Why did John, the beloved disciple, pause outside the tomb? Why did he wait for Peter to catch up to him and then allow Peter to go in first? After all, John is the disciple who laid his head on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper, who stood steadfast at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother and the other women. Was it simply out of deference to Peter as the leader of the apostles, the one Jesus called “the rock on whom I will build my Church?” Or was it something else? Perhaps John was afraid of what he might find. If he went in and Jesus’ body was there after all, the finality of it all, the ultimate end to any hope, the truth that Jesus’ promise to “rise in three days” was only empty words — not an empty tomb — would perhaps have been too overwhelming. Better to not know. Better to not know. Or what if he went in, and Jesus’ body was not there, if the burial cloths were strewn all around and any evidence of a corpse was gone? If there were no clumsy footprints or clues that someone else like the Romans or the temple authorities had stolen the body, then what now, what now? Where is He? What does this mean? Nothing’s the same any longer! Is it true? Did He really rise like He said He would? Can I really hope that the one I loved, the one I gave my life to follow and then watched die on the Cross is alive as He said He would be? And what does all this mean for me? What do I do now? Better to not know. Better to not know. Finally, the brash and bold Peter arrives, and he goes into the tomb. The one who left his boat and everything else behind goes in and sees the burial cloths rolled up in a separate place, the one who brazenly swore that he would never betray Jesus and then did so three times. He goes in and John follows. Perhaps Peter has more to gain. Perhaps he needs to know that his thrice-voiced betrayal is not the last of his life’s encounters with the person of Jesus. Perhaps he needs the promise of the resurrection to be true more than John does. He needs to know. You and I know Jesus did rise from the dead. We may not have seen Him, glorified and resurrected as did the early Church, but we are members of that same Church of which Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” And when we hear the Easter stories proclaimed anew each year — especially this year when so much in our lives is so frightening and uncertain — we say, “Better to know … what a blessing to know.”
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Christopher Coyne
I remember being in school being so distracted and having a real difficulty focusing on my schoolwork, especially during the late winter or early spring. Whether it was the warming days or the fatigue of the long school year I really had to muster all the strength I had to focus to get the job done.
We are very much distracted this Lent by something far more frightening and powerful than the budding of the trees and the promise of spring. The Covid-19 virus, unfortunately takes much of our attention. This is simply because when it’s a matter of survival and physical wellbeing we take notice. Suddenly we are all eyes and ears.
As Christians we must never forget that while we must be good stewards of our physical and psychological health it is our spiritual condition, the state of our soul that counts. Today we celebrate the joyous entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. There was no social distancing in this gathering. The crowds engulfed Christ as He entered the City of David on the colt, or young donkey, a symbol of the humility He illustrated here on earth.
Christ is entering the final stage of His ministry the work that led Him to His death on the cross. We don’t always think of this but Christ came to die. His mission on this planet was to die, period. At His nativity, lying in a manger, He took on our human nature; He took on earthly life so He could give it up by His death as the perfect offering for our sin.
Jesus was not distracted. He was not confused about who He was or why He was living in the first century AD. At the age of twelve He is discussing theology with the leaders of the Jewish temple. He responds to Mary and Joseph’s exasperation of His being lost with the simple response that He had to be in His Father’s house doing His Father’s will.
At the wedding at Cana He indicates to His mother that if He creates wine out of water His ministry will begin and their relationship would change forever. This would start Him down the road of His physical demise, that is, His death. Jesus was born to die. Christ was focused on this mission from childhood to adulthood; He was not distracted from His call.
Today, over 2000 years later, Christ is calling us to die. Not God forbid from the current scourge of Covid-19, but to the self, the selfish, self-focused attitude that works against the focus of service and love toward others. Despite all that confronts us today the physical danger is the least of our troubles. It is the damage and disease of the soul that is far more severe and long lasting.
Christ is ever existent. He always lived. He was born in the flesh and came to us to die. We who die (for this is the reality for us all as humans) will be born to a new life for eternity.
The joyous entrance in Jerusalem is a moment of celebratory respite from the difficulties and hatred Jesus experienced throughout His mission preaching the Gospel, and the soon coming suffering and passion He will experience. It points to His glorious resurrection. It is a reminder to us that this life, with all its trials and difficulties is our moment of suffering before an eternity of joy and glory with the Blessed Trinity, if we are focused on doing God’s will now. It means giving not taking, serving not getting, putting others first.
Jesus calls all of us to be focused on the work of God that is overcoming everything that keeps us from a relationship with Him. There is a lot that can easily get in the way. Yet He asks us to have the same focus as Christ does, that is, to destroy sin and thereby death itself, the end result of sin.
Despite all the bad news that distracts us with the pandemic there are many today who are sacrificing their health and wellbeing in the service of others. Let’s be focused on the true reality that Christ offered Himself up so that we may live forever, where no pathogen or evil can harm us. For it is only through sacrifice, the refusal to give into selfish desires and pleasures, and by serving others first, that true happiness can be ours. Let’s ride forward in humility as Our Lord did on the first Palm Sunday accepting the work He has ahead of us always being willing to sacrifice our own desires for God and the good of others.
Fifth Sunday of Lent March 29, 2018
It’s amazing to me how effectively the body in normal cases can heal itself. I’ve spoken recently about a severe infection I contracted in my left thumb right before Christmas. It has been a slow process of regeneration. First the bacteria that were attacking my body had to be destroyed by antibiotics then the tedious rebuilding of skin and the thumbnail.
In the Gospel today the regeneration happens in a flash. The body of Lazarus, the friend of Jesus has been dead for four days. Our Lord purposely waits for the sickness of Lazarus to reach its peak that causes death. When He arrives, amid mourning and weeping, He calls forth Lazarus from the tomb. He appears in his grave clothes to the astonishment of all.
God has put into the nature of the universe a regenerative process, despite its deterioration from the ravages of sin. We in Northern New England must wait a bit longer than most of the country for the healing of the earth at springtime. Every year the earth appears to be stricken with death yet after the snows of winter, as the sun becomes stronger and the days longer, the earth heals itself. The grass greens, the trees leaf out and the flowers bloom soon to be followed by the vegetables that come to table.
Lazarus’s resurrection as well as the renewal of the earth every year foreshadows the process and end point of mankind if we, as the family of nations will turn from our ways that are contrary to God the Father. As Christians, the Body of Christ, we must submit to His will following the lead of our spiritual head Jesus, the very Son of God.
Jesus, at the resurrection of Lazarus, is illustrating His Godhead to those watching. He is no mere prophet. He is the One who created all things, including the body of Lazarus and the healing process that He set in place indicative of a loving, compassionate God. Yet the process of sickness and death is also in place, the result of disregarding the law of love.
The virus, that seems to be bringing humanity to a screeching halt, can be analyzed, and overcome. The human genius, originating from the intellect and reason of God’s image and likeness imprinted in the human soul, has the ability to triumph on a physical level.
Just as it’s a snap for God to cure the physical illness of a person (there have been miracles galore throughout human history), what takes time is the spiritual renewal of the soul. As we’ve discussed over and over man is made of both body and spirit. Jesus came to earth to save both, not just the spirit but also the body. When we die in friendship with God we will, at the resurrection, be united in body and soul; the perfect healing of man.
The Lenten process has been disrupted this year by an external force. Yet the internal force of the Holy Spirit must not be underestimated. Just as the plague facing humanity will be overcome, so will the ravages of sin. They are far more damaging for they attack the soul and are far more difficult and complex to heal.
The resurrection of Lazarus illustrates to us that God has a plan of regeneration for both body and soul. As Christians we must not fixate solely on the physical health of our bodies to the detriment of the soul. For as Our Lord tells us, “For what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and suffers the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
Men and women have been created for an end much greater than the physical health and pleasures of this physical, material world. A loving and merciful God is willing to forgive our sins and natural tendency to turn away from Him when things seem to be status quo and running smoothly in the material life. He can use difficult times to bring us back to Him although He prefers we come to Him without the pressure of an external threat.
God has been referred to as the “Hound of Heaven”, always on the scent pursuing us, reaching out calling us as He does Lazarus from the grave; calling us away from the eternal death caused by sin. Yet He will never force us against our will, for as God is totally free so He wants us to be free to choose life. Do we believe that God exists and yearns for our friendship now and forever more? He will come to us if we permit Him entrance. Let us in one chorus echo the words of Martha today in the Gospel, ”Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27)
Once my Father was driving home in a dense fog and almost missed the turn into the neighborhood. He couldn’t see the way in; he didn’t know where to turn. At the last moment he caught sight of a beautiful Wisteria tree on the corner where the turn was and quickly cranked the truck to the right. He cleared the curb and was able to get home.
The Christian life can be likened to driving in the fog. God gives us a glimpse of himself when necessary, but spiritually we “walk by faith not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7) We are dependent on God and must trust him in all things.
In today’s Gospel the man born blind is in a fog, not merely blind physically but spiritually as well. He doesn’t know Jesus. There is no indication that the blind man was searching for Christ and that he even wanted to see. Aren’t we like that at times, not looking for assistance from Christ and wandering aimlessly especially in a crisis we now experience?
Christ heals the man but he still doesn’t know who he is. There’s a delayed response. Although he now can see physically he still isn’t there spiritually speaking. He must go through all the trials and hardships of dealing with the irate and annoying questions the Pharisees ask. The man is doubted, condemned and then thrown out of the Synagogue.
Finally, he comes into contact with Jesus and now the spiritual conversation occurs. Jesus asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man replies, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus “connects the dots” for the man and reveals himself. The man answers, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Now he truly sees.
Our lives are also lives of blindness, trial and confusion, but in the end it’s our faith that carries us through. In our current difficulty we are experiencing trial and hardship. Do we respond to the love and kindness of God quickly or are we slow to acknowledge Christ?
In our current battle against Covid-19 one of the lessons learned is a quick response to the virus is key to getting ahead of the natural spiked curve of infections.
In the spiritual life a quick response to the infection of sin is even more necessary. Spiritual blindness and lack of faith are far worse than any physical trial because they keep us from seeing God working in our lives and his love for us. The blind man might have been disabled physically but spiritually he was healthy because once he was able to come in contact with Jesus he pronounced his faith openly.
This man stands for the Christian who lives by faith. The Pharisees on the other hand can represent the world. Their questioning reveals their skepticism. It appears that rather than wanting to believe the man’s story they are only interested in tearing him down and poking fun at the man’s understanding. It’s interesting that even with the evidence of the man’s healing, his ability to see after being blind his entire life, they refuse to believe.
The world’s approach is built on skepticism. As Christians we must start with an open, believing heart willing to respond to God’s mercy and grace. We are not to follow the Pharisees’ example by reversing the process, saying, “Tell me what the Church teaches and I’ll think about it and if it works into my lifestyle and conforms to my will and desires I’ll agree with you.”
Where would any of us be if the Blessed Mother approached the Annunciation in this manner? What if instead of giving her fiat, her yes, she said to the angel Gabriel, “Well I’ll think about it, see if it works for me and then I’ll get back to you?”
Similar to driving in the fog, the Christian life is difficult to negotiate and travel at times. We ask ourselves why a pandemic, why suffering and death? We’ll never know all the details and have all the facts. We won’t escape pain and sorrow. We’ll often be in a fog and unsure where we are and which way to go. If we look for Christ in our lives we will catch a glimpse of him, just like the Wisteria tree in the fog.
Just like the blind man in today’s Gospel we must eagerly and joyously respond to God’s call in our lives. We must avoid the skepticism of our times and embrace God’s will for us as the blind man did. Doing so is akin to the blind man’s journey from the darkness into the light of sight. We move from spiritual death (darkness) to life (light). As St. Paul states in the first reading, “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord…Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
The corona virus will eventually peter out and that’s a good thing but it’s our faith that must remain even with or without a crisis or catastrophe in our lives, for the true goal of the Christian is not physical health but spiritual wellbeing in preparation for life eternal.
It has long been a Catholic understanding that when circumstances prevent one from receiving Holy Communion, it is possible to make an Act of Spiritual Communion, which is a source of grace. Spiritual Communion is an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and lovingly embrace him at a time or in circumstances when one cannot receive Him in sacramental Communion. The most common reason for making an Act of Spiritual Communion is when a person cannot attend Mass. Acts of Spiritual Communion increase our desire to receive sacramental Communion and help us avoid the sins that would make us unable to receive Holy Communion worthily.
Spiritual Communion Prayer
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love you above all things and I desire to receive you in my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentaly,
Come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace you as if you were already there
And unite myself wholly to you.
Never permit me to be separated from you.
O Mary, you always brighten our path as a sign of salvation and of hope. We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick, who, at the Cross, took part in Jesus’ pain while remaining steadfast in faith. O loving Mother, you know what we need, and we are confident you will provide for us as at Cana in Galilee. Intercede for us with your Son Jesus, the Divine Physician, for those who have fallen ill, for those who are vulnerable, and for those who have died. Intercede also for those charged with protecting the health and safety of others and for those who are tending to the sick and seeking a cure. Help us, O Mother of Divine Love, to conform to the will of the Father and to do as we are told by Jesus, who took upon himself our suﬀerings and carried our sorrows, so as to lead us, through the Cross, to the glory of the Resurrection. Amen.
Under thy protection we seek refuge, O Holy Mother of God. In our needs, despise not our petitions, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
(Adapted from the prayer of Pope Francis)