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Bible Reflections View Comments

Faith in the Face of Death
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Monday, June 10, 2013
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Death is the greatest divide we know. Movies, myths, great works of literature, often play with the idea that there is someone who can cross that divide, who can bring back a loved one who has died. We know intuitively that the natural order of things is disturbed any time a child dies before his or her parents. Even in times and places where infant mortality is much higher than in our own society, the loss of a child is especially tragic. We see so much unfulfilled potential. We see life and love cut short far too soon.

The scene Luke sets in our Gospel reading today naturally tugs at us. We might find ourselves asking why God doesn’t do this more often, doesn’t intervene when disaster or tragedy strikes and children are taken far too soon from their parents. Like Mary and Martha, in John’s account of the death of Lazarus, we cry out, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” As Christians, we believe that Christ has conquered death once and for all. This doesn’t always comfort us in the immediate aftermath of a very real and present human loss.

Today’s Gospel raises new questions in our minds because it’s not so familiar to us as some of the other miracles in the Gospels. We know the parables, the nature miracles, the healings. But only two or three times do we hear of Jesus raising someone from the dead.

In this particular story, Jesus doesn’t wait to be asked. He sees the funeral procession, he’s moved with pity, and he restores the man to his mother. Did Jesus have a particular empathy with this widow because he knew that one day his own widowed mother would lose her only son? The Gospel writer doesn’t tell us. We so know that when he was dying on the cross, he took special care to make sure that the beloved disciple would care for Mary.

The first reading from the Book of Kings gives us some clues about how to interpret this story. We hear another chapter from the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. He came to stay with her during a drought. He found her ready to give up her own life and that of her son, and through his prayers and guidance, they all find the grace and providence to go on. She accepts his God as her own. Now her son grows sick and then stops breathing. She sees this as a judgment from God and accuses Elijah of bringing this fate upon her. Her faith is tested once gain by this crisis.

We like to think that our own faith is stronger than this. We like to believe during the good times that nothing can shake our belief in the goodness of God. But we’ve all known times when tragedy and losss can make us question a foundation that once seemed so solid and now appears to be crumbling.

Elijah calls upon God to restore the child to life. It is one of the ways that Elijah is recognized as a great prophet, a man of God. In the same way the people who witness Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain immediately proclaim him to be a prophet and a man of God.

In a few weeks we will hear Jesus is ask his followers, “Who do you say that I am?’ But the question of his identity won’t be settled definitively for them until his death and resurrection. And for us, we will continue to ask and answer these questions through all the ups and downs of our own life.


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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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