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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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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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