I think often of a beautiful quote by Ven. Fr. Solanus Casey: “Thank God ahead of time.” He speaks of a certainty and confidence in faith, one that is undaunted by death and unwavering in the midst of inevitable trials. Like every Gospel throughout Lent, the story of Lazarus’ resurrection is one of hope – hope in a God who is faithful, merciful, and delivers His promises. “And this hope does not disappoint,” as we are reminded in Romans 5:5. That’s the kind of faith we should have – one that is certain that God is a God of wonders, a God of miracles. Though magnanimous miracles occur so infrequently, the smaller miracles happen on a daily basis, but we often neglect to notice: the birth of a baby, protection while we commute to work or school, the dawn of a new day, the first bud on a cherry tree, the song of a chickadee.
And where do our thoughts wander when things go wrong, terribly wrong, at least according to our perception? I’m often met by religious skeptics with the stale question, “Why would a good God allow bad things to happen?” Do you suppose this was the question of Martha and Mary and the people in their community when Lazarus died? My assumption would be that doubt did, in fact, cloud their faith, at least for a fleeting moment. But Jesus says, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Is it possible that God permitted the death of Lazarus in order for his bodily resurrection to occur, in order that “they may believe” the Father sent Jesus as our Redeemer? If so, then why doesn’t Jesus raise everyone from the dead?
Though I do not intend to diverge into a theological or philosophical treatise, for the sake of satisfying the aforementioned question, I, too, wondered why a good God permits evil to afflict humanity; when I was young, it was a question I could not answer but one that seemed to fester into doubt for many non-believers. The truth is, after the first sin of pride in which the devil and his minions freely chose to reject God, evil was present as a temptation to our very first forefathers: Adam and Eve. They chose to sin against God, to rebel and to disobey His one commandment, and thus they and all of their progeny (e.g., us) are perpetually affected by original sin and concupiscence – our tendency toward sin. How is any of this God’s fault or His doing?
When I consider the true meaning of love, I realize it doesn’t exist unless it is a free and total gift; God allowed humanity the gift of free will precisely so that we will have the ability to choose good or evil for ourselves. If He forced every person to love, then it wouldn’t be love at all but instead a form of enslavement. But to choose love in the midst of temptation and sin is an authentic gift, and that is what God desires – that our hearts not be conformed to this world but instead to be elevated to the heights of Heaven.
The resurrection of Lazarus literally foreshadows the Resurrection of Christ, as well as the individual resurrection of those entering Heaven, and it also symbolically represents that miracles happen. Like Fr. Solanus so prudently noted, “We should thank God ahead of time.” Indeed, we should expect miracles – both great in magnitude and in the everyday, ordinary happenings of life – and in this expectation our hearts are both humbled by the knowledge that sin taints us and all of creation while simultaneously growing in a deeper respect (or fear of the Lord) for the incomprehensible generosity of a God who intimately loves us.
The introduction to today’s readings for Mass in the Magnificat periodical serves both as an introductory and concluding thought for this reflection:
From time immemorial God has promised, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.” But this will not happen before Jesus weeps. He weeps in front of doubt: “You want to go back there?” He weeps in front of nihilism: “Could he not have done something?” He weeps in front of fatalism: “Lord, by now there will be a stench.” This is the optimum moment for God to have Lazarus rise from his grave, for then the event will teach us just how far we must go in trusting the power of Jesus’ love for us. Although “dead because of sin, the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead…will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Ponder: Do I honestly trust Jesus enough to believe that miracles happen and very well could happen to me, in my life? Is my faith strong enough that I am able to “thank God ahead of time?”
Pray: Jesus, you are the Resurrection and the Life; we have the hope that one day we, too, will rise with you and remain in Heaven for eternity. Until then, mercifully grant us the grace of believing that you are a God of wonders and miracles, thanking you for both the sufferings permitted and joys granted according to Your Holy Will. Amen.