Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain,
and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her and said to her,
“Do not weep.”
He stepped forward and touched the coffin;
at this the bearers halted,
and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak,
and Jesus gave him to his mother. –Luke 7:11-15
* * *
At first she was just a little confused, having trouble remembering the passwords to her computer and her phone. She had lost some weight; she was very tired; she had a persistent cough that was strong enough to trigger the automatic water faucet a few yards away from her bed in the ER. But nobody seemed particularly concerned. “There are some anomalies in her blood work—we’d like to keep her overnight for observation—but don’t worry; she’s not being admitted. She’ll likely go home in the morning.”
My mother had walked into the ER, normally if somewhat reluctantly. But the next day she was stumbling a little, the bloodwork was still a little “off.” She was admitted. On day two she needed assistance walking, and by day three she was a little confused as to where she was. “How is Teresa going to get into the school if they lock it up at 3:00 p.m.?” she worried.
By the weekend she could not get out of bed unassisted. Each day brought dramatic decline, both physical and mental. “Do you know who is there?” the nurse asked my mother, pointing to where I stood by her bedside, as I had every day for a week. She looked up with benign bewilderment. “No,” she said, “I don’t know who that is…”
But she could figure out certain things. “If they ask you where you are, tell them you are at XYZ Hospital!” she would tell me and anyone who would listen. But then add with a devious grin, “even though we know it’s not true…”
An MRI revealed part of the cause: a shower of strokes over both hemispheres of her brain. “I’ve never seen anything like this!” reported the doctors with amazement. Her bloodwork continued to reveal more strangeness, markers that didn’t match, and the doctors began to look for a cause for this “mystery illness.”
A few weeks in, still confused, she began to complain of stomach pain. This was a new symptom. “It’s probably just constipation,” they said. “Or she’s just confused. Don’t worry.” This continued for three days, until a new blood draw revealed a drastic drop in her hemoglobin. By then she was crying, begging to be given something for the pain.
After looking at the CT-Scan, the doctors finally gave us permission to worry. She had an internal bleed the size of a watermelon, and was being rushed down to ICU. “I have to be honest—she may not make it through the night.”
* * *
In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes face-to-face with family grief. From within the crowd that accompanied Him—many no doubt begging Him for favors, answers, healings—He sees a coffin being carried. His heart is moved, not just by the young man’s loss of life, but by the grief of the widowed mother. Why does this touch him so much? What is it that so moves the heart of the Unmoved Mover?
Father Paul Scalia writes:
By His divine nature He performs the miracle. But He is moved to do so in His human nature. That He was moved with pity refers to His Sacred Heart and His capacity to be moved with human love. Saint Luke tells us that the deceased was “the only son of His mother, and she as a widow.” (Lk 7:12) This describes Our Lord Himself, and His mother. So it should not surprise us that He turns first to the widow, in whom He sees the anticipation of Mary’s sorrow. “Do not weep,” He tells her—as if to tell His own Mother. Yes—Our Lord is all-powerful. But in His sacred humanity He places Himself within our reach—so that our misery moves Him to act on our behalf.1 (emphasis added)
Jesus touches the coffin, and the man is raised back to life. Saint Luke then uses an interesting expression, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” Father Scalia notes that Jesus does not “allow the miracle of raising a man from the dead to obscure the importance of the man’s human relationships.”
We know that God is love, but the words do not always reach us. Some time ago I watched a grim-faced woman on the subway who barked at high volume: “Jeee-zus loves you! Jeee-zus loves you!” I watched as people rolled or averted their eyes. Some squirmed; a man across from me seem apoplectic with agitation at her words. I, who claim to be willing to die to defend such a pronouncement, found myself cringing and sliding down in my seat.
Yet I’ve also seen those same words move men twice my size and strength, and reduce them to tears. “Jesus loves you!” When these words become real, when the hearer is convinced that God’s love is in fact profound and personal, something greater than resurrection happens in the human heart.
This weekend Father Columba spoke about the power of Words of Knowledge. God uses human instruments, to speak into human hearts, often by revealing small, intimate details that only a concerned Father would know to reveal. It is one thing to believe in a love that is generic and amorphous. It is something much more when we realize that His concern and care for us is concrete, specific and personal.
Like the widowed mother, Our Lady would also be given her Son, there under the cross. We see her suffering, that Michelangelo carved into the Pieta. She held in her arms the lifeless Body of one who died that we might know that personal love. But she received Him forever when He rose from the dead.
* * *
I was there in the ICU that night as my mother journeyed to the edge of death, but came back. I was there again at his bedside, several months later, when my father took that same journey, but he did not return.
There was much suffering that year; it would be months before my mother returned home, her illness still classified as a mystery. There were many days in which I thought that I could not endure more, that there was nothing left in me to die.
But one of the beautiful things about hitting rock bottom is that you discover just Who that Rock Is. We are never alone.
1Scalia, Rev. Paul. That Nothing May Be Lost. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017) p. 134