Fifth Sunday in Lent
So Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go." (Jn 11:1-45)
History indicates that two epidemics occurred, Yellow Fever and Cholera, in New York in the late 1700s and 1800s. Further research revealed how these epidemics impacted the city. There are photos in New York's archives picturing people masked, similar to the images experienced today due to COVID-19. I cringed when contemplating their lifestyle.
History also shows that during this horrific period in New York, Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian, sought ways to help his community. Although born enslaved in Haiti, he gained freedom as a successful entrepreneur when his owners moved to New York. However, what is essential here is to recognize Toussaint's works of mercy and charity during New York's historical pandemic. During his virtuous life, Toussaint supported the sick, bandaged the wounded, and accommodated strangers. Pierre Toussaint's sacred bones rest in St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown Manhattan. He is the only layperson in that cathedral, alongside the former Cardinal-Archbishops of New York City. One must be honorable to be in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Pierre Toussaint is now known as Venerable Pierre Toussaint. Why?
Toussaint's life exemplified the profound words of Jesus in John's gospel narrative of Lazarus in the Tomb. The scriptures never articulate to us what caused Lazarus' death. Martha and Mary only conveyed that their brother had died. However, Jesus encountered resistance when telling them to remove the stone. "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days" (Jn. 11:39). When they moved the stone, Jesus identified the person in the grave who needed healing and said, "Untie him and let him go."
The Venerable Pierre Toussaint is joining a host of saints who ministered to the sick, dying, and needy in their lifetime. He was one of the ones who removed the stone and the stained, smelly bandages to help the wounded go free during a pandemic. There is a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
Who will you help remove the stones of despair from their lives?
Author: Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS,
Facilitator, University of Dayton, VLCFF,
The University of Notre Dame, McGrath Institute, STEP Online,
Lead Faculty and Course Designer "The Presence of Black Catholics in the Church Today and Tomorrow" Loyola Marymount University,
Founder of Eat the Scroll Ministry