Deacon, Lazarus inspire ah-ha moment

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
Deacon Art Miller spent a few days in the diocese earlier this month to inspire, encourage, and affirm the administration, faculty and staff at our Catholic schools.  Deacon Art is from the archdiocese of Hartford, Ct., and has served as a deacon there for the past 12 years. He self-confesses to having “retired” three times, but despite his best efforts, he shows no signs of slowing down.  He is a incredible speaker and a witness to truth as he “keeps it real, church.”
He pulls from his 71 years of living, 50 plus years of marriage, raising four children and his role as grandfather to his six grandchildren. His vast arsenal of experience in his work in the private sector, owning his own financial firm and in public ministry aptly equip him for finding common ground with everyone he encounters.    He is as comfortable ministering to people in crack houses and jails as he is entertaining folks in “high places.” In Art’s youth, his family moved from the South to Chicago in the days of Jim Crow.
The lynching of Emmett Till in Money, Miss., in 1955, the ensuing Civil Rights Movement and the tenants of Catholic social teaching inspire his work with the folks on the margin. His childhood experiences have proven to be leaven for Art as he has spent all of his adult life working to protect the dignity of all of God’s children.
I met Deacon Art in January when he was a keynote speaker.  I was privileged to introduce him at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference in Kenner, La. I introduced myself at a reception on Thursday evening of the conference and let him know that I would be introducing him. His response, “Don’t go on and on, if you do I swear I’ll tackle you. People don’t care about that stuff and besides, it cuts into my time.” I reminded him of our initial meeting and we shared a good laugh. Apparently, I did not go “on and on” as I was not tackled but Art did skillfully use every minute of his time. He was and is a powerful speaker. He’s the kind of guy that after hearing his message you’ll find yourself unpacking what it means to you for days and even weeks later.
During his presentation to Catholic school personnel, there was so much he said that inspired or gave cause for one to pause and ponder. I found myself wanting to shout AMEN! on more than one occasion. One such touchtone for me came in the retelling of the story of the raising of Lazarus.  He reminded us of the beautiful relationship Jesus had with Martha and Mary.
He reminded us of the circumstances surrounding Lazarus’ death. Specifically, he reminded us that Jesus did not arrive to their home until after Lazarus was dead. Then there was Martha’s response. Her steadfast faith in knowing who Jesus was and what he could have done if he only had come earlier.
We were asked: Why did Jesus ask the crowd to roll back the stone? Why did Jesus ask Lazarus to “come out”?  Why hadn’t Jesus commanded the stone move and why didn’t Jesus go into the tomb to bring Lazarus out? He was, after all, bound for burial. Then came the “ah-ha” moment. Jesus asked the crowd to move the stone because as Jesus’ followers we are called to participate in his work and compassion. Lazarus was asked to come out because he too needed to participate in the healing work of Jesus. We do not experience Jesus in passive ways. We have to be active participants both in our own healing and in giving hope and healing to others.
I spent some time on the road later in the week. I was reflecting on what a gift my time with Deacon Art had been. I thought about the folks in my life who have rolled away the numerous stones that have had me entombed at different points in my life. I especially thought about my father who had a gift of knowing when to step in and when to let me fall (or fail as the case may have been).
I thought of the voices of those who called me out of my bondage, friends, professors, pastors, family. We often think of our sins as the things that bind us – pride, indifference, selfishness and the like. But we are bound by other things like fear, insecurity, and doubt.
I thought about how we are all called to move stones for others. I thought about how we are to help people who are bound by addiction, sin, hopelessness and despair.  Sometimes we do not respond to the first call.
Sometimes we do not recognize that the stone has been rolled away. Let us pray to be leaven so that others might rise from their circumstances. Let us pray that when we see opportunities to be of service to God’s people we are reminded of those who moved rocks and called us out of our sin and fear to embrace God’s light.      I think of God when I hear the words of Journey, “Someday love will find you, break those chains that bind you.”
Yes, God I am grateful that your love found me.  Help me as I continue to break the chains that bind me.  Thanks too to Deacon Art for being leaven in the world.  When one of us rises out of sin, addiction or despair, we all are better for it.  To God be the glory.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)