Sr. Henrietta Alokha, a religious sister of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart (SSH) and the administrator of a Girls College in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, lost her life on March 15, 2020 in a ghastly fire from a gas explosion that consumed her school building. She had rushed into the burning building to rescue her students trapped inside the inferno. She managed to save them but the building collapsed on her before she could escape.
Why did she risk her life to save her students? Where they all good students, who had excellent grades, kept the rules, and respected her? Probably not. She willingly risked her life for them because she had a deep sense of their belonging to her as their administrator.
Archbishop Martins of Lagos had this to say about the late sister, “She paid the supreme price of her offer to ensure the safety of over three hundred students under her responsibility.” We willingly act and take risks out of this sense of belonging.
Jesus resolutely determined to risk His life and go into Judea again just to raise Lazarus from the dead. The disciples tried to dissuade Him from taking this risk based on their past experience, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” They too decided to risk their lives too in following Him when they could not dissuade Him, “Let us also go to die with Him.”
Why did Jesus take this risk and go back to a region of proven hostility towards Him? He did so because Lazarus belonged to Him as a friend. Jesus will not abandon those who belonged to Him because He is the only shepherd who “leaves the ninety-nine to search for the single lost sheep.”(Mt 18:12)
The dead man’s sisters believe that Jesus could act to save the life of their brother from death, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus invites them to also believe that, because Lazarus belonged to Him, He would act even in the death of Lazarus to raise Him from the dead, “Your brother will rise.”
Jesus’ declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is an assurance that He will surely act in the life and in the death of those who belong to Him. We belong to Him and He will surely act to bring life from death, good from evil, light from darkness, victory from defeat, etc. In short, He will act that evil never triumphs over good ultimately in our lives. He proved this by raising Lazarus from the dead, “Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound.”
Our personal struggles in life and our own sinfulness can make us forget that we belong radically to Jesus through baptism. The Christians in Rome were experiencing that strong pull of sin and temptation that made them begin to doubt the power of the baptism that they had received. St. Paul reminds them that the Holy Spirit that they received in baptism assures them that they belong to Jesus now, “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.”
By possessing this Spirit of Jesus and belonging to Him, we are also guaranteed that Jesus will surely act both in our lives and even after our deaths. He will surely act in our earthly life so that “our spirits can be alive because of righteousness.” He will also certainly act at our death to raise us up, “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit dwelling in you.”
The Covid-19 virus has clearly dominated the headlines in the last few weeks. In the midst of all the scary news about the latest death toll, the number of new infections, the projected deaths, there is also a debate over whether God is using this virus to punish us for our sins.
Some say that God is punishing the world for the liturgical abuses and sexual and financial scandals in the Church. For sure, our actions do have grave consequences and God can use these consequences to call us back to Him. But what about the words of the psalmist, “If you O Lord should mark our iniquity, who can stand?” Can we stand if God holds us strictly accountable for every single sin we commit? I don’t think so. Why then do we try to separate the justice of God from His mercy in all His actions?
Then Pope Francis opined that we have the virus because nature is “throwing a fit so that we will take care of nature.” This left me aghast and wondering if nature had now become sovereign, able to act as it pleases, to the extent that it can now punish us for environmental pollution and our ignoring its demands for care. Isn’t God the only sovereign being who acts through all of creation? Doesn’t the divine will have a limitless rule over all things, even over nature and human suffering, even to the extent that “not even a single bird falls to the ground without the Father willing it?”(Mt 10:29) It is a deadly illusion to attribute any sort of sovereignty to any creature, even nature itself.
In the midst of all these depressing information fest and confusing theologizing, we easily forget the truth of our belonging to God from our baptism and His assurance to act during our lives and even at our death to raise us up. Most importantly, we forget that God wants to act and He wants to act through us; He needs our free cooperation. Remember that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by His own power, but He chose to use human hands to move the stone first and untie the Lazarus after being raised from the dead, “Take away the stone…Untie him and let him go.” By our actions, we create the necessary conditions for God to act in our world through us.
Psalm 130 gives us four concrete actions that we can do to dispose us to see God’s actions in these times:
First, humble prayer from the depths of our hearts, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice.” This is time for prayer more than anything else, imploring mercy for all in our world, saints and sinners alike. Rather than apportion blame on one group of persons or on nature itself, we must realize that we all are sick to certain degrees and so we must embrace the ministry of intercession for all the world just like the sisters of Lazarus, “Lord, him whom you love is sick.”
Second, sincere repentance from our sins, “If you O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?” This is the time of divine mercy and God inviting us to personal conversion and return to God. It is time to turn away from our selfishness and to begin to seek and do the will of God in all things. God acts in our world through us to the extent that we do His will in words and actions. We have been pretty much standing idle and quiet while over 60 million babies have been killed through abortion. Who knows, God may have already sent us many years ago the person who would discover and develop a cure for this virus but the particular person was among those tragically offered on the altar of abortion while we turned the blind eye and deaf ear in utter selfishness.
Third, this is the time for complete and radical trust in God alone, “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word.” Most of the remedies we have taken in response to this virus have not reflected our trust in God at all: closed Churches, masses cancelled, the faithful denied the sacraments, etc. We need to take appropriate precautions but our trust in God must be visible in the precautions that we choose to take in response to this virus. Our responses must give allowance for God to act in and through us, even if we have to embrace risks in doing so for the sake of our brothers and sisters.
Lastly, after we have done all that we should do, we must learn to wait on the Lord to act and fulfill His purpose in our lives and in our world, “More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord.” Jesus had an unfathomable purpose in waiting for Lazarus to die – He intended to raise him from the dead. But Lazarus also had to wait for four days to be raised from the dead! We must be patient and wait for the Lord because we know we belong to Him and He will surely act in life and in death to fulfill His purpose for us. How many sins, suicides, depressions, addictions, etc. abound in our times because we have not learned to wait on the Lord to act in our lives?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us live our lives today with the deep sense of our baptismal consecration by which we belong to God as His children. We must imitate Mother Mary in her complete belonging to God. We must also do His will and so allow Him to act through us like Mary did, “Be it done to me according to your word.” When we belong to Him and put no obstacles to His actions in our live, Jesus will surely act in our lives and even in death. We need neither fear death nor suffering in this time of Covid-19 because He will surely act so that goodness ultimately prevail over evil. He will surely act, no matter the risk or the consequences, not because we are good or virtuous, but simply because we belong to Him.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!