In the face of death, we are sometimes shocked into a keener awareness of life. St. Benedict’s admonition to “keep death daily before our eyes” has taken on even greater significance for me recently as a pastoral minister in our care facility Dooley Center and with the onset of the devastating coronavirus.
At this time, John’s gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus could not be more pertinent. I know that often, as I sit and watch and pray with the dying, my thoughts wander beyond this life: “Where are they going?” “Where is heaven? There is still mystery about the afterlife.
St. Paul reminds us that “we live by faith and not by sight” and John presents us with the account of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. The two sisters sent a message to Jesus, telling him that the one he loved was ill. But Jesus assured them that this was not an illness ending in death but rather for God’s glory and the glorification of his son.
Still puzzled, but, in their humanness, Mary and Martha reprimanded Jesus, “If you had been here, our brother would not have died!” But even while reprimanding, their faith prompted them to add: “But even now we know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
What about our faith? We hear and say that when we die, life is changed, not ended; that Jesus has already prepared a special dwelling for us; that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But during these days, confronted with so many losses, it becomes even more difficult but necessary to internalize that Jesus died that we might live in that heavenly mansion.
But on the occasion of so much loss, I have seen a lot more ways of giving life. We have experienced the importance of giving the gift of life amidst all the dying. In our community, we have found ways of being life-giving during this global crisis such as cutting and sewing masks, sharing our food with our employees; still contributing eggs and toilet tissue to our Atchison sisters and brothers through Catholic Charities.
Ronald Rohlheiser tells us that, as from Jesus, the blood and water of life should flow from our coffins or urns. Our dying needs to be a gift to others. In their dying, our recently deceased Dooley residents have gifted us with life.
A summary message from them: Be faithful! Be thoughtful! Be light! Be sunshine to one another! They showed us what Bernadette Farrell expresses in song: “God beyond all names, in our living and our dying, we are bringing you to birth.”
Try to picture Jesus, and almost hear him speaking, as he did to Lazarus, calling out your loved ones: “(name), come forth!” And we can even add our own names. When Jesus called Lazarus back to life: he announced, maybe even a little exasperatingly: “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?”
And doesn’t God assure us through Ezekiel: “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you up from your grave. I will put my spirit within you and you shall live.”
Again, we may ask the question “Where shall we live?” I don’t know, but when a friend of mine is asked where she will go after death, she responds in faith: “I don’t know where I am going, but I know to whom I am going.” I like her answer!
May we live by that same faith of those who have gone before us, trusting in Jesus, who says, “I am the resurrection and the life” and “I came, that you might have that same life and have it in abundance!” I believe that Jesus is a man of his word!