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Raised to Life
Fr Dennis Smith, July 1st,  2012 

  “Why are the heroes of your novels always so full of anguish?” a journalist once asked Francoise Sagan. “Because”, the novelist replied, “they live with the thought of death.” And Andre Malraux once remarked that “Man is the only animal who knows that he is mortal.” Truly, one is not a man unless he is conscious of the great mystery of death, and even if he does not succeed ever in resolving that mystery, unless he comes to terms with it.

The mystery of death envelops not only the phenomenon of death itself, but also what lies beyond death. Even if we admit the existence of a hereafter of some kind, there remains the scandal of our complete ignorance regarding the future life, and the scandal of our total separation from those who gave died. The fact seems to be that we are confined within some kind of terrestrial prison, and that this imprisonment frustrates our noblest aspirations. At a given moment, we run into a stone wall, and everything we hold dear, our most vital relations, are reduced to nothingness in an instant.

We say that love is stronger than death. And yet death inexorably separates those who love one another and refuses to allow us the consolation of the slightest sign of life or love from beyond the grave. We can continue to love one who has died, of course; but we can’t communicate with him or her in any way. And what is love without communication, without the hope ever of seeing the one we love.

How easily we understand the motivations of Orpheus, who risked his own life to rescue Eurydice from the realm of death. But we must remember that as soon as Orpheus tried to communicate with Eurydice after finding her, she was lost to him again.

How easy it is for us to sympathise with those who believe in metempsychosis – the transmigration of souls. Such people at least live their lives and preserve their dead in a familiar universe. But if the survival of  a soul is unconscious, what good does it do? And since we are ourselves only by virtue of our consciousness of ourselves, how can we say that it’s really we who survive after death in metempsychosis?

How easy it is to understand the thinking of those who attempt to enter into communication with the dead through spiritualism – except that the ‘messages’ received from beyond are usually so vague and disappointing that silence would seem preferable to communication of this sort.

When we come face to face with the insurmountable barrier of death which surrounds us, we can understand the state of mind of those who are tempted to rebel. But it’s useless to rebel against something we don’t understand. To rebel against something is to reject something; but if we don’t understand what we want to rebel against then, instead of rebelling, we should continue our search for understanding/

The absurd and the mysterious are not the same thing. The absurd is that which has no meaning and cannot have a meaning; but a mystery is something that has more meaning than we have understanding.

The problem, if one tries to express it simply, is this: why is it that we know nothing about the other life? Why is it that we have no communication with those who have died? And wouldn’t it be easier to believe that death means extinction, annihilation, rather than to believe that those who have died are now indifferent to us and ignore us? These are questions that Christ never answers.

Instead of answering, Christ acts. Jesus never explains. He lives, and he gives life. He hints that he knows the secret of a life that is stronger than death; that something of man survives death just as consciousness somehow survives during sleep. For death, like sleep, resembles annihilation, but for both of these there’s an awakening which gives the lie to that similarity.

The essential factor that Jesus introduces is his absolute faith in the omnipotence of love. Jesus is a free man, the only truly free man, the only man who has loved and believed with sufficient daring both to free himself from fear, from money, from habit, from the law, and from death, and to free others from the same things.

To encounter Christ is to be subjected to a violent appeal to free oneself. ‘Do not be afraid’, was Jesus’ first recommendation to Jairus in today’s Gospel. ‘Have faith!’ He taught that if a man had a little faith, he would be delivered from slavery in all its forms. And when Jesus’ listeners believed him, when his contagious freedom infected them to the point that they experienced a sense of freedom for the first time, they then discovered that nothing was impossible to Him. The sick were freed from their infirmities, the greedy were liberated from their love for money, the lustful were freed from the needs of their flesh, the sinners regained their innocence, and even the dead were restored to life.

Jesus restored man to the state in which he had originally been created. For the first time it was possible to understand why man had been created and to perceive the splendour of God’s plan. It was revealed that man could be free, that he could become like God. It was now possible to love man by seeing him as God saw him; and it was possible to love God by seeing his image in man. Man was filled with a great joy. He could begin to live!

The world he had known before Jesus’ coming was as nothing compared to that which Jesus revealed. And the man who dared to believe and to love as Jesus did, like Jesus could transform the world. The raising to life of the daughter of Jairus, as described in today’s Gospel, was the life-size representation of what every man and woman felt happening within themselves when they cam into contact with the Great Liberator. It was a precise explanation of that startling proposition which caused some to flee in panic and others to be catalyzed. When Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, it was our resurrection that he was enacting. Jesus was offering to raise us up immediately while we are still alive. ‘The child is not dead, but asleep,’ he said. And the resurrection he proposed to work in us was no less startling, and no less life-giving, than that which he performed for the daughter of Jairus.

Jesus didn’t make mere promises. He didn’t talk about a future life. He dealt with immediate reality in such a striking way that one could see, with astonishment, how few people actually wished to live that life, how few actually wished to be so raised up from the dead. ‘They laughed at him,’ the Gospel text tells us. ‘So he turned them all out… and taking the child by the hand he said to her Talitha, kum, which means Little girl, I tell you to get up.’  The little girl got up at once and began to walk about…’

It was only when the apostles began to believe in their own resurrection that they began also to believe in the resurrection of Christ. It was necessary for them, as it is for us, his followers and disciples today, two thousand years on, to die to their ambitions and prejudices and pessimism before they could be raised up in the faith, joy and fearlessness of Jesus. They knew, as indeed we do, that Jesus was alive in themselves only when they felt themselves filled with the freedom of Jesus.

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