The Logic of Waiting: Reflection for Fifth Sunday of Lent

 

 

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” (Ps 130:1). What are these depths? Certainly, we may speak of the depths of debt or the depths of defeat or even the depths of depression approaching despair. And with this last one, we may be nearing the mark. Might not these depths refer first to the recesses of our own hearts? For, as we read in another Psalm, “the inward mind and heart of a man are deep!” (Ps 64:6b) Out from these depths, our hearts cry out to the one who can save us.

But then so often we surprisingly and unwelcomingly find that he makes us wait. We just read it in the Gospel, “So when he heard that [Lazarus] was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was” (Jn 11:6). Why does the Lord make Martha and Mary wait? Why does he let Lazarus die? Let us state it clearly: there is a logic to this waiting, and the one who makes us wait is the Lord of life.

Now, what is this logic of waiting? This logic was inscribed into creation itself, into the heart of the very first man. If you’ll be patient with me, we want to make an unlikely parallel with the creation of Adam. God created Adam and placed him in the Garden and we read, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Gen 2:18). God then proceeds to create the animals and Adam did not find in them one fit for him; what a curious scene! Surely God knew this already. Then, why the wait? Why did he make Adam wait before he found Eve? John Paul II’s reflection on Original Solitude may shed some light on this logic of waiting. Let us simply say, in the pope’s words, that Original Solitude refers to man, who “finds himself from the first moment of his existence before God in search of his own being” (TOB 5:5). Let us peer behind this scene. Adam sees and names the animals and this awakens somehow a deep longing within him to know who he is. It’s the most primal cry of the heart. Who am I? Who hasn’t gazed at the stars and not been brought to this question? The question is sort of thrown at us, or somehow it wells up from within us. This is especially true when faced with trials: Adam in an ardent search of one like him, or like today, Martha and Mary, who were keeping loving and hopeful vigil by their brother’s bedside? But in the search and the wait, they suddenly feel so alone. John Paul II writes, “Man is ‘alone’: this is to say that through his own humanity, through what he is…” But listen to these next words because they are the key to hope, “he is at the same time set into a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself” (TOB 6:2). And so the cry is not hopelessly directed to dissipate sterilely into thin air, but rather, it is a fruitful cry that falls on Someone who hears: “Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication,” says the psalmist (Ps 130:2).

Hope is awakened. Why? Because “I trust in the LORD; my soul trusts in his word” (Ps 130:5). Adam heard the word of God that he shouldn’t be alone. It was a promise more than a statement. For, we know that God would soon give him Eve. But he had to trust. Martha and Mary, too, they trusted in the Word Incarnate himself. Martha would boldly say to Jesus, her friend and Lord, “I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” And Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Again, we receive a promise, but a promise that is as sure as the actual presence of the gift anticipated. After all, did we not just hear the Lord say through the prophet Ezekiel? “I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD” (Ez 37:14b, emphasis added). Imagine the stirring in Martha’s heart.

This promise is essentially the response to our deepest cry? Listen to the good news of this promise: God wants us to live! We should almost reread the entire first reading, but for now we repeat this line, “I will put my spirit in you that you may live” (Ez 37:14a). And if that is not enough, Jesus himself says so emphatically and with a tone of appeal, as if to say, please, believe: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26, emphasis added).

And this promise finally helps answer our original question of, “why the wait?” Where is the logic? Let us look once more to the psalm, “More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the LORD” (Ps 130:6). There’s a clue. Yes, in the waiting for dawn. Have you ever gone out before dawn to wait for the sunrise? If not, do it. You will notice that the sky begins to light up much before the sun ever peeks over the horizon. You are stretched in anticipation so that when the sun does at last show its warm face, you rejoice all the more. That is the logic of waiting. In Jesus’ words, ““This illness [or might we say, this waiting?] is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4). Or if it helps, St. Augustine explains, “…so God, by deferring our hope, stretched our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind; by stretching, makes it more capacious” (Commentary on the First Letter of John, 4,6).

God wants you to have life and life to the full, but there is a purification that needs to happen in order to receive the fullness of life. But he is not simply a magician-redeemer, who waves his healing wand and makes you perfect in one fell swoop. No, he is a Good Shepherd. He models and leads and disciplines, because he is good, he cares, he loves. And this shepherding takes place in the depths of the heart. We heard St. Paul speak of this interior division of the flesh and the spirit. He is not talking about the body and the soul. He is speaking in biblical terms. John Paul II says, “The man who lives ‘according to the flesh’ is the man disposed only to that which comes ‘from the world’… (TOB 51:1). He lives simply in the here and now, he operates by worldly criteria, he experiences a certain interior dissipation, a certain disordered desire for absolute self-preservation. He is in a sense at war with himself in his search for happiness. In his letter to the Galatians, he offers a list: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like” (Gal 5:19-21). Why do we do these things if not because we are trying to create our own way, give ourselves a life according to our standards. And in the end, we find trouble and death. And we return to that deep cry of the heart. Now, on the other hand, living according to the Spirit means, in a word, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39). This is the path of life that bears fruit, and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Gal 5:22-23). Who among us does not yearn to taste and savor those fruits? The Good News is that the Lord wants to give you these fruits, and in abundance, but he wants to awaken in you, from your cry, a deeper desire and a greater capacity for them.

So, let hope be stirred in your heart today, in these last two weeks of Lent. Let us hear Jesus say to us, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (Jn 11:40) “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Rom 8:11).

Come, my Redeemer, my Savior, my Friend, I want to see your glory, I want life, I want you.

 

Father Steven Costello was ordained a priest with the Legionaries of Christ on December 12, 2011. Recently, he was transferred to Ontario to be chaplain to the Regnum Christi members and aid in their apostolates in service to the Hamilton diocese. He is also a doctoral student at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and is in the process of writing his doctoral dissertation on God’s compassion and the meaning of suffering. He has participated in the TOB I: Head & Heart Immersion Course and TOB & Art: The Way of Beauty.

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