A homily, given February 3, 2004, to Catholic Studies students and faculty by the Rev. Monsignor Livio Melina, vice-president and professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome.
“The Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, has defeated death and made life shine out through the Gospel.” The sadness that permeates the story of Absalom’s death–this rebellious son so loved by King David–gives even greater relief to the splendor of the Gospel. Jesus passes among the men and women of Palestine, healing those who come into contact with him and, even more, brings them back to life.
The tragedy that strikes David is that of a powerless love: the King of Israel experiences how much his fatherly love is unable not only to avoid his son’s rebellion but also to save him from the violence that this rebellion brings. David desired to forgive this son whom he loves with the tenderness of a father despite his misdemeanors. But David, despite being King, suffers from a powerlessness to change things. He cannot change the implacable, logical course of events that follow on from Absalom’s rebellion. David’s fatherly love is not enough to hold back his son, and when war erupts, nothing David can do can prevent his own army from repressing the rebellion and from rejoicing at Absalom’s death. Here, victory is transformed into mourning: no one is a winner when a father’s love is defeated.
For ourselves, perhaps we have already experienced the unique suffering that comes from seeing love powerless before our neighbor’s freedom, or in other difficult situations. Perhaps this has happened to us more than once! This is above all the story of so many parents when they see their children going up blind alleys that lead to their ruin. It is also a tragedy to see someone we love get ill, and then die. There is nothing we can do!
This was certainly how Jairus and his wife were suffering when their twelve-year-old daughter died. We can imagine that they had done all that was possible, called in the best medical help available. As a last resort they implore Jesus’ help. But Jesus does not reply straight away. In the fervor of his apostolate and the confusion of the crowds, he seems too caught up to notice them. Why bother the Master when your daughter is already dead? What use can there be in insisting now if Jesus did not listen to them when their daughter was merely ill? “Do not be afraid, only continue to have faith!” Faith must go on, even when it seems like we have not been heard, even when to human eyes it seems too late to set things right.
The scene of this miraculous resurrection takes place, as Jesus wished it to, in the privacy of a family’s suffering. Jesus sends away all those who have no place in such a moment. He touches the dead girl’s hand and commands her to get up. And the girl obeys: she stands up and starts to walk.
The physical gesture shows that salvation has been obtained here through faith in the power coming from Jesus’ body. It was the same thing only shortly before for the woman with the hemorrhage who touched the fringe of Jesus’ tunic. Faith is expressed through a concrete physical gesture. This is the faith of the Incarnation: in Jesus it is possible to touch God, to have a concrete experience of God. Saint Hilary of Poitiers says: “The power of the Lord, residing in his body, gave an efficaciousness to the smallest of things, and divine action went out even to the fringe of his tunic. In fact, God is neither divisible nor limited. Faith everywhere touches this divine power that is everywhere. Taking flesh–the Incarnation of Jesus–does not limit this power; on the contrary, divine power took on the fragility of the body precisely with a view to Redemption. This power is so infinite and so generous that the work of saving humanity goes out even to the fringe of Christ’s tunic” (In Mt IX: PL 9, 964-965).
"This light is the certainty that even when God seems sometimes not to hear us, even when it often does not seem there is anything left for us to do, in Jesus the power of God is present for us, and love has become stronger than death."
In this Gospel, the parents’ amazement and wonder at the miraculous resurrection of their daughter is as understandable as their joy: the Lord has defeated death and made life shine out! This amazement and wonder has a name: the Gospel, a “good news” for life, life set free from its chains and restored in hope. This experience of wonder will thereafter have remained with Jairus and his wife to the end of their days. It would surely have renewed itself each time they looked upon their daughter, unavoidably leading to thinking about the One who gave their daughter back to them. A light would surely have entered into their existence, a light that no one could extinguish. This light is the certainty that even when God seems sometimes not to hear us, even when it often does not seem there is anything left for us to do, in Jesus the power of God is present for us, and love has become stronger than death.
This is the certainty that is born from a strong experience of encounter with Jesus. If this is not the case, then our life really is void of light: it is opaque or dull. This can happen even when we give of ourselves to help others and when we make efforts to be truly good. Days, thoughts, acts, words, all become dull. This is also true of our theology when there is not this light; as Goethe said: “Theory is grey, but the tree of life is green” (Faust, part I). The intellectual work we are called to do certainly has characteristic requirements of methodology and rigor, of serious and continued study, of diligent effort. Its splendor and light, however, does not depend on these factors, necessary as they are. It depends on something which precedes our thoughts and reasoning: it depends on an inner fire that lights up our actions and our words. It depends on the experience of an encounter with Christ that has renewed our lives. This encounter, once experienced, cannot be forgotten. In this way even our theology becomes a witness to what has happened to us. To use the wonderful words of Origen, it grows to become the “critical enthusiasm of faith.”
During this Holy Mass let us ask the Lord that our intellectual work, as teachers and students, might make life shine out through the Gospel, and shine throughout this place where we live and work.