Sermon for June 9, 2013, the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C
Readings: 1Ki 17:17-24; Gal 1:11-19; Lk 7:11-17
In the first reading today we hear the tragic story of the death of the son of the widow who had been so good to Elijah. On the natural level one would think that the charity shown to the Prophet of the Lord would be rewarded abundantly. Instead, after losing her husband, the widow now loses her son as well. In her grief she blames Elijah for the son’s death even going so far as to question whether the reason for his visit was to call attention to her guilt and to kill her son.
Elijah takes the child and brings him to the room where he was staying then, prostrating himself over the child three times he prays that the life of the child would be restored. God answers the Prophet’s prayer and Elijah carries the boy downstairs and gives him back to his mother. The grief and doubt which had plagued the woman moments earlier are now turned into joy and faith. This woman was a pagan, yet she had faith in God. With the resuscitation of her child she is now able to make a more explicit act of faith in God and in His Prophet.
We see a similar story in the Gospel where Jesus stops a funeral procession and calls the dead man back to life; afterward, He gives the young man back to his mother. We need to keep in mind the Jewish funeral traditions and that a person must be buried before sunset of the day on which he dies. This woman had lost her son only hours before and, with hardly time to begin her grieving, her grief is turned to joy. As in the first reading we also hear the people making acts of faith in God and in our Lord Whom they think to be a Prophet.
The compassion our Lord shows for this widow at Nain is great, but one cannot help seeing the parallel to the situation that would soon occur with Himself and His own Mother. Our Lady, also a widow and the Mother of an only Son would experience the death of her Son. Like the widow from Nain, Mary would also have her Son returned to her, but in a way that was incomparably greater. The resurrection of our Lord should be met with great joy and profound faith on our part as we see the power of God destroy death and restore divine life to our souls.
We can all understand that as members of Christ we have to undergo these times of dying and rising. But we also have to recall that the Church is Jesus Christ and we are members of the Church. Therefore, the Church also has to go through times of death and resurrection. A brief review of the history of the Church will demonstrate that this has been the pattern from the beginning. St. Paul, in the second reading even speaks of how he had tried to destroy the Church right from its inception.
If this is what happened to the Church at its beginning and has been happening throughout her history, then we should not be at all surprised that it is happening again in our own day. On one hand it is sad to see the Church being scourged and slandered, but on the other hand, when we see some of the problems in the Church, we can rejoice because we know that she must be constantly purified and renewed. Each time the Church goes through a very trying time, she comes out holier and more focused on God than she had been before.
What we are witnessing in today’s readings is a pattern that will also repeat itself over and over again in the lives of anyone who takes seriously the spiritual life. There is a death to the world, the flesh and the devil along with a rising to more abundant life in God. This is merely the living out of what has already taken place in our baptism and a preparation for what will take place at the end our our lives, provided, of course, that we are in the State of Grace when that time comes.
A person in the spiritual life grows accustomed to the pattern of dying and rising that comes with detachment. He also knows that with each point of detachment there is greater freedom, greater peace and greater joy. All of this because there is greater love. When this has been the pattern of one’s life, death no longer holds any fear; rather, it becomes something to look forward to because we know the pattern that when we die to one thing, it is replaced by something even greater. Death, for those who love the Lord, leads to a life of perfect love.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.