March 30, 2020 Father De Celles Homily

5th Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Where is Jesus when you really need Him?

Sometimes when times are tough, it’s easy to say something like this,

if even to ourselves.

For many people this is one of those times.

Where is God when all these people are sick and dying all over the world.

And of course, where is God when even the pope and your own pastor

now say only private Masses that you can only see by video.

And so many ask, where is Jesus when you really need Him?

And this isn’t the first time people have asked that question.

In today’s Gospel, Lazarus’s sisters sent word to Jesus, but He hadn’t come.

Imagine what some of their friends thought

when Jesus finally got their at least 4 days later,

and they found out that He hadn’t even started to come

until 2 days after He’d heard.

They actually say:

          “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man

have done something so that this man would not have died?”

Which sounds a lot like, “Where is Jesus when you really need Him?”


But Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, don’t do this at all.

It says, “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him.”

Later the text clarifies: “Jesus had not yet come into the village.”

So as soon as she heard he was even nearby, she “went to meet him”

even before he arrived.

And she says to Him,

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I suppose you could read that as a kind of scolding,

          until you hear her next line:

“But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,

God will give you.”

These are not words of scolding but of faith!

She doesn’t understand why He didn’t come earlier, but it doesn’t matter.

He’s here “even now,” and all will be well.

And when Jesus asks her if she believes in His power over life and death,

          Martha doesn’t just hesitate, and says emphatically:

“Yes Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”


And then Mary does the same thing.

When Martha tells her, “The teacher is here and is asking for you,”

again, there was no, “where’s He been” or “let Him come to me.”

No, Scripture says,

“As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to Him.”

And when she sees Him

she says the very same words of praise and faith as Martha:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

But it’s interesting, she doesn’t say, as Martha had,

“But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Is this at least an implied, if mild, reproach of a weeping mourner?

I don’t think so.

First of all, many scholars argue

that her faith is implied to be the same as Martha’s,

since she says the first part of what Martha said in exactly the same way.

But more than that, when we see this all in the context of who this “Mary” is,

we understand exactly what’s happening.

As I’ve explained many times, it is clear in Scripture,

and in the long tradition of the Church,

that this Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus,

is “the sinful woman” who once came weeping

to the house of Simon the Pharisee

and fell at the feet of Jesus and washed them with her tears

—tears of deep repentance and profound faith,

and, as Jesus said, of “much love.”

The woman also known as Mary Magdalene.

Now in Bethany, Scripture tells us she replicates that act of deep faith and love

          as once again “she fell at His feet …weeping.”

Is this weeping a sign that she thinks all is lost,

and that it’s too late for Jesus to save Lazarus?

Not with this Mary.

Perhaps she’s weeping for the pain her brother Lazarus had to endure,

the pain of his illness and of death.

Maybe even wondering if somehow this is her fault

—punishment for the sins of her past life.

remember, Jesus and also said of her, “her sins are many.”

Or maybe she’s just too humble,

and thinks she received so much from Jesus already,

that she’s not worthy to ask Him to bring back her brother, dead for 4 days.

Maybe her tears,

once her voiceless plea for the mercy of forgiveness of her sins,

          are now a voiceless plea for the mercy of restoration of her brother’s life.


Unlike Martha and Mary,

the vast majority of us have not lost a brother to the coronavirus.

Still, the coronavirus has brought us all a lot of pain, especially the pain of loss:

loss of freedom to work or go to school or go where we want;

loss of employment, loss of companionship;

loss of peace of mind.

And of course, the loss of the ability to go to Mass, especially on Sunday.

And some Virginians and Americans have lost love ones,

          as have lots of folks in Italy, Spain, and other countries.

But have we been reacting to Jesus these last few weeks

as Martha and Mary reacted to Him 2000 years ago?

With faith, hope and love?

With praise and humility?

Waiting see what wonders He will produce from this terrible suffering?

And praying for His mercy, however unworthy we may be for it?


Perhaps the worst part of the coronavirus, at least for most of us,

is the “not knowing”:

not knowing who has it, how deadly it really is, how long it will last,

or if we or someone we love will suffer from it, or even die.

Not to mention not knowing, “Where Jesus is when you really need Him?”

But we can know something.

Think about it.

When Jesus decides not to go immediately to cure His dying friend Lazarus,

          He tells His disciples:

“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God,

                             that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Then two days later He tells them:

“Lazarus has died.

And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.”

And then when He finally arrives at Bethany the two holy sisters

profess their belief in Him as the Son of God.

And when Lazarus is raised, scripture says,

“Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary

and seen what He had done began to believe in Him.”

There were many reason Jesus let Lazarus suffer and die

First and foremost, if Lazarus hadn’t died,

Jesus couldn’t have raised Him from the dead.

And so not only His disciples but also all those Jewish friends of Mary

wouldn’t have believed.

And none of us would have had this powerful story of faith and power

to teach and to console us 2000 years later.

And there’s another reason Jesus stayed away.

The scripture today goes on to say,

“When Jesus saw Mary weeping…

he became perturbed and deeply troubled, …And Jesus wept.”

Mary’s simple and humble but powerful and hope-filled prayer of tears,

          moved Jesus Himself to tears, and then,

moved Him to the tomb to immediately raise Lazarus.

Without Lazarus’ death, we would have lost this stirring lesson

in how Jesus responds so generously to our heartfelt prayers.

And in these tears we also see Jesus’ own pain

knowing that the great good He was to do

had to come about through the suffering of people He loved.

Without Lazarus’ death, we would not see this tender compassion of the Lord,

His special love for those who have to carry crosses

in His plan for the salvation of the world.


Where is Jesus when you really need Him?

These last 2 weeks it may have seemed

that Christ has been absent in a particularly unique way:

the absence His Presence in the Holy Mass and Eucharist.

As you see Him now in on video, but not in person, He might seem far away.

Before Jesus had died and risen,

Jesus was truly not present to the Lazarus, Martha and Mary

before he traveled to Bethany.

But today, that is not the case with us.

As St. Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading:

          “the Spirit of God dwells in you…. Christ is in you.”

By the indwelling of His Holy Spirit that comes to us in baptism,

          Jesus Christ comes to dwell in our souls.

So that for those who remain in sanctifying grace

Jesus is always truly with us.

Now, it is true that Jesus came to us in a human Body

and He left us the Eucharist, his Bodily presence,

for many important reasons.

But even when the Eucharist is not present to our bodies,

Jesus is always in our souls

to comfort us, to strengthen us, to love us.


Even so, many have been deprived of receiving the Eucharist

and participating in Mass,

and even adoring the Lord’s Sacred Body in Exposition.

And this is painful–and rightly so.

But, think of this.

The last two weeks of Lent are called Passiontide,

which is sort an intensification of Lent,

a more diligent focusing on Jesus suffering and death.

And the custom during Passiontide is to cover or veil

all the sacred images in our churches, to hide them.

To me it seems that that is exactly what Jesus has done

by allowing the Mass to be made less accessible.

It’s as if He’s allowed the Mass to be veiled for a few weeks,

          for much the same reason we cover the sacred images in Passiontide:

so that we can place ourselves back in a time when Christ was not with us

—back with Moses and the Prophets who longed for His coming,

–back with Martha and Mary who anxiously awaited Him

to come and cure Lazarus,

–back with the apostles who mourned Him has He was hidden in the tomb.

And it makes us desire Him all the more in Mass and Holy Communion.

So that when at last the veil of the virus is lifted

and we are again able to come to Mass and to receive His Precious Body,

we will rush to meet Him, like Martha and Mary,

with new appreciation of the wonderful gift it is to be in His Real Presence.


In the course of all the suffering and difficulties this virus brings

as Jesus seems to be waiting too long to make His presence known

don’t ask, “Where is Jesus when you really need Him?”

Rather, say with Martha: “you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

          and remember the words of St. Paul: “Christ is in you.”

And as you wait for the veil of this pestilence to be lifted

so that we can more clearly see his presence truly with us,

and the fruits of our suffering with Him,

join Mary of Bethany, falling on your knees in humble heartfelt prayer.

And like Mary, filled with faith, hope and love,

ask your loving Jesus to raise your falling spirit,

          so that even in the darkest moments you can believe His words,

          echoing through the ages to us today:

“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.”