In the Gospel, we see that the sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” They knew that Jesus had performed many miracles, and they were expecting that he would respond to their request, especially since Lazarus was a close friend. Jesus knows Lazarus is about to die, but instead of going to him immediately he waits two days, knowing he will have died by the time he arrives. In this Gospel we see the mysterious way that God sometimes answers our prayers. Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death, but the greater miracle was to raise him from the dead to give God glory and to increase the faith of those who believed in him. It is interesting to note that this great miracle only increased the faith in those who believed in him. The Pharisees and the chief priests who opposed him hated him even more and looked for an opportunity to kill him.
Seeking Help from God
Martha teaches us how to approach Jesus in prayer. She says, “…I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She doesn’t ask Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, she asks him to approach God on her behalf and she is confident that God will respond to that prayer according to His own will. When we pray, we should always keep God’s eternal plan in mind. Our life on this earth is only temporary, and we should not desire anything that could jeopardize our eternal happiness and that of the people we love. That is why prayer is not only about petition; prayer is first of all about a relationship with God. We pray every day throughout the day because God loves us and we love Him. It is this kind of persevering prayer that allows us to trust in God in the most difficult situations, because we believe all that He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church.
When we approach Jesus with our petitions we also could say, “Lord, the one you love is seeking your help.” Certainly the Lord loves us all and wants a personal relationship with each of us, but his response to our prayer may sometimes seem mysterious. We must believe without a doubt that the Lord hears our prayers and that he will answer them in a way that is best for our soul. There is no one who will be able to avoid all the miseries of this live and then enter into heaven without purification. If we read the lives of the saints, we will see how God related to those who loved Him in a heroic way. They all experienced trials and tragedies, but never-the-less were filled with great joy and hope. Their lives are a testimony to the presence of God.
A Model of Christian Suffering
One example is Chiara Luce who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in September of 2010. She was a very active teenager from Italy who was very popular and loved life, but loved God more. At age 17 she was diagnosed with one of the most serious and painful forms of cancer, and instead of being depressed she became a source of inspiration for others as she saw her pain as sharing in the sufferings of Christ. When she eventually lost the use of her legs, she said, “If I had to choose between walking and going to heaven, I would choose going to heaven.” When she was dying she said to her family, “Goodbye. Be happy because I am happy.” Chiara died at age 18 in 1990. She was exposed to the same things as our youth of today, and yet she chose a deep and eternal relationship with Jesus Christ that brought her temporal and everlasting joy in the midst of great suffering.
Chiara was assisted in her heroic choices by the example of her family and by the Folcolare movement of which she was a member. She was connected to people who also loved God and made Him their priority. Her deep faith didn’t just happen; it was a consequence of the choices she made in her short life. She took to heart the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Do you believe this?
Keys to Our Perseverance
All of us, whether we are cradle Catholics or coming into the Church this Easter, need the same kind of support system that Chiara had. There are plenty of opportunities in your parish to be connected to people who love God and want to be faithful to what He has revealed through the Scriptures and through the Church. In your parish, you may find Bible studies, prayer groups, faith-sharing groups, marriage enrichment, retreats and much more. Coming to Mass on Sunday, as important and powerful as that is, does not complete our Christian responsibility. Jesus wants a personal relationship with each of us that demands our participation.
To believe in Jesus is to have the same kind of trust as Martha, Mary and Chiara Luce. Is our hope in eternal life stronger than our attachment to anything on this earth? That kind of hope is a consequence of a commitment to daily prayer, to living the sacramental life, reading the Scriptures, reading the lives of the saints, and sharing our faith with others. It is that kind of hope that will free us from anxiety.
So when we begin our prayer, we could say, “Jesus, the one you love is asking, and I know and trust that your Father will give you whatever you ask Him.”
This was Deacon Tom’s homily for the 5th Sunday in Lent (Year A – Scrutinies), preached at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.