by Fr. John Bartunek
From the Catholic Spiritual Direction
“He was indeed the true God and hence brought it about that the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard, he cleansed those afflicted with leprosy, and by a simple command called the dead back to life.” – St. Gregory Agrigentinus
Luke 7:11-17: Now soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry,’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.
Christ the Lord Jesus commands a dead man to rise, and he is obeyed. He shows that he is the Lord of life. And yet, when he commands us, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “Do not worry about tomorrow,” or “Follow me,” we resist. Does his Lordship work only on the dead? Hardly. Rather, he refuses to force his way into our hearts; he is Lord, but he is also Love. He makes his Lordship known, and then he invites us to fight under his banner – but there are no mercenaries in his army, only friends who serve the Lord of Love out of love for the Lord.
When he asks us something difficult, we should remember this passage. The same power which raised this dead man to life is at work in his commands to us. In baptism, this power floods our soul with grace through the words of the priest and the sign of water. In confession, this same power cleanses and renews our souls. Every word that Jesus speaks to us has the power to raise us up, to lift us into the kind of life we long to live.
Christ the Teacher The lesson is so simple that we may miss it: God cares. “Do not cry,” he tells the woman, as if to say, “I can’t bear to see you suffer. Let me help.” No one asked him to perform this miracle – not even his disciples, who should have. The same motive behind his journey from heaven to earth through the Incarnation moves him to comfort this lonely widow. And the same motive is behind everything else he did before that moment and everything he accomplished since then: he cares. Such a simple lesson – but one that’s so easy to forget!
Another more subtle lesson is hidden in this passage as well. The woman was a widow, like Jesus’ own mother, Mary. (Joseph had died, tradition tells us, before Jesus set out on his public ministry.) The woman had only one son, again like Mary. Mary too will watch her only son die and be buried. Jesus’ reaching out to this suffering woman reveals one of the most attractive characteristics of his Sacred Heart: his truly filial love for his Mother. How could Mary not have an entirely unique place in the perfect heart of the Redeemer? The Church’s ancient practice of invoking Mary’s intercession is, in this sense, an act of reverence made to Christ’s Incarnation: only because he shares completely our humanity does he have a mother in the first place, and because faithful sons honor and respect their mothers – all the more so when the son is a perfect King and the mother a wise and selfless Queen – Jesus gives Mary a throne at his side. And just as he couldn’t resist the heart’s desire of this weeping widow of Nain, how can he resist Mary’s heartfelt intercession on our behalf?
Christ the Friend We never have to suffer alone. Some time before, the widow had lost her husband, and now she loses her only son; she certainly must have felt as alone as a person can feel, inconsolable in her grief even while surrounded by the crowd. Who can fathom the depths of a mother’s love? And yet, she found someone who shared her pain – Jesus. Not only did he perceive her moral agony, her utter loneliness, but he had compassion on her; he suffered with her (which is what the word compassion means). Because of this, he knew how to relieve her suffering; when he came over to her and placed her resurrected son’s hand in hers, she was no longer alone.
Sometimes we do feel like we are suffering alone – Christ seems far away; at least he doesn’t intervene so dramatically as he did in Nain. But indulging such feelings shows a lack of faith. This poor widow did not know about Calvary; she had never seen a crucifix. The only way Christ had to show her his compassion was to restore her son to life. But we have seen Calvary. We know to what depths God’s compassion has gone. And we can always go to the Tabernacle, where we find the Eucharist, the living memorial of Calvary – the revelation of God’s unfathomable compassion, his “suffering with” each and every one of us. Truly, we never have to suffer alone. And so, when we choose to do so anyway, we not only increase our own pain, but we double Christ’s as well, by turning a blind eye to his cross.
Christ in My Life Lord, I know I have to obey someone in life: either myself, with all my ignorance and limitations, or some other teacher or guru, or the shallow advice of popular culture (which only cares about turning me into a good consumer) – or you. I want to obey you. I choose once again to follow you. Lord Jesus, I believe that you are the way, the truth, and the life…
I know that you are with me in every moment of my life, the good moments and the bad ones. You suffer with me, because you know that having to suffer alone would double my pain. Why do I insist on walking alone? Why do I insist on resisting your compassion and comfort and the soothing balm of your Church’s doctrine? Jesus, teach me to bear my cross with you…
Mary, you are my mother as well as Christ’s, because my baptism made me a child of God. Teach me to be like Jesus. Teach me to trust in him, to know his goodness and his power so deeply that I never doubt him – so that I never fall back into self-absorption and angry frustration. Teach me to be bold and faithful ambassador of his Kingdom. Queen of peace, pray for me…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.