Fifth Sunday of Lent
Psalm 129: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
April 2, 2006
One year ago today it was a Saturday night, after the First Vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday an immense crowd was keeping vigil in Saint Peter’s Square. At 9:37 p.m., Rome time, Pope John Paul II, trusting in the Mother of God to the end, passed over with Christ to “the Father of mercies” (2 Cor 1:3). The Holy Father had already prepared his Angelus message for the following day, Sunday, April 3rd. He was to speak of the glorious wounds of Christ and, of course, of Divine Mercy. Reflecting on the Gospel of that day, he had written of “the signs of the sorrowful passion with which the Body of Jesus was indelibly stamped, even after the Resurrection.” He was to invite the Church and the world to see in those glorious wounds “the mercy of God who ‘so loved the world that he gave his only Son’” (Jn 3:16). In the context of that Angelus message, he repeated the invocation of the humble Polish laysister, Saint Faustina, the messenger of Divine Mercy whom he had raised to the altars: “Jesus, I trust in you. Have mercy upon us and upon the whole world.”
Six days later the entire world had converged on Saint Peter’s Square. Never in human memory had there been such a funeral. In his homily, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said that Pope John Paul II had been “a priest to the last, for he offered his life to God for his flock and for the entire human family, in a daily self-oblation for the service of the Church, especially amid the sufferings of his final months.” Pope John Paul II lived and died as both priest and victim. In Gift and Mystery, the book he wrote on the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination, he shared with all of us, but especially with priests, his brothers and his sons, the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, that, from his seminary days in Cracow, had been a part of his prayer.
For Pope John Paul II, as for Mother Marie des Douleurs, the gift and mystery of priesthood was inseparable from the identification with Jesus Crucified that is forged in suffering. Addressing herself to priests, Mother wrote: “One must concentrate one’s soul and all one’s faculties on this one point of view: ‘I am a priest to continue the priesthood of Our Lord.’ And then, in order to arrive at living this ideal, I must take a path: the path is suffering.” Pope John Paul II interprets this for us, in his life and in his death, as well as in his teachings and writings. "The suffering of the Crucified God, “he wrote,” is not just one form of suffering alongside others. . . . In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love. . . . The passion of Christ on the Cross gave a radically new meaning to suffering, transforming it from within. . . . It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love. . . . All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation. . . . evil is present in the world partly so as to awaken our love, our self-gift in generous and disinterested service to those visited by suffering. . . . Christ has redeemed the world: ‘By his wounds we are healed' (Is 53:5)" (Memory and Identity, p. 189, ff.). This, of course, is the very text that Mother Véronique gave us for our meditation yesterday; it is the text quoted by Pope Benedict XVI in his memorable discourse of last December 22nd.
It is impossible for us to hear this message today without relating it to Sister Myriam. Her suffering, as sudden and as shocking as it is to all of us, is a sign given to the Congregation during these days of retreat. By it, Our Lord is preparing our hearts for the renewal of that Act of Consecration that, on the feast of Our Lady of Compassion in 1930, opened the way of the Cross, precisely as a way of love that is, of union and of supernatural fecundity to a handful of women marked by weakness.
The connection of all of this to today’s Gospel of the resurrection of Lazarus may not be immediately evident. It is, nonetheless, profound and real. If suffering and death are the way down into the tomb, they are also the only way out of it. Redemptive suffering is just that: the suffering that lays claim to the promise of the Lord: “I will put my Spirit in you and you shall live” (Ez 12:14). Only one who has descended with Christ into the depths can pray with him, de profundis, out of the depths, making of that cry from the depths a confession of “mercy and of plenteous redemption” (Ps 129: 7). Today, more than ever, the Church and, in a particular way the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, need to hear the glorious proclamation of Christ to Saint Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25). Then he asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:26). Today, let Martha’s answer become ours, for the sake of the Church, for the sake of the Congregation, and for the sake of Sister Myriam: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27).
When Lazarus came stumbling out of the tomb, still bound in his grave-clothes, his face was covered by a veil. Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go” (Jn 11:44). No sooner was the veil pulled from his eyes, than he saw the Holy Face of Christ. In this first moment of his new life, breathing in the sweet fresh air, and feeling a mysterious energy course through his body, Lazarus had eyes only for the Face of his Beloved Friend and Lord.
In this too, the spiritual patrimony of the Congregation converges with that left us by the Servant of God John Paul II. He who calls us into life offers us at every moment the vision of his Face. The Holy Face of Jesus is not only the blazing glory that, “like the sun shining in full strength” (Ap 1:16), awaits us on the other side of the tomb. It is the “kindly light” that, here and now, leads us on “amid the encircling gloom.” It is the light that shines from the Cross, the beacon that guides our feet to Calvary. It is the secret light burning within, even after that frightful darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour “when there was darkness over the whole land . . . while the sun’s light failed , and the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Lk 23:44-45). It is the light that mysteriously draws us to empty tomb valde mane, early in the morning “on the first day of the week” (Mk 16:2).
With Lazarus, with Mary and Martha, seek the Face of the Resurrection and the Life, “constantly seek his face” (Ps 104: 4). With our Sisters in France and in Japan, seek the Face of Christ today, and ask Pope John Paul II to intercede with us on behalf of Sister Myriam. “Most Holy Face of Jesus, through the intercession of Pope John Paul II, look upon us, and have mercy.”