“As Jesus 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!” (Luke 7:12-14)
June is traditionally the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This past Friday, I concelebrated at a beautiful Mass for the Sacred Heart at the seminary. When Mass was over, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and adored all through the night until 6am the next morning. I spent some time in prayer that night, and for some reason I kept thinking about today’s gospel and the widow of Nain. Another image that came out of nowhere was the image of St. Peter in Chains. You may be wondering what St. Peter in Chains has to do with this gospel or with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let me explain. Three years ago, I celebrated Mass with the Archbishop in St. Peter in Chains Church in Rome which is right across the street from the Coliseum. The church is the jail that housed St. Peter in Rome and below the altar are the chains that bound St. Peter in Jerusalem and were broken by an angel. The reason I was thinking of this image on Friday night was because I was praying for all those that I know that are chained to the vices of this world. To connect this to today’s gospel, we look to St. Ambrose who gave this beautiful explanation of the Scripture: “the widow signifies Mother Church, weeping for those who are dead in sin and carried beyond the safety of her gates. The multitudes looking on will praise the Lord when sinners rise again from death and are restored to their mother.”
So as I knelt there in prayer, I was thinking of all those young souls who are “dead in sin” and are somehow chained to this world and cannot escape. I was thinking of all those mothers who have come to me crying because their children have stopped going to church. I was thinking of all of my former students or youth group kids who, though they keep in touch, have wandered far from home and from the arms of a God who loves them to no end. I must confess that I spent the better part of last week thinking about “my kids” because I saw a good number of them 10 days ago at a college graduation party. Many of them I had not seen in 8 years since they were in middle school and now they stood in front of me as college graduates. On three separate occasions that night, three different young people came up to me saying that they either missed going to Mass or missed youth group or lamented that they weren’t as close to God as they were when they were younger. I asked what was stopping them from returning, from starting a young adult group at their parish, or even reconnecting with God on a personal level through prayer. It was if each one of them were like the rich young man in the gospel as he bowed his head and turned away in defeat because he couldn’t sell all his riches. Each of these kids gave an excuse that college got in the way or that they partied too much almost as if returning to church would just get in the way of the lives they currently lead. Now those of you that know me well know that I love each and every one of my kids as if they were my own children and would with no hesitation give my life for them, but as much as I love them and as much as I loved being with them that night…I wanted to slap each and every one of them across the head. Since when does Jesus get in the way of our happiness? Since when does Jesus prevent us from leading joy-filled lives? A part of me wished that the hands of time would turn back to when I had a captive audience in the classroom or in youth group, but another part of me knew that these young people who are living the best years of their lives had to rediscover Jesus Christ in a whole new and exciting way. This hope is what fueled my prayer throughout last week and on Friday night.
But I prayed for our young generation in general that is deceived into thinking that life is a grand party where you do what you like, what pleases you, what makes you feel good (if only for a second), and you simply move on to the next party after that. This is a generation that has been deceived into thinking that you go into and out of relationships on a whim, that you enter into and out of marriage at your convenience, and that you just do what makes you feel good no matter what the consequences. It is a generation that lives, as the Archbishop likes to say, “as if God doesn’t matter.” But God does matter because he constantly goes out of his way to lift us up and to break the chains that bind us to the sins of this world. But do we really want to cast off our chains? Do we want to break free of the vices of the world and enter into the freedom of God’s children? I see so many young people who are held back, who want to do what is good, but are held back by the lures of the world. It’s as if they dip their toes into the waters of God’s grace and find that it’s too cold or too warm. There’s something that is always holding them back from being immersed in God’s mercy. They shouldn’t just dip their toes. They should abandon themselves to the grace of God and cannonball themselves into the deep end of the pool.
There is nothing in this world that will bring us life and joy if it is not connected to God. Today Jesus touches you as he touched the son of the widow and tells you: “arise!” Christ wants to break the chains that have you shackled to this world and give you true life and freedom. This morning Pope Francis told us: “The mercy of God gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. The Lord is always watching us with mercy, [always] awaits us with mercy. Let us be not afraid to approach him! He has a merciful heart! If we show our inner wounds, our sins, He always forgives us. He is pure mercy! Let us never forget this: He is pure mercy! Let us go to Jesus!”