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Jesus weeps

As Newman once said to a group of seminarians: “The special peril of the time before us is the spread of that plague of infidelity…”

"Flevit super illam" (He wept over it) by Enrique Simonet, 1892. (Wikipedia)

Editor’s note: The following homily was preached on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (EF), August 7, 2022, at the Church of the Holy Innocents, New York City.

Only twice in the entire New Testament do we hear of Our Lord weeping, not in the Passion narratives as one might suspect, but in the pericope just proclaimed [Lk 19:41-44] and at the death of Lazarus [Jn 11:35].

Let’s situate today’s episode geographically. Jesus is on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Holy City, the sight of which makes Him weep. This incident caused chapels and churches to be erected on the supposed spot over the centuries, the latest being constructed between 1953 and 1954. Not only is the church called “Dominus Flevit” (The Lord wept), but it is fashioned in the shape of a teardrop – to symbolize Christ’s tears. If you have ever been in that church, you will recall that the apse is a window, allowing you to see Jerusalem just as did Our Lord two millennia ago.

Now we are poised to consider the context for today’s Gospel. Back at Luke 13:34, we hear Jesus exclaim: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Can you not hear the pathos in that verse as Jesus compares Himself to a mother hen desirous of protecting her chicks from danger? Fast forward six chapters to the present text. Obviously, the Lord’s pleading and preaching did not bring about the conversion needed in the general populace, which brings Him to tears.

Remember that the mission of the biblical prophets involved both “forth-telling” and “fore-telling.” The “forth-telling” dimension has the prophet warn the people – even cajole them – into “teshuvah,” what the New Testament calls “metanoia” – that change of mind and heart signaling conversion. Donning the prophetic mantle, Jesus utters a last-minute appeal for the people to reform their ways: “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” Notice how He links peace to personal conversion. Centuries later, Dante would declare: “In His will is our peace.” In other words, the human person and whole societies can only experience peace when their wills are made to conform to God’s holy will.

Ironically, even the name “Jerusalem” itself means, precisely, “City of Peace.” The unwillingness to undergo “teshuvah” will shatter even any semblance of peace, so that Our Lord can only go on to predict the most dire punishment imaginable – the destruction of the City – a prophecy fulfilled to the letter by the Romans in A.D. 70. And so, Jesus “wept.”

Let’s take a look at the other passage where we hear about Jesus weeping. In your mind’s eye, go to the events of John 11: Jesus is informed by messenger, “Lord, he whom you love is ill,” that is, Lazarus – one of that family famed for its hospitality to Our Lord; instead of rushing to Bethany to heal him, Jesus delays. Enigmatically, He essentially says, “Lazarus is sick, so let’s wait!” In fact, He waits two days, so that upon His arrival in Bethany, He learns that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days – in other words, he is deader than a door-nail.

The two sisters, however, unbeknownst to each other, still harbor hope that Christ can do what needs to be done. In fact, Martha utters an amazing profession of faith, a stunning echo of Peter’s profession we hear in Matthew 16: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”

The scene changes, however, once Jesus arrives at the tomb, where the “mourners” have gathered. Don’t forget, many “mourners” in those days were paid to wail! Jesus was so turned off by the would-be mourners for Jairus’ daughter that He threw them out of the house! At any rate, these mourners exhibit cynicism about the whole affair. Cynicism, of course, is just another word for a lack of faith. Jesus becomes “troubled in spirit,” the Evangelist tells us, and then He weeps.

The common interpretation is that Jesus weeps over the death of His dear friend. However, that makes no sense, for He has already decided to raise Lazarus from the dead. No, Our Lord’s weeping at the tomb of Lazarus is not from sorrow or empathy. Rather, He weeps due to the lack of faith among the “mourners” (the same reason for which He wept over Jerusalem).

Board your time-machine and travel with me to the second of October in 1873. St. John Henry Newman has been invited to preach at the opening of the first seminary in England since the Reformation. One would expect the venerable cleric to lead the assembly in choruses of joy. On the contrary, Newman delivers one of the most chilling sermons of his long homiletic career as he ignores most of the congregation to address the seminarians directly and prognosticates on what those young men will face as priests. The title of the sermon should give a clue: “The Coming Age of Infidelity.” By “infidelity” Newman means a lack of faith. Here is his “warm-up” pitch:

I think that the trials which lie before us are such as would appal and make dizzy even such courageous hearts as St. Athanasius, St. Gregory I, or St. Gregory VII. And they would confess that dark as the prospect of their own day was to them severally, ours has a darkness different in kind from any that has been before it.

He explains:

The special peril of the time before us is the spread of that plague of infidelity, that the Apostles and our Lord Himself have predicted as the worst calamity of the last times of the Church. And at least a shadow, a typical image of the last times is coming over the world. I do not mean to presume to say that this is the last time, but that it has had the evil prerogative of being like that more terrible season, when it is said that the elect themselves will be in danger of falling away. This applies to all Christians in the world, but it concerns me at this moment, speaking to you, my dear Brethren, who are being educated for our own priesthood, to see how it is likely to be fulfilled in this country.

And the novelty of this age to come?

. . . the elementary proposition of this new philosophy which is now so threatening is this—that in all things we must go by reason, in nothing by faith, that things are known and are to be received so far as they can be proved.

Anticipating objections to his thesis, Newman continues:

. . . you will say that their theories have been in the world and are no new thing. No. Individuals have put them forth, but they have not been current and popular ideas. Christianity has never yet had experience of a world simply irreligious.

. . . consider what the Roman and Greek world was when Christianity appeared. It was full of superstition, not of infidelity. There was much unbelief in all as regards their mythology, and in every educated man, as to eternal punishment. But there was no casting off the idea of religion, and of unseen powers who governed the world. When they spoke of Fate, even here they considered that there was a great moral governance of the world carried on by fated laws. Their first principles were the same as ours. Even among the sceptics of Athens, St. Paul could appeal to the Unknown God.

And then with a rhetorical flourish that must have made dizzy the heads of those future priests, he declares: “My Brethren, you are coming into a world, if present appearances do not deceive, such as priests never came into before. . . .”

I suspect priests present must have made a mental note: “Don’t invite Newman to preach at your silver or golden jubilee!”

But I ask you: What would Newman say today? Far more importantly: What would be the reaction of our Blessed Lord?

First, within what should be the sacred precincts of Holy Church:

– Settled doctrine is held up for “review” or even ridicule at the highest levels of the Church. Jesus weeps.
– Fake Catholic politicians, at odds with the most basic teachings of Christ and His Church, receive Holy Communion, eating and drinking unto their own condemnation, while clerics sit on their hands. Jesus weeps.
– Two-thirds of Catholics either deny or are ignorant of the fundamental and paramount doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus weeps.
– The “hermeneutic of continuity” practiced by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI is systematically dismantled in favor of a “hermeneutic of rupture.” Jesus weeps.
– Faithful celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy are victims of an ecclesial “cancel culture,” while blasphemous renderings go unchallenged. Jesus weeps.
– Vocations to the Sacred Priesthood have been reduced to a trickle in most dioceses and female vocations are nearly non-existent. Jesus weeps.
– Catholics contracept at the same rate as pagans. Jesus weeps.

Venturing into the world-at-large, we find:

– Militant atheism seeks to destroy the last remnants of a Christian culture. Jesus weeps.
– The culture of death rages over attempts to safeguard unborn and vulnerable human life. Jesus weeps.
– The dictatorship of relativism turns all reality on its heels with its aggressive and maniacal promotion of notions and programs that make a mockery of sexuality, marriage and family, basic concepts of right and wrong, through an individualism and subjectivity gone wild. Jesus weeps.
– Children are the pawns of a godless school system, grooming them to be victims of gender theory, sexploitation, and critical race theory. Jesus weeps.

Were I to go on (and I could), I fear all too many of you might succumb to despair. If Cardinal Newman castigated “the infidelity of the future,” he also saw the antidote being fidelity. And so, he proclaims:

Any child, well instructed in the catechism, is, without intending it, a real missioner. And why? Because the world is full of doubtings and uncertainty, and of inconsistent doctrine—a clear consistent idea of revealed truth, on the contrary, cannot be found outside of the Catholic Church. Consistency, completeness, is a persuasive argument for a system being true. Certainly if it be inconsistent, it is not truth.

Make no mistake, my friends, refusal live in truth has consequences: Jerusalem fell; Rome fell; and indeed, the secularized West – including the United States – can fall because God will not be mocked, as St. Paul reminded the Galatians (6:7). So, resolve to live the truth in that corner of the Lord’s vineyard where He has planted you, ensuring that you never cause Him to weep. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that good is diffusive of itself, so that the good that you do has ripple effects. Every major movement – for good or ill – has started out small, with an idea, and often no more than one or two adherents.

So, do not be intimidated into silence and inaction. And, oh yes, meditate daily on Newman’s exhilarating insight: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission.” No cause for divine weeping, then. On the contrary, such a commitment will gladden the Heart of our Savior.


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 250 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas founded The Catholic Answer in 1987 and The Catholic Response in 2004, as well as the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization, which serves as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.

5 Comments

  1. Thesis. “It is said that the elect themselves will be in danger of falling away” (Cardinal Newman). “What would Newman say today?” (Fr Stravinskas).
    Antithesis. “St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that good is diffusive of itself” (Stravinskas).
    Synthesis. Evil too has a diffusive effect. Although the final victory over Satan and evil belongs to Christ, not the Church.
    Catechism 677. “The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world”.
    His bride descending from heaven alludes to the presence of the angelic hosts in the final battle, and the “Bride, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven” (Rv 21:2-4). Were this day destined to be the beginning of the end, our remaining mission is to prepare for spiritual battle to the death with the weapons of divine warfare, and consider it a blessing that we, as unlikely as it may seem personally, were selected for this end. We pray our tears will be that of joy.

  2. A correction is called for to what is commonly held but wrong contrast on the interpretation and application of Vatican II. Fr. Stravinskas here, like many, mistakenly put side by side the “hermeneutic of continuity” against the “hermeneutic of rupture.” This widely held but mistaken view misses the important elements of conciliar innovation and reform while still preserving Church tradition. The correct distinction is actually between the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” and the “hermeneutic of reform,” first introduced by Pope Benedict XVI is his 2005 Christmas Address to the Roman Curia.
    https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia.html

      • It’s in the papal speech itself. This correct distinction outlined by Pope Benedict XVI rightly makes room for change while still being in continuity with tradition. A prime example would be the Vatican II Mass. Viewed in the “hermeneutic of reform” which contains both continuity and change, we can better understand the Vatican II Mass not as a case of rupture and discontinuity as many advocates of the old pre-Vatican II Mass would want Catholics to erroneously believe. Holding the wrong distinction to only between the “hermeneutic of continuity” and “hermeneutic of rupture” leaves no room for changes and innovations constituent of the “reform” which the Council explicitly aimed at even while keeping and preserving continuity and tradition at the same time. Pope Benedict XVI has corrected and clarified this in his address.

    • Thanks Deacon Dom for this link. I found it to be very informative. I liked this quote from John XXIII: “Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us…”. It is necessary that “adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness…” be presented in “faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another…”, retaining the same meaning and message.”

      Benedict XVI stated very clearly that while preserving the ancient doctrines, there is the need to present it in ways appropriate for our times. The world is changing and so to the circumstances we face. I believe this was/is the reason for our Lord giving us the Paraclete and establishing the position of Pope. This is what ensures that our Lord’s teachings are always relevant.
      We also need to be aware of the fact that Satan will continue his deceiving tactics, sometimes exploiting the human weaknesses of some who claim to be followers.

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