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Bible Reflections View Comments

Faith in the Face of Death
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Monday, June 10, 2013
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Death is the greatest divide we know. Movies, myths, great works of literature, often play with the idea that there is someone who can cross that divide, who can bring back a loved one who has died. We know intuitively that the natural order of things is disturbed any time a child dies before his or her parents. Even in times and places where infant mortality is much higher than in our own society, the loss of a child is especially tragic. We see so much unfulfilled potential. We see life and love cut short far too soon.

The scene Luke sets in our Gospel reading today naturally tugs at us. We might find ourselves asking why God doesn’t do this more often, doesn’t intervene when disaster or tragedy strikes and children are taken far too soon from their parents. Like Mary and Martha, in John’s account of the death of Lazarus, we cry out, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” As Christians, we believe that Christ has conquered death once and for all. This doesn’t always comfort us in the immediate aftermath of a very real and present human loss.

Today’s Gospel raises new questions in our minds because it’s not so familiar to us as some of the other miracles in the Gospels. We know the parables, the nature miracles, the healings. But only two or three times do we hear of Jesus raising someone from the dead.

In this particular story, Jesus doesn’t wait to be asked. He sees the funeral procession, he’s moved with pity, and he restores the man to his mother. Did Jesus have a particular empathy with this widow because he knew that one day his own widowed mother would lose her only son? The Gospel writer doesn’t tell us. We so know that when he was dying on the cross, he took special care to make sure that the beloved disciple would care for Mary.

The first reading from the Book of Kings gives us some clues about how to interpret this story. We hear another chapter from the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. He came to stay with her during a drought. He found her ready to give up her own life and that of her son, and through his prayers and guidance, they all find the grace and providence to go on. She accepts his God as her own. Now her son grows sick and then stops breathing. She sees this as a judgment from God and accuses Elijah of bringing this fate upon her. Her faith is tested once gain by this crisis.

We like to think that our own faith is stronger than this. We like to believe during the good times that nothing can shake our belief in the goodness of God. But we’ve all known times when tragedy and losss can make us question a foundation that once seemed so solid and now appears to be crumbling.

Elijah calls upon God to restore the child to life. It is one of the ways that Elijah is recognized as a great prophet, a man of God. In the same way the people who witness Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain immediately proclaim him to be a prophet and a man of God.

In a few weeks we will hear Jesus is ask his followers, “Who do you say that I am?’ But the question of his identity won’t be settled definitively for them until his death and resurrection. And for us, we will continue to ask and answer these questions through all the ups and downs of our own life.


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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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