Weep Not In Vain

Weep Not In Vain

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Today’s Gospel present us with an unusual spectacle. Jesus, surrounded by a great crowd of followers, approaches a town by the name of Naim. As he reaches the town, another great crowd is coming out–it is a funeral cortege, making its way to the local cemetery. The dead man is young and he is the only son of his mother, who is a widow.

We can imagine the instinctive respect of Jesus’ followers, who are probably making way on either side of the road for the pallbearers. But then something unexpected happens. Jesus does not step aside; He goes straight to the woman; He is moved by her plight, perhaps thinking of His own Mother, who is also a widow now and who is about to lose her only Son. He speaks to her words which may have shocked those who heard them: Do not weep. Is that something to say to a mourning mother? Would not St Paul write later that we should weep with those who weep? Why then does Jesus seemingly break with custom and good manners in this case? We know the answer to that question, because we know what followed. Jesus touches the bier and those who are carrying it stand still. He commands: Young man, I say the thee, arise. On the spot the young man rises and begins to speak.

This astounding miracle, which prefigured the resurrection of Our Lord Himself, announces the general resurrection of all the dead and eternal life. But it also has a moral meaning for us, pointed out by the Fathers of the Church. The poor widow bereft of her son is an image of the Holy Church herself who mourns so many of her children being carried off to eternal death by a sinful life. The pallbearers symbolise the passions which take hold of the soul and, if not resisted, lead it to hell: pride, anger, envy, avarice, sloth, lust, gluttony: such are the capital sins that we all have within us, which wage war within us and seek to overthrow us. Everyone who is in a state of mortal sin is like this young man. The spiritually dead can do nothing for themselves; the dead cannot rise of their own accord.

Thanks be to God, we have a Sweet Saviour, who has stepped into our world, and far from being oblivious of our needs, goes out to meet us as we rush towards perdition. Jesus, tells us St Luke, was moved to pity, he felt compassion for the poor widow. When Jesus feels compassion, He cannot leave it at that. He will step in. Weep not. The presence of Jesus, His voice, speaks to our heart and invites us to conversion, to peace. If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be, says the prophet Isaiah (Is 30:15). Whatever sins we may have committed, whatever might be our sorrows, pains and losses, Jesus can wipe away our tears and restore us to the life of grace. In His hands, all will be well.

Jesus touches the wooden bier upon which the corpse is lying, and immediately the pallbearers stop, dead in their tracks. When Jesus steps into our life and infuses His grace, it is so powerful that it has the capacity to bring the soul back, even when it is being carried off by the frenzy of passions. The grace of Jesus is omnipotent, it is almighty. There is no circumstance for which He cannot bring a remedy; there is no temptation too strong for Him; there is no situation for which He cannot provide a solution. He touches the bier and the bearers stop dead in their tracks.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, that precious wood on which Our Lord died to give life to the world. When Jesus touches the wooden bier in today’s Gospel, He is symbolising what will happen to the wood of the cross. Itself an instrument of death, it will become, thanks to contact with Him, the instrument of life. Through the cross, we receive all grace and protection.

The voice of the Son of God rings out: Young man, I say to thee, arise, and the dead man rises, just as He had announced. Amen, amen, I say unto you, that the hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live (Jn 5:25).

In the Epistle, St Paul continues to expound for us the privileges and the demands of life in the Spirit. If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit. The young man of Naim had lived in the flesh, and he was dead. By grace, he met the Son of God, and rose to life in the Spirit. He was given a second chance, and that chance is limited in time. Doing good, let us not fail; for in due time we shall reap… Therefore, whilst we have the time, let us work good to all.

It is an ongoing battle that we have to wage, each of us for himself, and all together. In this struggle we are not alone. A Christian can never be alone, because we are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, united with all those who, around the world, are in Christ. We all benefit from the prayers of Holy Mother Church, as the young man benefitted from the tears of his mother. And the Church, like a good mother, prays for all. Our prayers today, joined with those of the Church, carry with them a grace for the conversion of sinners. Just as we owe our conversion to the prayers of the Church, so our prayers, in and through the Church, bring the grace of conversion to many souls, whom we may only meet in eternity.

But being converted is not enough. One must remain with the Lord, and cultivate in oneself the grace which has been planted there. How can we do this? The postcommunion of today’s Mass puts us on the right path. In that prayer, we will ask that the grace which is at work in the sacraments, and in particular in the Holy Eucharist, may take possession of and rule over our minds and bodies, in such a way that it is no longer the impulses of our nature, our feelings and senses, but grace, that supernatural gift which creates in our soul the capacity to be friends of God, may be what guides us in all our doings.

Baptism effaces original sin, but its effects remain. The other sacraments, especially Holy Communion, strengthen the soul and fortify it against temptation. If we stay close to the fire we will remain warm. We do not always realise this however. To a correspondent who was discouraged that daily Communion did not seem to be having the effect of making him a saint, St Josemaria Escriva wrote: “ ‘Going to Communion every day for so many years! Anybody else would be a saint by now’, you told me, ‘and I… I’m always the same!’ ‘Son’, I replied, ‘keep up your daily Communion, and think: what would I be if I had not gone?’ ”. Indeed, where would we be if it were not for the Church and the sacraments? We may not always see the results we would hope to see, but we can be sure that our heavenly Doctor knows our ills and knows exactly what we need, and that if we continue to take the heavenly remedy with faith and good will, we will be strengthened against sin and will grow in virtue.

This task of becoming a saint requires obedience, and obedience requires patience. What is sin but the impatient taking of a satisfaction that is not in the order willed by God? And what is patience if it is not the humble waiting for God’s hour? Such is the prayer of the offertory verse, taken from Psalm 39: With expectation, I have waited for the Lord, and He had regard to me; and He heard my prayer, and He put a new canticle into my mouth, a song to our God. Indeed, if we wait patiently for the Lord, we are showing Him that we truly love Him and want Him. With the prophet we can then pray: The Lord is my portion, therefore will I wait for him. The Lord is good to them that hope in him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good to wait with silence for the salvation of God. (Lam 3:24-26).

This coming Saturday will be the feast of Our Lady of La Salette. It is an apparition in which the Virgin weeps bitterly, sitting, her head buried in her hands. Like the widow of today’s Gospel, she wept over the sins and the loss of so many of her children. There is so much more to weep for today. She weeps over a world gone astray, and over each one of us. And who could fail to be moved by the tears of their mother? May her tears be not in vain.