You might remember the classic movie The Princess Bride with Billy Crystal. They bring him to him, and he’s dead, and they want Billy Crystal to work some magic on him. Billy Crystal said, “Well, there are two kinds of dead. There’s mostly dead, and there’s dead dead which one is he?” Billy Crystal goes on to describe that most that means that there’s still some life in there, so we can bring him back. Dead dead, you’re dead.
Lazarus today is dead dead. He’s not just mostly dead, and he’s dead dead. There’s a difference between resuscitation and resurrection. Resuscitation is when someone is brought back into the fullness of life, and resurrection is when someone was actually dead dead and brought back to life. Jesus worked this miracle that we hear today. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Even Martha and Mary were a little bit confused because they said to him, “Lord, we know the resurrection is going to happen on the last day, and we know that you can wake him from this sleep.” Jesus said, “I’m not waking him from his sleep; I’m raising him from the dead.” He works this miracle to show that He has power even over death.
I’ve told you many times before that one of the things that Jesus said to us as His disciples is, “You will do not only the things that I do but even greater things.” Jesus raising the dead means that we can actually do the same thing. Think about that for a moment. We can do not only what He did but even greater things.
We hear too that Jesus, when he commissioned his disciples, said to them, “Go out to all nations, cure the sick and raise the dead.” That’s one sign that accompanies the disciples – that they go out and raise the dead.
My spiritual director, Monsignor Esseff, is very mystical and, has the gift of levitation, can read souls. One time I asked him, I said, “Monsignor is there anything that you haven’t been able to do that you want to do?” He looked at me and said, “I haven’t been able to raise the dead yet. I’m working on that, but it hasn’t happened yet.” And he’s dead serious. He really believes this.
I thought about that for myself. I don’t know if I would want that to happen. I about it if I’m at a funeral or something and somebody’s there and all of a sudden, I work this miracle. I don’t know how that would go over with everybody if that happened. Some things might just be better left as they are. I have found myself, on occasion, actually praying for them.
I can think of one instance in which I had a friend that was away, kind of like Jesus was away from his friends, and they were putting her on life support. They called me to ask me to help make the decision for them, which I never wanted to do. As we’re talking, we’re having the conversation, my heart is aching, and I’m thinking in my mind, “Please don’t do it until I can get back.” That’s what I’m feeling. Then they kind of had this moment of peace in the conversation where they thought, “No, it’s time. We’re going to let her go.” That was when I was praying for Jesus to raise her from the dead. It happened a couple of times when I had prayed for that. I haven’t received that miracle yet, either, but sometimes I do pray for that.
You may not realize that this is a part of our church tradition or church history that there have been miraculous raising from the dead all the way throughout the Old Testament, and the prophets they would do that many times. Oftentimes the prophet would lay down on the child or whoever was dead and give them their spirit and bring them back to life. Here is an example of Jesus who raises Lazarus from the dead. When the disciples go out to the world and perform miracles, that’s one of the miracles that happen as they raise the dead.
There’s actually a book called ‘Saints Who Raised the Dead.’ There are over 400 individual applications of saints raising people from the dead. I thought it’d be interesting to read a couple of those accounts for you so we can hear this. It is important to know, too, that something like this, a miracle like, you might think, “Why don’t you see this all the time?” Jesus says, “Go raise the dead,” Why don’t you see that? There are a couple of reasons. One is that in the early church, when the church was growing and needed to grow with people that didn’t understand the church at all, there were signs that were given, and there were miracles that were given.
So, in the early church, these miracles happen pretty regularly with the apostles in the early church, but now that the church is all over the world, the miracles aren’t as necessary now as faith. That’s one reason why we might not see it happening all the time. The second is that it could be because of our lack of faith that we don’t believe that we can actually perform miracles. And the third is that during this time of growth throughout the world, every once in a while, there’s time that is needed again, and it happened a lot of times where there was a great downturn in the church, and then you had some great religious figures come forward like St. Ignatius, St. Augustine, and St. Dominic and they were given these gifts to raise the dead they had these miracles happen.
St. Gregory said, “These signs were necessary at the beginning of the church, and the faith of the believers must be fed by miracles.” So, early on, they needed miracles to happen. St. John Christensen said, “Afterwards they ceased when a reverence the faith was universally established, or if they continued at all there were few and seldom word as usual with God to do such things when evil is increased that He shows forth His power.” I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of evil increase, so maybe it’s time for miracles like this to happen.
Vatican Council I proclaimed,” so that the obedience of our faith might be in harmony with reason, God willed that to the interior help of the Holy Spirit, there should be joined exterior proofs of His revelation.” So interior faith and exterior proofs. “The Holy Spirit should be joined with these proofs, especially miracles and prophecies, which manifestly display the omnipotence power of God and certain proof of Divine Revelation. Wherefore, both Moses and the Prophets, and most especially Christ Our Lord Himself, showed forth many and most evident miracles and prophecies, and of the Apostles we read: ‘But they, going forth, preached everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.’ “
St. John the Evangelist had a famous disciple, St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (died in 156). St. Polycarp, in turn, had a celebrated disciple, the great St. Irenaeus (c. 130-220), who became Bishop of Lyons. Irenaeus knew the early Church very well, east and west; as a famous apologist for the Church, he wrote five influential volumes entitled Against the Heresies. In that work, Irenaeus says, “Some persons that were dead have been raised again and have continued among us many years.” He continues: “Nor can we sum up the miraculous works which the Church, by the gift of God, performs daily over the whole world in the Name of Jesus Christ.” So, in the beginning, he said that we have people that are disciples who are joined with us and have been raised from the dead.
Simon Magus, who is also known as Simon the Magician because he works so many miracles, Irenaeus states, “So far are they from raising the dead, as our Lord raised them, and as the Apostles did by prayer, and brotherhood it is oftentimes done when the whole church of the place begged with much fasting and prayed.” So, when the whole church prayed and fasted. Remember I said how important fasting is? “When the whole church prayed and fasted, the spirit of the dead man returned to the man was given back to the prayers of the Saints.
Saint Benedict was the Abbot and founded the Benedictions. He was returning from the monastery from working in the fields, was met by a farmer in great distress. The farmer said, “Give me back my son! Give me back my son!” Benedict came to a halt and said, “I have not taken your son from you, have I?” “He is dead. Come! Bring him back to life!”
Some of Benedict’s companions started forward eagerly as if intending to accompany the distracted father. But Benedict was stricken over the suggestion implied in the father’s words and cried out, “Stand back, brethren! Such a miracle is beyond our power. The holy Apostles are the only ones who can raise the dead. Why are you so eager to accept this impossibility for us?” He spoke in humility. But the man pleaded on. He even swore an oath that he would not leave Benedict until the saint restored his son’s life.”
This happens a lot with the Saints. They get people like this.
He even swore an oath that he would not leave. Benedict may have been troubled by the oath; he asked the man where the body was. The father told him he had left the body at the monastery gate and gone to search for Benedict after being informed absence. When the band arrived at the monastery gave, the saint knelt down beside the lifeless body and bent over it. Then he stood and lifted his hands to pray. “O Lord, do not consider my sins but the faith of this man who is asking to see his son alive again and restore to this body the soul Thou hast taken from it.” Benedict’s prayer was scarcely over when the body became animate and throbbed with life. All who were present attributed the miracle to heavenly intervention. Once again, a saint had restored a child alive and happy to the arms of a jubilant father.
St. Margaret is also credited with restoring a man and two children to life. A little boy fell into a river and drowned. When his body recovered, the heartbroken mother prayed to Saint Margaret, and the child returned to life. A woodsman was killed by bears. Hours later, his friends found his body horribly mangled. They carried him home. His wife and children gathered around the corpse and implored Margaret to plead with God for the restoration of their husband and father. The man returned to life.
Finally, this is one by Saint Dominic, who founded the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans. This lady, whose name was Guatenia, was a devoted follower of St. Dominic and left her son seriously ill at home to go and hear St. Dominic preaching. When she returned home, her son was dead. One can only imagine the distress of this mother, who blamed herself, and how she wept. After a period of initial grief, she was seized with a strong hope in the mercy of God and the intercessory power of Dominic, a saint, and friend of God. Guatenia set out on foot with her women servants behind her, carrying the cold and lifeless body of the boy.
As the monastery was under construction at that time, there were no enclosure rules, so Tuta walked right onto the grounds. Finding St. Dominic before the chapter house door, she knelt at his feet and laid her son before him. Tears and sobs of anguish were her only speech. Dominic turned and prayed for a few moments. Then he returned and made the Sign of the Cross over the boy. He took the lad by the hand and raised him up alive. He gave him to his mother. But Dominic did not raise the boy as he had been—ill; rather, the boy was also healed. This kind of “double miracle” often occurred when the dead were miraculously returned to life. They were saved from death and the illness, disease, or wounds that had caused it.
So, it is possible. We need miracles in our faith, and I say this because just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he wanted to display who He was and the power of God. He gave the same power and authority to his Disciples and to each and every one of you on your Baptism. You were given the authority to do not only the things that Jesus did but even greater.
To me, raising somebody from the dead is probably the most difficult thing I can think of doing. That means that you can do that; you can also heal the sick, you can restore sight to the blind, can prophesy. You can be a force of good for this world that is so needed. Miracles have slowed down because the church has grown so much, and I think right now because the church has shrunk so much, especially because of the pandemic, we need these miracles again.
So, don’t be afraid to pray for them, don’t be afraid to raise the dead, and don’t be afraid to allow God to work miracles in your life and in the life of our church.