpse smelled said his sister.  The other miracles of bring people back to life were not like this.

God will receive the glory because Lazarus will come out of the tomb, but more importantly this miracle is Christ’s death sentence.  And he also will come out of the tomb.  This is the double meaning about the illness of Lazarus: he will rise again, and so will Christ, and so will you and me.

Jesus says at the end of the gospel: “Take away the stone.”  What is the spiritual sense of what he is saying?  I think he is saying: don’t be afraid of the smell of what is inside of you and me.  Take away the stone, open up, clean out that wound, and sterilize it so that the infection doesn’t come back.  How do we do this?  Mostly by speaking, bring the issue into the light because your marriage needs it or the relationship with a sibling or a friend needs it.  We also have to be untied of our fears.  The world and the constant news tie us up.  Only the Lord can untie us through his sacraments, through the saints that give us courage.

I was watching the movie (For Greater Glory) of the Cristero movement in Mexico in the beginning of the last century when the Church was being closed by the government and the Cristeros rose up to stop it.  I had seen it before but I didn’t realize it was the story of Jose Sanchez del Rio who was fourteen when the government captured him and tortured him.  He would not denounce the faith, and repeated to them: Vivo Cristo Rey, long live Christ the King, and long live Our Lady of Guadalupe.  They slashed the bottom of his feet and made him walk a mile to the site of his grave.  There they asked him again to denounce Christ and he repeated his act of faith.  They shot him twice and threw him in the grave.  A fourteen year old boy has been canonized by the Church to remind us that when we believe in Christ, we will never die.

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