Sunday, April 14, 2024

Encountering Passiontide and Waiting for Something Greater

The Fifth Sunday of Lent thrusted us into the period of Passiontide. It is a time that draws us more deeply into the Passion of Jesus. Things become sparser in the Liturgy of the Church and our lives are supposed to reflect that sparsity as well. Usually, the statues in the Cathedral are covered with purple veils as a further reminder of the intensity of this period of Lent. This year, I’ve decided that the purple veil has cloaked the world and there is no need to cover the statues that you catch a glimpse of during the televised Masses. The coronavirus pandemic has shrouded enough this year. And, there are certainly plenty of opportunities to experience the sparsity if we allow it.
It is on this Sunday that we encounter Martha and Mary, mourning for their brother Lazarus. Jesus had a unique relationship with these siblings: they were close friends. Yet, when the sisters needed Jesus most, He did not respond immediately. When Lazarus lay dying, Jesus did not come to heal his illness. To most of us, this likely seems unfair and cruel. Why didn’t Jesus prevent the great suffering of Martha and Mary? Why didn’t He respond immediately to their cry for help?
St. Peter Chrysologus teaches that this was because Jesus saved something greater for His friends: “For Christ it was more important to conquer death than to cure disease. He showed his love for his friend not by healing him but by calling him back from the grave. Instead of a remedy for his illness, he offered him the glory of rising from the dead.”
It is hard sometimes for us to accept that God allows an evil to happen, like sickness and death, in order to bring about a greater good. From our limited perspectives we can only see what fits within our own worlds. It is difficult for us to grasp heaven and eternal life, to see the big picture that God alone can see. For God, our earthly existence is but a prelude to eternity. And, Jesus wants us to embrace this truth as well. He wants us to reprioritize to have our hearts set on something greater.
I cannot see clearly what greater good God is going to bring about because of the suffering and death that plagues the face of the earth today. Perhaps we shall see in the weeks and months ahead. Or, perhaps we shall never see on this side of heaven. But, I wonder if the Gospel today doesn’t point to something of this expectation, especially as we experience the limitations, fears, and strangeness of these days. Maybe St. Peter Chrysologus points it out when he says, “It was necessary that Lazarus should die, so that the faith of the disciples might also rise with him from the dead.” Maybe this time is meant to help us grow in our faith, to wake us up to see that there is something greater than how we have been living up till now?
Faith has so many dimensions that are being drawn out by our current trial. If this is meant to help us grow in faith, then maybe we can examine ourselves. Do I trust in the goodness and providing love of God? Do I value earthly life more than heaven? Do I fear suffering without understanding it can be redemptive? Have I taken the giftedness of my life for granted? Have I been present to my family and friends? Have I taken my religious practice for granted? Am I more concerned with having my own way than finding God’s will in the present moment?
I can confess to you that this time has helped to deepen my own love for the gift of my priesthood, my role as pastor to a wonderful parish family, my place as one who administers the sacraments that help to heal and strengthen us on life’s journey. I miss greeting everyone at the end of Mass and worshiping as a family of faith. It has also checked some bad habits that have crept into my prayer life and way of relating with the Lord, creating in me a deeper hunger for prayer and living the spiritual life. In just a few days, the Lord opened my eyes to see that I need to give Him more of myself!
My sincere hope for you and for me is that we do not waste our time of trial but allow it to sow seeds of new life in our lives that blossom once the stone is rolled away from the tomb.
(Father Brommer is the pastor and rector of the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in Harrisburg. His reflection was initially published in the March 29 bulletin and is reprinted here with permission.)
By Father Joshua R. Brommer, Special to The Witness

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