A man dreamt that he died. That for him was a very terrible dream – seeing himself laid in state and people coming to view his dead body and the casket closed over him and then lowered to the earth – and then he suddenly wakes from his dream. He makes the decision to go at once to see his priest and request prayers that such “evil” might not come upon him. The priest assured him that it was, after all, a good dream. Though he touted himself to be Catholic, the last time he had confession was 28 years before, when the priest who blessed his marriage pulled him aside—minutes before the wedding—and heard his unprepared confession. The last time he stepped into a Church was at the baptism of his child, three years before the dream. The rest of the story is that this was a walking spiritual corpse who had been lying and rotting in a grave, not for four days, like holy Lazarus, but for decades. The dream was a knock by Christ on his grave to wake him from death, untie him, so he could live again.
“Do you hear this knock on your own grave?” I listened to a priest’s podcast on this outbreak of coronavirus that has the whole world on lockdown, and he said that humanity has for centuries and decades been wearing the trappings of death; and the virus is a knock on our graves, to wake up and be freed. Yes, sin does hold its captives in chain. Lack of prayer and spirituality, forgetfulness of God, impure acts and desires, love of money and security, consumerism, and neglect of the poor are all outfits of death and form a huge stone at the door of a sin-laden soul. Would you permit today that the stone be rolled away? Martha complained that Lazarus’ body would have started smelling after four days. Your soul could be as stinking as Lazarus’ dead body. No perfume can cure the smell of a sin-smeared soul. Only the Lord can roll away the stone and smear you with the perfume of freedom, wholeness and holiness. Hugh of St. Victor said: “Damp wood kindles slowly...so are our carnal hearts. Touch them with the spark of the fear of God, or Divine Love, and the great clouds of evil passions and rebellious desires roll upwards. Then the soul grows stronger, the flame of love burns more hotly and brightly, the smoke of passion dies down, and the purified spirit rises to the contemplation of Truth.” Men are not free until they are set free by Christ. Death, grave, sin, slavery, oppression and even law equally hold men and women in chains. By swapping these chains with that of Christ we become truly free, for “only the Christ-fettered are free” (Sheen).
Lazarus’ resurrection is not the resurrection that we await—he had to die again to attain that resurrection. His resurrection is one that is repeated each time we emerge from the confessional, spiritually cleansed. There, the grave is busted and new life is gained. That is why the Church refers to baptism and penance as sacraments of the dead; they are sacraments given to those who are spiritually dead because of sin. Lent is a sure invitation to repentance that leads from death to life. I do not think it a mere coincidence that the coronavirus came during the Lenten season. Where sinful decay has set in, Lent and (even the deadly virus and fear of it) will bring about repentance, rebirth and a flowering of Easter joy.