A. Today’s Scripture readings relate two instances in which a son was restored to life and returned to his mother:
B. The prophet Elijah pleaded with God for the child of a woman who had accused the prophet of having come to remind her of her sins, sins which she wrongly assumed were the cause of her son’s death. Elijah pleaded with God not only to restore her son to life but also to restore the woman’s faith. God listened to his plea and Elijah was able to return the child to his mother alive. For her part, the woman glorified God and put her faith in the prophet’s words as he spoke in behalf of the God of power and glory.
C. In the Gospel, Jesus’s mercy and compassion are revealed. Entering the city of Nain, accompanied by a large crowd, Jesus came upon a grieving widow who had lost her only son. She did not ask him for a miracle but Jesus showed her great compassion. In his own power as the Son of God he raised the young man from the dead, just as he would raise the daughter of Jairus from the dead and cause Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. Thus Jesus is revealed as the very incarnation of God’s mercy, as truly the Lord of life and of love.
II. Spiritual Awakening and the Resurrection of the Dead
A. As I reflected on these two readings, I could not help but think of the recent death of my own brother and of my grieving parents, both in their mid-90’s. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever done was to inform them of the death of their eldest son. Frankie was 68 years old and had intellectual disabilities. Mom and Dad cared for him and provided for him to the very end, truly examples of a parental love that does not fade with the passage of time.
B. They are also examples of a faith that only grows stronger with the passage of time. For amid their many tears and deep sorrow, they are truly convinced that their son and my brother is with the Lord, that he is living the new and the indestructible life Jesus won for us on the Cross, and that one day he will rise from dead, just as we profess each Sunday in the Creed. For my parents the conviction that Jesus lives and that my brother lives in him is better than having my brother restored to life for a few more years. In the wisdom of their advancing years, their hearts are set on eternity where Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand.
C. The example of faith that my mother and father have given me has enabled me to interpret properly the Scripture texts that the Church sets before us on this particular Sunday. Let us examine why God permitted Elijah to restore a young man’s life and why Jesus in his power as God raised up the son of the widow of Nain. Did Elijah plead with God so as to establish his credentials as a prophet? Hardly, he was already recognized as prophet powerful in word and deed. Did Jesus raise the son of the widow of Nain because he wanted to burnish his reputation as a worker of wonders? Hardly, for Jesus taught with authority, not like the Scribes and Pharisees. Let us then probe further as to why these sons were raised and restored to their mothers. Did Elijah and indeed Jesus simply want to give them a few more years of life? This they did out of a deep sense of compassion and love for their mothers yet that was not the ultimate reason why they performed these signs and wonders. The ultimate motive of Elijah was to restore the mother’s faith. The motive of Jesus was to awaken faith in those who witnessed the miracle, faith in himself as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
III. The Spiritual Awakening of Saint Paul and of Ourselves
A. Indeed, the motive of Jesus extends beyond those who witnessed this miracle in the town of Nain. For Jesus seeks nothing more ardently than to awaken faith in you and me. Don’t we see this in the second reading from St. Paul to the Galatians? Here St. Paul describes his own conversion. In his misguided zeal, he had been persecuting the Church of God and indeed was on his way to Damascus to round up the followers of Christ. Along the way, he encountered the Risen Lord and his life was changed. Faith in Jesus, the Son of God, arisen from the dead overtook his life. He was transformed from a persecutor to a disciple, indeed an Apostle, who proclaimed the Gospel to the Gentiles, even to the ends of the earth.
B. Let none of us leave this Church imagining that Jesus is not out to awaken our faith, to bring us out of spiritual slumber, or even to raise us from spiritual death should we be encumbered by serious sin. Let us allow the Christ who is with us today just as surely as he was present in Nain, to draw near to us, to touch us with healing power and say, “I tell you, arise!” This is the deepest desire of our Holy Father Pope Francis: that we truly encounter Christ, that we open our hearts to him as never before, that we allow him to rekindle our faith, to make it live in daily life, such that we, like St. Paul, will be witnesses to the power of Jesus love for others, especially those who no longer practice their faith, for whatever reason. In proclaiming the joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis is seek to engender in all of us a great spiritual awakening, a renewal of our faith, expressed most of all in charity exercised for those in need.
IV. The 100th Anniversary of the Bishop McNamara Assembly
A. This is also the right context for celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Bishop McNamara Assembly of the Knights of Columbus here in Frederick. In 1882 the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights not only to provide benefits for families in the event of the father’s death, but above all to bring about a spiritual awakening in the men of his parish. He taught them to live the principles of charity, unity, and fraternity and in the fourth degree to exemplify a true love of country.
B. Since January 16, 1916, the Fourth Degree Assembly #384 has done just that. It has gathered members of the Knights of Columbus from the surrounding area and has engaged them in religious, civic, and patriotic duties, indeed the work of bringing our faith into the public square. This has continued through the two world wars and through the conflicts and deep cultural changes that continue to take place in the times in which we live. My brother knights, you have named your assembly after Bishop McNamara, a holy bishop who served both the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Washington, an eloquent preacher of God’s word and devoted servant of the Church, as well as a devotee of the cause of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. You continue to express that spirit of devotion and service that arises from a faith that is living and active. All of us offer you our warm congratulations on your 100th anniversary and pray that you will continue the work of expressing true love of country by professing in a public way the holy, catholic faith.
A. Dear friends, one and all, as we receive the Lord of life and love in Holy Communion and are thus filled anew with the power of the Holy Spirit, may our faith be awakened such that we may be the Lord’s witnesses by the goodness of our lives before our families and friends, indeed before the whole world.
B. And may the Lord bless us and keep us always in his love!