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On Lazarus’ death (and ours too)

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The situation in the house of Lazarus and his sisters is devastating. The suffering and pain in the face of death is so intense that even He who is Life itself is deeply moved. He even cries. It could not be any other way, He is truly man and as such He experiences all human emotions vis-à-vis death which seems to obliterate our nature. From a purely human standpoint, death is something terrible, the dissolution of our existence. The liturgy of the Church recognizes that fact too when it prays in Preface I for the Mass for the dead that the certainty of death fills us with sadness. The contemplation of death shakes us and even brings some to the brink of despair.

The Resurrection of Christ, that we will celebrate with great joy in a few weeks is the event that brings meaning to everything, even death. It is the guarantee of the victory of human nature over death and the promise of future immortality for us. This is as real and true as the intense pain we experience when we encounter death.

The Second Vatican Council explains it with great eloquence in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes.

“It is in the face of death that the riddle a human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter. All the endeavors of technology, though useful in the extreme, cannot calm his anxiety; for prolongation of biological life is unable to satisfy that desire for higher life which is inescapably lodged in his breast.

Although the mystery of death utterly beggars the imagination, the Church has been taught by divine revelation and firmly teaches that man has been created by God for a blissful purpose beyond the reach of earthly misery. In addition, that bodily death from which man would have been immune had he not sinned will be vanquished, according to the Christian faith, when man who was ruined by his own doing is restored to wholeness by an almighty and merciful Savior. For God has called man and still calls him so that with his entire being he might be joined to Him in an endless sharing of a divine life beyond all corruption. Christ won this victory when He rose to life, for by His death He freed man from death. Hence to every thoughtful man a solidly established faith provides the answer to his anxiety about what the future holds for him. At the same time faith gives him the power to be united in Christ with his loved ones who have already been snatched away by death; faith arouses the hope that they have found true life with God…”

“The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever…”

“All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation. Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us. Christ has risen, destroying death by His death; He has lavished life upon us so that, as sons in the Son, we can cry out in the Spirit; Abba, Father.”

Fr. Roberto M. Cid