By The Rev. H. G. Hughes
"He that was dead sat up, and began to speak." Luke vii, 15.
In the country of Galilee, not far from our Blessed Lord's own town of Nazareth, there stood, and still stands, upon the slope of a lofty hill, the little town of Naim, where Christ worked the great miracle of which we read in today's Gospel. In our Lord's own time it was a flourishing place; its name meant “Beautiful"; today it is but a squalid village. Yet it is a spot of the highest interest to the Christian traveller; for he can ascend the very pathway, rocky and steep, leading to the gate of Naim, up which the Saviour of Men was going when He met the sad funeral procession descending from the town to the place of' burial without. That was a great day for Naim and its people. Little did they think, as they set forth that day to lay the widow's son in his last resting-place that they were to meet the Lord arid Master of life and death; the Giver of life, the Conqueror of death. Yet so it was to be.
We can imagine that sad procession. In the midst, the body of the young man, cut down in the flower of his youth. The corpse is embalmed with sweet perfumes, wrapped round with linen bands, carried upon an open bier: in front are the hired minstrels or flute-players; round about the bier are the mourners, also hired, paid to express the grief of the relatives of the dead by noisy demonstrations of sorrow; while close to the lifeless body walks the grief-stricken widowed mother, silent in her sorrow, bitterly weeping for her only son, her pride, her hope, and her support. With her, as we read, was "a great multitude of the city"; some of them friends, others passers-by, who, according to the Jewish custom, had joined the funeral train as they chanced to meet it.
Outside the gate of the city, coming up the steep pathway, there approached another procession: it is the great Prophet and Teacher of their country of Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, surrounded by disciples whom he had won to Himself, and who were full of joyful hope that He would deliver their country from its oppressors, and set up again the glorious throne of David. The two companies, so different in their thoughts and feelings, meet. The glad faces of the friends and followers of Jesus fall to a sad solemnity, changing to looks of sincere pity as they see the weeping mother and learn her sad story. But their pity is as nothing to that of one Heart there, the all-sympathizing Sacred Heart of Jesus, that can read the hearts of men, and so can fathom our griefs as we never can fathom or understand to its depths the sorrow of our fel1ow-creatures.
Jesus stops before the funeral train: He heeds not the mourners; He puts aside the multitude of friends and feIIow-citizens; He goes straight where He is needed most, straight to the heart-broken mother, true to His own promise, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Luke v, 5), true to the mission ascribed to Him by the prophet Isaias, "to comfort all that mourn" (Is. lxi, 2). He stands before that sorrowful mother, and in tones of indescribable compassion He says to Her words few indeed, but laden with comfort and hope, words that cause her to look wonderingly to His sacred face and to gaze into His eyes, in which she sees the light of a pity all divine. "Whom when the Lord had seen, being moved with mercy toward her, He said to her, weep not" (Luke vii, 13). Then "He came near, and touched the bier. And they that carried it stood still. And He said : Young man, I say unto thee, arise" (ib. 14).
Words of mighty power and efficacy! Words that winged their way even into the dread mysterious realms of death, and found out the spirit in its far-off unknown abode and brought it back to its earthly tenement again; for, at those words, lo, "he that was dead sat up, and began to speak." And then Jesus "delivered him to his mother"; gave him back, whole and sound, thrilling once more with young life and energy, to the embraces of his mother's amazed and rapturous love. "And there came a great fear on them all"; for they felt that they stood in the presence of a Supreme Power, of One Whom death obeyed, of One Who gave life as He willed. "And they glorified God, saying, A great prophet is risen up among us, and God hath visited His people."
There is another death, dear brethren, than the death of the body: a death far more terrible than bodily death. It is a death that means eternal ruin of body and soul; a death hopeless, irremediable, unless the same Lord Who showed His power in this great miracle of mercy at Naim work a still greater miracle in the resurrection of souls to the life of grace. It is the awful death of sin. What is bodily death to that? He Who compassionated the widow, He Who wept at the grave of Lazarus, thought little of bodily death compared with the death of the soul. "Fear ye not," He has told us, "them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matt. x, 28).
It was to restore the life of grace to poor sinners that He was born, that He lived and toiled and suffered and gave His very life. And if He pitied that mother who had lost her son by temporal death, and who might hope to be one day reunited to him, what must be His deep pity and compassion for foolish souls who, by an act of wilful self-destruction, have cut themselves off from life and love and happiness, separating themselves by sin from God Who is all these, and apart from Whom true life, true love, true happiness are not?
For in a sinful soul, dear brethren, Christ sees, not the destruction of this earthly tabernacle of flesh, the dissolution of material elements, separation from earthly joys and earthly friends, but He sees the utter ruin of that immortal spirit breathed into man by the very breath of God, the destruction of His own beauteous image and likeness; and, in the future, the eternal misery of bitter self-reproach, the keen anguish of burning desire for happiness never to be gained, a wrecked and wasted existence, everlasting separation from the only good, the only joy, the only possession worth living for-the God Who made us for Himself.
And so, in His infinite compassion and mercy, Jesus comes to meet us when we are dead in sin, when we are already being carried out to be buried in hell, when, not the mourning of friends, but the mocking laugh of demons is ushering us to that last dreadful abode of misery. He comes, and He says to the evil spirits, "laugh not: not yet is this soul your prey. I am the Master of Life, the Giver of Grace." And to the soul dead in sins He says: "Arise: go in peace; thy sins are forgiven thee. Rise to the life of grace; rise to a new life in which sin shall no more have place. Go now, and sin no more."
And Christ has placed this power of restoring to souls the life of grace, won by His own death and resurrection, this power of raising souls from death to life, in a great Sacrament of His Holy Church, who is the mother of our souls. Through that great Sacrament He brings us from death to life, and delivers us to our Mother the Church whole and sound, restored to the life of grace and charity. Of this the miracle at Naim was an image. Learn from that miracle the evil of the death of sin, since He who so compassioned human sorrow for the death of the body, yet made it as nothing in comparison with the death of the soul.
Learn to hope in the power of Him who can raise us not only from bodily, but from spiritual death. Glorify God, as did the people of Naim; glorify and thank Him for that great Sacrament of Spiritual Resurrection that He has given us through the shedding of His Precious Blood. Fly, henceforth, from sin which cost Him so dear, which does to our souls such infinite harm ; and, should passion or human weakness, or the force of strong temptation overcome you, fly quickly to that great means of grace--a humble and sorrowful confession, by which the life of grace can be given you again.
How strange it seems, dear brethren, that with so great a means of pardon, so easy of access as confession is, people will go for months, sometimes for years in their sins. God is very patient, but the time is fixed beyond which we shall not be allowed to go on in sin. The sinner will commit his last mortal sin; and what will happen then? Think of the Rich Fool in our Blessed Lord’s parable. He was content; he had said boastingly to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thy rest; eat, drink, make good cheer" (Luke xii, 19). That night he goes to his couch. He has but laid him down, and is falling away into the unconsciousness of sleep with his thoughts still running on his future enjoyments, when he starts into sudden wakefulness, a dreadful fear at his heart. An inward voice has spoken to him, the Voice of God; "Fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee" (ib. 20). "Fool! This very night, now, thou art to die."
Brethren, when that dread call comes, as it will come to all of us, there is no refusal, no delay. We cannot expect a miracle to raise us from the grave and give us another opportunity. What would that poor rich fool have given for a few moments only of respite, to collect his bewildered senses, to recall some lesson of early life that would help him now, to breathe one prayer for pardon. But it is too late. Even as he struggles to realize what is happening the hand of Death is upon him, and he is hurried before his Almighty Judge. "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark viii, 36).
Brethren, delay not your true and earnest repentance; come, and come quickly to Jesus, Master of Life and Death, Giver of Grace and pardon. He will restore life to your souls; He will give you new life, new strength, new courage, and, if you will ask Him, often, fervently, perseveringly, He will grant you to continue to the end in the divine life of grace, so that when your time shall come, your bodies will die, indeed, but only to know, at the last great day, a resurrection far more glorious than that of the widow's son at Naim; a resurrection, not to joys of earth, but to the incomparably sweeter joys of heaven, our dear and longed-for home.
Adapted from Plain Sermons by Practical Preachers, Vol. II(©1916)
Nihil Obstat: Remegius Lafort, S.T.D
Imprimatur: John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York