Gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead ‘more potent than ever’ during COVID-19 pandemic, chief shepherd says
DETROIT — As the Church enters into Passiontide, when it recounts the events leading up to and through the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron asked the faithful the same question Jesus asked Martha in the Gospel: “Do you believe?”
For the third Sunday in a row, Archbishop Vigneron celebrated Mass in an empty Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on March 29 — save cathedral rector Fr. J.J. Mech, his priest-secretary Fr. Jim Grau, a few camera operators and a handful of choir singers, as public Masses remain suspended across the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Addressing the faithful via livestream, Archbishop Vigneron reflected on the day’s passage from the Gospel according to St. John, in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
In the Gospel, Jesus asks Lazarus’ sister, Martha, a poignant question as she faces the death of her brother — a question all the more relevant in a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed 111 lives in Michigan: “Do you believe?”
“As I reflect on these days, it’s clear to me that this is not the Lent I would have planned, and this is not the Lent you have expected,” Archbishop Vigneron said in his homily. “But by God’s providence, it’s the Lent He gives us. In this time of grace, in order for us to be renewed in the mystery of Jesus’ Passover from death to life, it’s a time here for us to hear this question, ‘Do you believe?’”
Archbishop Vigneron acknowledged the story of Lazarus rising from the dead seems pertinent when many people are confronting death, worried about the health and well-being of their loved ones as the number of confirmed cases in the state surpasses 4,650 and normal life comes to a screeching halt.
“This Gospel account, whether it’s read 10 years ago or 20 years ago, is always powerful, but I think it has a power beyond recognition here being read in this time of our health emergency,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Because our whole way of life in these days, all the systems of our society, are totally oriented to confronting the mortal threat of the coronavirus — so we can’t escape facing our mortality. Each of us, as we go about our day, comes face to face with the fact that we aspire to live, and we are certain that one day we will die.”
Archbishop Vigneron commended the work of doctors, nurses, law enforcement and first responders for doing all they can to serve in a time of crisis.
Archbishop Vigneron also referenced Pope Francis’ extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi,” noting that the pope discussed how the epidemic has revealed cracks in society that leave the most vulnerable exposed. Yet, even amidst those cracks, Jesus is present in a time of crisis.
The archbishop noted Jesus on two occasions in the Gospel story wept on account of Lazarus’ death.
“God never wanted there to be death. This was not part of His plan; He is the living God, and He meant for us to be alive,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “An enemy had done this. Death exists where God meant there to be life, so God weeps. God in the flesh is brokenhearted in the face of the grave. This is never what God meant for Lazarus, for you or for me. Because He loves us.”
By weeping in anguish, Jesus shows that his emotions aren’t hollow sentiments, but that he acts for man’s salvation, Archbishop Vigneron said, and by raising Lazarus from the dead, he shows Martha — and all who witness — that Jesus is God.
“This miracle is proof of Jesus’ claim to Martha, that he is the Resurrection,” Archbishop Vigneron said, “that whoever believes in him and dies will live, and those who live and believe in (Jesus) will never die.”
As Jesus shows that he is the Lord of History, both during the events of the Gospel of St. John, and now in 2020 during the events of the COVID-19 epidemic, Jesus is once again asking the faithful a question ever Catholic answers in the affirmative when they come to the altar for the Eucharist: Do they believe.
Jesus shows — both during the events of the Gospel and in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic — that he is Lord of history, Archbishop Vigneron added, asking the faithful again to answer the fundamental question of the Christian life: Do you believe?
“At a certain point in the Gospel account, Jesus says to Martha, ‘Do you believe this?’” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Now in a way, perhaps more potent and more powerful than has ever occurred in the lives of any of us, Jesus speaks to each of our hearts, and says, ‘Do you believe this?’ ... ‘Do you believe that I am the Resurrection and the Life?’
“Do you — do I — do we believe that Jesus will bring good out of this trial?” Archbishop Vigneron asked. “If we abandon ourselves into his hands, do we believe that through suffering and death, we were born with faith and love that leads to life?”