Dear Friends in Jesus Christ,
We heard in the Gospel the story of a great miracle. St. Luke the evangelist narrates it so well. I think a movie director could hardly create a more dramatic scene than the one in today’s gospel. Luke sets the stage for it by saying:
(Jesus) journeyed to a city called Nain…and a large crowd accompanied him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” To appreciate this scene, let’s imagine we are in a helicopter with a television camera crew filming it. As we look down from the helicopter, we see a small town with a wall around it. Inside the walled town we see a crowd of people, dressed in black, walking toward the main gate. Outside the town we see another crowd, laughing and talking, approaching the same gate. A few minutes later both crowds meet at the gate and come to a halt. Then something dramatic happens. Out of the latter group steps Jesus. He walks over to the coffin in which the dead boy lies. Taking the boy’s hand, Jesus says, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” A deathly silence falls across both crowds. Then a load gasp goes up from everyone as the boy begins to move. He is alive!
This brings us back to us in this church today. How should we interpret that miracle 20 centuries later? What is Jesus saying to us through it? Let’s answer that question with a story. Maryknoll missionary Fr. Paul Belliveau has one of the most unusual parishes in the world. He is pastor of 11,000 Salvadoran refugees in a camp in Honduras. Most of his congregation are women, children, and old people. They are virtual prisoners because the camp is surrounded by soldiers who keep them locked in so they can’t flee to freedom – to places like the United States. Here are two excerpts from a diary that Fr. Belliveau keeps. The first is dated Sunday. It reads:
“I noticed many of the refugees kept looking outside the chapel through the open boards at a group of 18 Honduran soldiers who were passing through the camp. I sensed fear among the people. How many times have they seen armed soldiers come into their villages in El Salvador to kill and destroy? I had to calm the people before we continued with Mass.” The second excerpt, dated Tuesday, reads: “While I was at Campamento 5, I saw many women in the chapel praying. I entered and sat down. About 80 women were saying the Stations of the Cross. Every station identified the suffering of Jesus with the refugees. The women told me how they called their group ‘Mothers who have lost children due to the violence in El Salvador.’”
As Fr. Belliveau talked with the women, he saw in their faces the same pain that Jesus saw in the face of the widow of Nain. With all his heart, Fr. Belliveau wanted to restore to life their dead sons, as Jesus restored to life the widow’s son. But Fr. Belliveau was not Jesus. Then the priest realized something. He realized that Jesus was present at that moment in the chapel as truly as he was present in the village of Nain 2,000 years ago. He realized something more. He realized that Jesus was working a miracle in that chapel that was even greater than the one he worked at Nain. Through the prayers of these widows, Jesus was giving their sons not just physical life that would last another 30 to 40 years. He was giving them an eternal life that would last forever. “This is the will of my Father,” Jesus said, “that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him (on) the last day.” And suddenly Fr. Belliveau realized that the miracle Jesus works for those who believe in him exceeds by far the miracle he worked for the widow’s son.
This is the message in today’s gospel. This is the message Jesus wants to give us today. He wants us to see the miracle at Nain not just as a sign of his compassion – which it is – nor just as a sign that he is the Messiah – which he is – but also as a sign of what he will do for us, if we believe in him. He will raise us up not just to a new physical life but to an eternal life that will last forever. This is the good news of today’s gospel. This is the good news Jesus gives us today. This is the good news that we have gathered to celebrate today.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Hands of Jesus, you touched the eyes of the blind and gave them physical sight. Touch our eyes and give us eternal sight.
Hands of Jesus, you touched the ears of the deaf and gave them physical hearing. Touch our ears and give us eternal hearing.
Hands of Jesus, you touched the body of a boy and gave them physical life. Touch us and give us eternal life. Amen
God Bless You,