Saturday, April 9, 2011

"I am the Resurrection": the raising of Lazarus a sign of the unique and unrepeatable event of Christ


The most beautiful things in the world, the most wonderful events in our lives are never really new: we have experienced the happy and contented feelings in very similar ways over and over again.

The most wonderful things we can say, such as "I love you" are a repetition: we use the same words each time to express the same emotions for, in many cases, the same people: spouses, parents, children.

Lazarus' resuscitation was greeted with astonishment by all who witnessed it. As wonderful an event as this surely was, as magnificent a display of divine power, it was a repetition: Lazarus was simply restored to the same earthly life he had been deprived of in death.

All of us know well the cycle of repetition: favorite songs that, no matter how many times we listen, remain exactly the same, the people and roles to which we are committed, the cycle of rising, work and play, meals and rest. There is much repetition in the lives of each one of us.

If this is true, why is repetition so often used as a negative critique of the prayer of holy Mass? It turns out that words in this case, no matter how seemingly repetitive, in fact put us in touch with the only new and un-repeatable reality in the world: Jesus Christ Risen. Jesus Christ's victory over the grave is the only new thing the world has ever seen. The power which restored earthly life to Lazarus is not a repetition of something else you or I have experienced before; it is an entirely new and different reality.

All begins with the birth of the Christ who grew up to become the friend of Lazarus.

"The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies that falsified it." (CCC 464)

Christ Himself prayed to the Father as we do, using the same words as we. He prayed before raising Lazarus.

The second prayer, before the raising of Lazarus, is recorded by St. John. Thanksgiving precedes the event: "Father, I thank you for having heard me," which implies that the Father always hears his petitions. Jesus immediately adds: "I know that you always hear me," which implies that Jesus, on his part, constantly made such petitions. Jesus' prayer, characterized by thanksgiving, reveals to us how to ask: before the gift is given, Jesus commits himself to the One who in giving gives himself. The Giver is more precious than the gift; he is the "treasure"; in him abides his Son's heart; the gift is given "as well."

"The priestly prayer of Jesus holds a unique place in the economy of salvation. A meditation on it will conclude Section One. It reveals the ever present prayer of our High Priest and, at the same time, contains what he teaches us about our prayer to our Father, which will be developed in Section Two." (CCC 2604)
The Father always hears the Son. We have received His Spirit which makes us one with Him. The Father always hears us when we pray the perfect prayer of the Lord Jesus in holy Mass.

If we want more than this world offers, as was given to Lazarus a second time when Christ restored him to earthly existence, we must share in the person of the Son who alone grants access to the life of the Father which never ends.

"There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray "in the name" of Jesus. The sacred humanity of Jesus is therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our Father." (CCC 2664)

True access to the Son and His eternal communion with the Father is shared most fully through the prayer of holy Mass.

"The liturgy is also a participation in Christ's own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal. Through the liturgy the inner man is rooted and grounded in "the great love with which [the Father] loved us" in his beloved Son. It is the same "marvelous work of God" that is lived and internalized by all prayer, "at all times in the Spirit." (CCC 1073)

Art: Caravaggio, Raising of Lazarus

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