Meditations for Each Day of Lent – Thursday After the Fourth Sunday

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Meditations for Each Day of Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas

Thursday After the Fourth Sunday

The Death of Lazarus

Lazarus our friend sleepeth–(John xi. 11)

Our friend for the many benefits and services he rendered us, and therefore we owe it not to fail in his necessity. Sleepeth, therefore we must come to his assistance: a brother is proved in distress (Prov. xvii. 17).

He sleepeth, I say, as St. Augustine says, to the Lord. But to men he was dead, nor had they power to raise him.

Sleep is a word we use with various meanings. We use it to mean natural sleep, negligence, blameworthy inattention, the peace of contemplation, the peace of future glory, and we use it also to mean death. We will not have you ignorant, concerning the last sleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others that have no hope, says St. Paul (i Thess. iv. 12).

Death is called sleep because of the hope of resurrection, and so it has been customary to give death this name since the time when Christ died and was raised again, I have slept and have taken my rest (Ps. iii. 6).

I go that I may awake him out of sleep–(John xi. n).

In these words Jesus gives us to understand that He could raise Lazarus from the tomb as easily as we raise a sleeper from his bed. Nor is this to be wondered at, for He is none other than the Lord who raiseth up the dead and giveth life (John v. 21). And hence He is able to say, The hour ccmeth when all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God (ibid. v. 28).

Let us go to him (John xi. 15).

Here it is the mercifulness of God that we are shown. Men, living in sin and as it were dead, unable to any power of their own to come to Him, He mercifully draws, anticipating their desire and need. Jeremias speaks of this when he says, Thus saith the Lord I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee (Jer. xxxi. 3).

Jesus therefore came and found that he had been four days already in the grave (John xi. 17).

St. Augustine sees in the four-days dead Lazarus a figure of the fourfold spiritual death of the sinner. He dies in fact through original sin, through actual sin, against the natural law, through actual sin against the written law, through actual sin against the law of the gospel and of grace.

Another interpretation is that the first day represents the sin of the heart, Take away the evil of your thoughts, says Isaias (i. 16) ; the second day represents sins of the tongue; Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth, says St. Paul (Eph. iv. 29); the third day represents the sins of evil action, Cease to do perversely (Isaias i. 16); the fourth day stands for the sins of wicked habit.

Whatever explanation we give, Our Lord at times does heal those who are four days dead, that is, those who have broken the law of the gospel and are bound fast by habits of sin. 

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

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Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

Bishop, Confessor, Doctor

Saint Cyril was born at or near the city of Jerusalem, about the year 315. He was ordained a priest by Saint Maximus, who gave him the important charge of instructing and preparing the candidates for Baptism. This office he held for several years, and today we still have one series of his instructions, given in the year 347 or 348. They are of singular interest as being the earliest record of the systematic teaching of the Church on the Creed and Sacraments, and as having been given in the church built by Constantine on Mount Calvary. They are solid, simple, profound, precise, and saturated with Holy Scripture, and, as a witness and exposition of the Catholic faith, invaluable.

On the death of Saint Maximus, Cyril was chosen Bishop of Jerusalem. At the beginning of his episcopate a cross was seen in the sky, reaching from Mount Calvary to Mount Olivet, and so bright that it shone at noonday. Saint Cyril gave an account of it to the emperor, and the faithful regarded it as a presage of victory over the Arian heretics.

While Saint Cyril was Bishop of Jerusalem, the apostate emperor Julian resolved to defy the words of Our Lord (Luke 21:6) by rebuilding the ancient temple of Jerusalem. He employed the power and resources of a Roman emperor; the Jews thronged enthusiastically to him and gave munificently. But Cyril was unmoved. The word of God abides, he said; one stone shall not be laid on another. When the attempt was made, a pagan writer tells us that horrible flames came forth from the earth, rendering the place inaccessible to the scorched and frightened workmen. The attempt was made again and again, and then abandoned in despair. Soon after, the emperor perished miserably in a war against the Persians, and the Church had rest.

Like the other great bishops of his time, Cyril was persecuted, and was driven twice from his see; but on the death of the Arian emperor Valens, he returned to Jerusalem. He was present at the Second General Council of Constantinople, and died in peace A.D. 386, after a troubled episcopate of thirty-five years.

Reflection. As a stout staff, says Saint John Chrysostom, supports the trembling limbs of a feeble old man, so does faith sustain our vacillating mind, lest it be tossed about by sinful hesitation and perplexity.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).