Going Towards The Light
How comfortable are with discussions on Life and Death?
The Raising of Lazarus
5th Sunday of Lent, Year A
Near death experiences. We have heard of a number of true-life stories or claims of these experiences from ordinary people, who according to them, have experienced death (at least partially). Let me cite an example:
The case of Jazmyne Cidavia-DeRepentigny of Hull Georgia. She died on the operating table during surgery in late 1979 (pages 10-11, paperback version, "BEYOND THE LIGHT"):
"I could see my spirit standing before me. My spirit was so beautifully perfect, dressed in a white gown that was loose, free-flowing, and below the knee. From my spirit there emanated a bright, soft-white halo. My spirit was standing six to eight feet from my body. It was so strange, for I could see my spirit and my spirit could see my pathetic body. I had not an ounce of color and I looked all withered and cold and lifeless. My spirit felt warm and so celestial. As my spirit slowly moved away, my spirit told my body goodbye, for my spirit saw the light and wanted to go into it. The light was like a circular opening that was warm and bright."
There were 15 other recorded experiences/researches which I have read from the same source and out of 17 all in all, I found out one recurring and very interesting observation, that is, they were all drawn towards the LIGHT! They did not clearly say or claim that it was our Lord, but the vision of light could somehow point to our faith in Jesus as our LIGHT! By light, we mean the TRUTH. Remember in Scriptures, Jesus said: “I am the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE.” (John 14:6)
Two weeks ago, we reflected on the Samaritan woman at the well, and learned the difference between physical and spiritual thirst. Last week, through Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, we saw the difference between physical and spiritual blindness. Today, the raising of Lazarus illustrates the difference between physical and spiritual death. Regardless of the difference, we find Jesus leading His disciples toward Him as their LIGHT!
Death is a human reality. Though a reality, a lot of us seem to avoid the topic about death. It is as if death is a discussion not worth our time and effort. Some may be in denial about it: For young people, they would say, “It’s too far-fetched” or to quote the now viral lines from a spring-breaker, “If I get corona, I will get corona!” and for the not-so-young but “young at heart,” they would say, “It may be too soon but let’s talk about other matters than death!” And so, we hear it either in funerals or hear it not being taken seriously as being told as a joke like this one:
A funeral director called a man for further instructions about his mother-in-law’s body. “Do you want her embalmed, cremated or buried?” “All the three!’ the man answered promptly. “Don’t take any chances.”
So near, yet so far, death is something that we have to accept as men and women of faith. Here are some things we can reflect on this Sunday:
1. Roll Away the “Stone” that Keep us from Seeing the True LIGHT of Christ. The “stone” could be symbolic of anything that’s keeping us from coming towards Christ. It could be the chains of addiction to alcohol, drugs, gossip, envy, prejudices, hatred and uncontrollable anger and being kept by it in the tombs of despair or hopelessness. And so, in this Mass, we ask the Lord to roll away the stone to be enveloped by His light. It is to allow Jesus to liberate us from both physical and spiritual death – from anything that keeps us away from Him. And so, when we come to Him seeking and asking for His forgiveness, we roll away those obstacles and allow Him to call us by our name as He did to Lazarus, “Come out!” Christ frees us from the slavery of sin to a beginning of new life of grace.
Harvard University is considered one of the greatest academic institutions in America and around the world; its students have the highest SAT scores, the brightest minds. A few years ago, the President of Harvard University was asked, "What is the greatest problem you see in your university?" He said, "Emptiness! There is no meaning or passion for life. Everybody is bored--no fulfillment."
There you see, fancy titles and good credentials do not guarantee even a bright mind a good testimony unless they are connected to the living God. When we roll away the “stone” of our life, we allow God to fill that void or emptiness that we feel inside of us with His LIGHT. We are filled by Christ’s resurrection and His power. We are called to have passion for life.
2. Be Prepared to Welcome Death by Embracing the LIGHT of Christ. As I’ve mentioned earlier, at times, we make fun of death rather than seriously reflect about its reality and its impact on our faith. How do you want to die? Some say, “I’d like to die while sleeping” or “Shot dead while eating popsicle” or “Death by falling from the 12th flr. of the building.” [death by going to Mass] In other words, we want to die suddenly or even unconsciously to not feel the pain of death.
But as Christians, death must be something that we should prepare ourselves for. Am I ready to face my death? We know for sure that we will die anytime … in God’s time. But we have to be wise enough to be prepared for it and so embrace it with joyful hearts. We must do everything in our power to respect and protect life and avoid “killing” ourselves through suicide and neglect of one’s physical as well as spiritual health.
As public Masses have been canceled due to the COVID-19 issue, many of our faithful, if not all, have been yearning to receive the Holy Eucharist. Though we livestream the Masses every now and then, still Catholics feel the need to receive the Blessed Sacrament physically. I feel all of you, but I also believe that it is about time for us to draw our attention to what the Church essentially is: "It is not just a structure but the People of God." When we see it that way, we allow Jesus to come to us in ways available to us through our prayers and in our Act of Spiritual Communion. Our current condition should draw us to ourselves, our communities, our homes as the Church of God.
To end, as we started with testimonies of people who had near death experiences, allow me to end this reflection with another testimony. This time from the perspective of the doctor witnessing the incident:
Dr. A. L. Jenkins was an emergency-room doctor for 48 years in Knoxville, Tennessee. In this capacity, Dr. Jenkins saw the best and the worst side of the field of medicine. But his most vivid memories are of those moments that are medically unexplainable. Dr. Jenkins recalls one man who was dead on arrival in the emergency room. It was Dr. Jenkins’ policy to attempt resuscitation anyway. After fifteen minutes of CPR, the previously dead man began to show signs of life. The man sat up, looked around him, then said to Dr. Jenkins, “Oh, I wish I was still out there! It was beautiful!” The man would never explain what he meant, but would only repeat that the place he had been was “so beautiful, so beautiful.” (Kristi L. Nelson, “From near-death to dynamite,” The Knoxville News-Sentinel, date unknown).
Let us not wait for such moment to arrive. We begin our beautiful experience of life today. The raising of Lazarus is the final and greatest sign of Jesus, a symbolic narrative of His victory over death at the cost of His life and a sign prefiguring His resurrection. It is a story of hope. A hope for each one that one day, Christ will come to us in His glorified state to beckon us to come to Him and embrace His LIGHT. Let us heed Jesus' invitation this Sunday to go towards the LIGHT!
God bless us all!