I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I just wish I could see my father one more time.” I have had that desire as well. On December 12, 1982, an early, unexpected snow fall caused the roads on the capital beltway in Fairfax, VA to become slick. My father was struck by a tractor trailer and died as a result of his injuries. As my family was planning the funeral, I expressed my desire to sing “Everything I Own” by BREAD. I was met with resistance by one of my mentors in our youth group who told me that everyone would feel sorry for me if I chose to sing that song. I decided to sing the song anyway, because the lyrics conveyed exactly how I was feeling. As I pushed through the vocal, I was able to share, in the depths of my soul, the grief I was feeling, and to begin to accept the fact that I would never see my father again as I knew him in this earthly life. From that dark place where no one wants to travel, I was able to deal with the shock and sadness, and begin the tedious road to healing.
Why is it that we tend to speed up the grieving process? Or to go on as if nothing happened? Or to fight back the tears instead of letting them flow? Or to put deadlines on certain behaviors, such as not making any major decisions for a specified amount of time? I have learned that burying any kind of pain only makes matters worse and prolongs the grieving process. It actually hinders healing. This attitude also discounts God’s grace and His timing, and our receptivity to what the outcome of our suffering, heartache and disappointment could be. I look to Jesus as the example:
The Raising of Lazarus from the Gospel of John *
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death,* but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”* He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles* away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” * l She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed* and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father,* I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice,* “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
I have learned many things from this account in the Gospel of John. First, that the raising of Lazarus is one of Jesus Christ’s most exceptional miracles because it manifests Jesus’ power over death. Jesus enjoyed the company of Lazarus and his sisters and visited them regularly. He expressed sorrow and shed tears over the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus wept for the physical death of his friend, so imagine how he feels over the spiritual death that we bring upon ourselves through sin. Jesus shows us how to love our friends, and that tears are necessary to mourn, but also to heal. It is also necessary to weep more for our sins, by which we are restored to the life of grace through conversion and repentance. St. Augustine says that the glory which Christ speaks of in this passage “was no gain to Jesus; it was only for our good. Therefore, Jesus says that this illness is not unto death, because the particular death was not for death but rather for a miracle, which being wrought men should believe in Christ and thereby avoid the true death” (in Ioann. Evang., 49.6)
Martha asks for Jesus help with such expectation and faith, and this is a great lesson for me. She doesn’t demand that her brother be raised, she just knows that if God wills it, it can be done. I believe this is the way we should pray--with confidence and trust.
Now that I have the perspective of many years lived without my father’s earthly presence, would I really give EVERYTHING I OWN to see him again? No, I would not, because I believe that God, in his divine providence and merciful love, knowing that my father was a believer, allowed him to die at the time that his soul was most prepared. I also have the consolation of his accident occurring on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which gives me confidence that Mary was accompanying him, protecting him from the temptations we all will endure at the hour of death and guiding him with her maternal love on his journey to her Son.
Is there someone you love? Let them know! “Jesus is your friend. The Friend. With a human heart, like yours. With loving eyes that wept for Lazarus. And he loves you as much as he loved Lazarus.” (J.Escriva, the Way, 422)