From death to life

Homily: From death to life

By Fr. Basil Nixen, O.S.B.
August 28, 2016
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Extraordinary Form
Gal. 5: 25-26; 6: 1-10
Lk. 7: 11-16

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the Gospel that we just heard, Christ raises a young man from the dead. In this incidence, we perceive and venerate the resurrection of Christ Himself, because we see that He who can raise others from the dead can also Himself rise from the dead. Moreover, we observe the extraordinary power of almighty God who can transform all things, even to the point of changing death into life and drawing from the deepest evil, a greater and more perfect good.

It doesn’t take much to understand that death is a sad part of our earthy existence. We have all followed the tragedy of the earthquake that struck central Italy over the last few days. More than two hundred dead, many wounded, and catastrophic damage done to the city of Amatrice and other inhabited towns. The ancient city of Norcia, cradle of St. Benedict, is located very close to the epicenter of the initial shock and was also seriously damaged, even though, thanks be to God, no one was killed or wounded. We, monks of Norcia have lived an experience of solidarity with the whole region, praying and seeking to understand the spiritual meaning of these events. Our monastery and Basilica have been damaged considerably, for which reason we had to take refuge in Rome. Now, a part of our community is in Norcia, working hard to prepare tents and a few structures outside the walls of the city in order to resume our normal routine. Those of us who are here in Rome hope to return to Norcia tomorrow. We are grateful for our friends here who have welcomed us with open arms and have sustained us with their prayers and friendship. We are especially grateful to Father Kramer and to the Fraternity of Saint Peter for having welcomed us and for making us feel at home in this splendid Church.

This extraordinary display of ecclesial charity towards us and towards all of the victims of the earthquake has been one of the most beautiful gifts that God has made blossom from this catastrophe. Today’s Gospel, and in a particular way, the spiritual interpretation of this passage by the Fathers of the Church, helps us penetrate more deeply into a recognition of the spiritual significance that the earthquake holds. According to this interpretation, the young dead man represents the soul that is dead due to sin. The mother who cries over her dead son represents the Church that mourns for her sons and daughters threatened by eternal damnation if they do not turn from their ways. In His mercy, Christ works a miracle even greater than a corporal resurrection: He restores to the life of grace that soul deadened by sin. This is a cause of great joy for the Church, as it was for that other mother and son, Saint Monica and Saint Augustine, whose memorial is celebrated today. “The widowed mother,” says Saint Augustine, “rejoices upon seeing her son restored to life, and the mother Church rejoices daily at seeing her sons and daughters restored to spiritual life. That young person was only dead in the body, the others however, were dead in the soul.” However, before the resurrection to grace, we must implore the mercy of the Lord with tears, because upon seeing these, He is misericordia motus, that is, moved to compassion. Saint Ambrose says in kind, “If your sin is so grave that not even your tears cannot purify you of it, may the holy mother Church cry for you; not long after, you will rise and proclaim words of life.”

So what then is the spiritual significance of the earthquake? While we justly mourn for the dead killed in the earthquake, and lament the damage created and we must push on to contribute to the work of reconstruction of the various cities struck – be it with our prayers or by means of monetary contributions – we must also lament the spiritual death that threatens the eternal loss of so many souls, including our own, and, uniting ourselves to holy mother Church, we must mourn the greatest evil that threatens us: that is, sin. Monks have a special role in this work of spiritual mercy; we are called to be the eyes of the Church that cry and the heart that groans unto God for souls in sin, primarily, those in the Church itself. If you have experienced this sadness, this melancholy that derives from the recognition of personal sin and that of others, which furthers us from God, you are on the right road. Cry over this sin together with the Church, because these tears move the Lord and they bring us to the joy and resurrection of grace. Because, says Saint Augustine, if the Lord had not come to raise the dead, the Apostle would not have said, “Wake up, you who sleep, rise from the dead and Christ will illuminate you.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.