Coming Back from our Graves – Ro Atilano, SJ

John 11:1-45, 5th Sunday of Lent

Silhouette of Jesus giving helping hand

The world is becoming lonelier than ever. And we feel this more in the urban areas where people are more preoccupied with work and nerve-wracking “busy-ness.”

Technology, social media in particular, has connected us to more people but, paradoxically, disconnected us from people near us, the ones who really matter to us. When you go to a restaurant to eat, you will surely a family supposedly spending time over a weekend meal, yet each member is busy, glued to his or her device. We are on our devices all the freaking time: during meals, at prayer, even affecting our sleeping time. There is less and less personal, human-to-human, face-to-face interaction.

Moreover, recent studies have shown that there is an increasing number of depression and suicide cases. According to the studies done by the National Youth Commission, 26 percent of the young people these days think “life is not worth living,” and 14 percent of them consider committing suicide.  And here’s more: there is a growing number of young people, students and professionals, who admit that they have abandoned the faith.  Some of them as young as those in the high school. What has happened?

There are several reasons: experience of deep trauma in one’s life and the seeming absence of God during those difficult moments, loss of trust in the institutional church arising from the recent scandals, or simply just the product of the western secularism that is creeping into our country.

Whether there is a connection between loneliness and loss of one’s faith or not, we have to admit there is now a general sense of existential disconnection with ourselves, with each other, and with God compared with decades ago. There is a certain loss of zest for life, a lack of moral compass, and an absence of purpose. We have to admit that we have lost sight of what is truly important in life, of what truly matters, and of what we truly cannot live without.

Yet amidst all these, we know that deep within our unspeakable loneliness, there is also a growing desire to find more meaning in life, an ardent search for lasting happiness, and yes, a desperate cry to find God again.

What can we do then?

We need to admit our loneliness and then enter into it with courage.

It is very easy to mask our loneliness by binging on TV series and engaging in fast-paced sports and mindless virtual games, spending hours and hours scrolling through our social media screens, indulging pleasurable habits that may eventually turn into addictions, or simply avoiding our personal feelings and our need for self-care.

But face it, we must. There is no other way. But it takes a lot of courage in order to face our loneliness, our fears, and our anxiety.

Where can we get this courage?

First, courage comes from the realization that we are never alone. There are actually people to whom we can turn in our lives. Loneliness and aloneness are two different things. More importantly, in the Scriptures, God has promised that He will be with us, no matter what. The phrase, “Be not afraid,” appears 365 times in the Bible; that gives us one verse for every day of the year. Yes, it is human to be afraid. But every time we hear God telling us otherwise, His words become an assurance that we are never alone. Then we gain courage and strength for we realize that courage is not the absence of fear. Some of us may experience sinking into our abyss and reaching rock bottom and only to find out the God is also there, at rock bottom, waiting for us till we are ready to go back up.  As He has promised, God never abandons us.

Second, this courage comes from hope – that at the end of every dark tunnel, there is a light waiting for us. We need to focus and not lose sight of this light so we don’t get lost and totally get discouraged. We need to remember that the end of the Holy Week is Easter Sunday, not Good Friday nor Black Saturday. So whatever crisis or difficulties we may experience right now, we are assured that this too shall pass. At the end, all shall be well.

At the same time, as we face our loneliness and fears with courage, we are also purged and stripped off of what is not essential. We find ourselves back to what is most important to us. We rediscover our true purpose. We are in touch once more with our deep yearning for God.

The world right now is in crisis as the corona virus spreads all around. Yes, there is fear. There is loneliness. Yet, in our loneliness and fear, we are forced to go back to what truly matters and to what we truly cannot live without: our home, faith in God, and relationships. We realize that that we don’t really need more than those. Once again, we find ourselves having face-to-face unhurried conversations with our loved ones, praying together as family, and living only with the essentials in life.

During these difficult times, we are all like Lazarus in our Gospel today being awakened by Jesus in order to bring back our zest for life, our moral compass, and our sense of purpose. God is calling us from our tombs and beckoning us to come back from our graves, back to life, in order to re-awaken our natural sense of delight, our it-feels-good-to-be-alive selves, and natural desire to connect with our selves, with others, and with God.

And after all these, just like Lazarus who was raised from the dead, we open our eyes to realize that the first thing we see is the smiling face of Jesus.

Then we hear ourselves exclaiming: Oh God, it is so good to be alive.

*image from the Internet


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