Life & Soul Life and Soul

Wherever we weep, the Master is here

The year turns and we celebrate Easter again. Yet it is not a different mystery or a new celebration simply on account of a year having passed. It’s a chance to enter the same mystery and discover more deeply and interiorly my place in it. And as I visited the seminary for the last time before Easter, I was struck once more by the scriptural phrase carved over the chapel door and highlighted in gold: Magister ad est et vocat te (“The Master is here and is calling you”).

It seems such an apt phrase to be written over the door of a seminary but its original context is not a vocational call. They are the words that Martha addresses to her sister Mary as Jesus arrives following the death of Lazarus (John 11:28). Martha has challenged Jesus by asking him, in effect, to do something about her brother’s death. To her profession of faith in the resurrection on the Last Day, Jesus replies: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

For a priest the task begins in the same way as for every Christian within the ambit of that call. But the juxtaposition of these words with the knowledge of the Resurrection made me reflect on that “Ad est”. What does it mean to say that the Master is here? Obviously he is outside the home of Martha and Mary, but his being “here” in those circumstances clearly connotes something deeper. In his sacred humanity he is here where the sisters are, in the same kind of human life they know, in which one must weep for its fragility and loss and in which even love can seem a mixed blessing when it leaves us so heartsore.

The Master is here, wherever we weep. He has chosen to be here in the midst of a world fallen into sin and death. At that moment with Martha and Mary he is on one side of the portal we call death. And yet he knows that the love of the Father can force open that door, that there is something beyond what nature can presently see. The same obedience which allows him to know that the Father hears his prayer for the raising of Lazarus allows him to enter that same portal, to embrace death as the way to the Father through the very door that seems to bring humanity up short and annihilate it. He is going to the Father knowing that his prayer is always heard, as witness to the Father’s love and life being greater than anything “here”, in a world material and visible, can conceive. And no one comes to the Father except through him, by likewise entering into his Passion.

This trusting love is what makes him the First Witness, the firstborn from the dead. He doesn’t just speak of resurrection. We can say in some sense that he incarnates it by surrendering all to the Father’s heart. He is not merely the way, he is also the destination: human nature fully subsumed in the Father’s eternal love. Resurrection is the name of redeemed humanity in Jesus, not just something that happens to me, but the name I must give to my real life and the category by which I must understand it.

Benedict XVI puts it so beautifully in his recently released letter: “The Lord has instituted a narrative of love with us. The counterforce against evil consists in our entering into this love. He who entrusts himself to the love of God is redeemed.”

The Resurrection isn’t so much a door dividing two modes of being. It is the possibility that in the midst of every difficulty the Lord is forever “here” and calling us to share His “here” in the Father’s eternal embrace, to seek life hidden with Him in God.