It is in regard to death that man’s condition is most shrouded in doubt. Man is tormented not only by pain and by the gradual breaking-up of his body but also, and even more, by the dread of forever ceasing to be. But a deep instinct leads him rightly to shrink from and to reject the utter ruin and total loss of his personality. Because he bears in himself the seed of eternity, which cannot be reduced to mere matter, he rebels against death. All the aids made available by technology, however useful they may be, cannot set his anguished mind at rest. They may prolong his lifespan; but this does not satisfy his heartfelt longing, one that can never be stifled, for a life to come….While the mind is at a loss before the mystery of death, the Church, taught by divine Revelation, declares that God has created man in view of a blessed destiny that lies beyond the limits of his sad state on earth. Moreover, the Christian faith teaches that bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned. will be overcome when that wholeness which he lost through his own fault will be given once again to him by the almightly and merciful Saviour. For God has called man, and still calls him, to cleave with all his being to him in sharing for ever a life that is divine and free from all decay. Christ won this victory when he rose to life, for by his death he freed man from death. Faith, therefore, with its solidly based teaching, provides every thoughtful man with an answer to his anxious queries about his future lot. At the same time it makes him able to be united in Christ with his loved ones who have already died, and gives hope that they have found true life with God. -“The Mystery of Death,” from Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution On the Church In the Modern World, 7 December, 1965
The first chapter of the Wisdom of Solomon (the Old Testament book right after the Song of Solomon) tells us, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things that they might exist, and…..righteousness is immortal.” (Wisdom 1:13,15)
The great sign of the raising of Lazarus from the dead was just that–a sign–of a resurrection of the bodies and souls of all human beings, after the Resurrection of Christ which was soon to come, no doubt during Lazarus’ second lifetime here on earth, because we have no indication in the gospel narratives that those who plotted to kill Lazarus after Jesus had called him out of the tomb were successful with their plans (see John 12:10). “God did not make death…” and later in St. John’s gospel we will hear Jesus confirm in his words what he showed in this amazing work in John 11: “I Am the way and the truth and the life…”
A woman I know who works with a hospice group, and another woman I know who teaches little children, no doubt with good intentions are assuring those with whom they are intimately involved that “death is natural,” and that it is important that we “accept” death, I guess by totally ignoring the strong inner voice (what Gaudium et Spes, above, calls “a deep instinct”) which all human beings sense, a voice telling them the truth: that death is NOT natural, it is a scandal, a horror, something to be overcome by the love and power of God Himself. Jesus wept with Lazarus’ sisters and friends at their brother’s tomb: God did not make death. He desires to give us the righteousness, the wholeness, which will effect the blessed immortality he meant us to have from the beginning. From ages past, in his revelation to us, he virtually begged us from his heart: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life….”! (Deuteronomy 30:19)
In verse 40, Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe, you would see the glory of God?” And in the following verses 41-44 we observe that the family and friends of Lazarus do indeed see the glory of God! Obviously, their belief was enough for Jesus to do the work he wanted to do. In what, we might ask ourselves, did their belief consist? Was it a deep emotional assent to something mysterious and humanly impossible or even just seemingly crazy? If not, then what WAS that efficacious belief they displayed? I suggest you ponder this for our discussion of John 11 on June 5.
Lastly, here are two things to note from the Ignatius study guide:
– John 11:47, “the council”: The Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews. Lazarus’ being raised was particularly insulting to the Sadducees, who denied even the possibility of resurrection.
– John 11:51, Caiphas’ “prophecy”: He “unwittingly announces that Jesus will die for the salvation of the nation. This is not his own insight, but the grace of prophecy speaking through him in virtue of his priestly office and position as chief teacher of Israel.” The recognition that a “grace of prophecy” speaking through chosen people of God, especially ordained leaders, is one that the Catholic Church has always taught. It is closely related to our understanding and acceptance of priestly absolution, based on John 20:22,23.
I end this post with Romans 8:11, a verse quoted in section 22 of Gaudium et Spes : “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Next week we’ll do some thinking about John 12. Meanwhile, I hope some of you are joining me in the Novena prayer to the Holy Spirit, as we look forward to Pentecost. Continued Easter blessings, JC