Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 9, 2008 (John 11: 1-45)
Last Sunday’s Gospel of the Man Born Blind was the sixth “sign” around which the Gospel of St. John is built. Today’s Gospel for this Fifth Sunday of Lent is the seventh and final sign: The Raising of Lazarus From the Dead. We saw last week that John takes these signs or miracles and seeks a deeper, redemptive meaning in them, over and above showing the compassion, love, and power of Jesus usually accented by the other evangelists. The deeper meaning in last week’s Gospel was that Jesus is the Light of the World. In today’s Gospel it is: Jesus is the Lord of Eternal Life. Life does not end with physical death but continues on forever.
Life after death is a great mystery for all of us. Does life go on after we die or doesn’t it? No one has ever returned from the dead to tell us what happens after we die. It is evident; however, that the human race has believed in life after death from the earliest of times. In excavating the graves of these very early people one is able to find various things buried with the dead person as a preparation for the life to come. Further, there seems to be something inside all of us that causes us to believe that life does not end with physical death. I wonder if it is possible to con the whole human race.
I saw evidence of this one time in my brother, Bobby. Bobby was mentally handicapped. He had the mental capabilities of a four year old. He was the greatest gift that God ever gave me and a beautiful human being. I learned a great deal from him. One time I took him to the funeral of another handicapped person who was his dear friend. Her name was Shirley. On the day of the funeral I wheeled him up to her open casket in his wheel chair for him to view the body, not knowing in the least how he was going to react. He reached into the casket, put his hand on hers, and said, “Shirley, you look nice today. I’ll see you again soon, Shirley.” The tears were flowing down my cheeks and then I started to think: Just where did he get that idea that he would see her again soon? His idea of death previously had been that the dead person “was gone.” Yet, he had the idea somehow that he would see his friend again.
I believe our Christian belief in life after death is a well-founded belief. We have a solid basis in faith and hope for this belief. We arrive at this, of course, from the Scriptures. There are three instances in the canonical Gospels where Jesus raised a dead person back to life. The first was Jairus’
daughter. This miracles appears in all of the synoptic Gospels. Jairus, an official of the synagogue, asks Jesus to come and cure his daughter who is at home ill. While Jesus is on the way to her, word reaches Jairus that his daughter has died. Jesus continues to go to the home and when he arrives he tells the weeping crowd that she is not dead but asleep. Then he raises her with the words Talitha koum. The second instance was the son of the widow of Nain, found only in the Gospel of Luke. The young man was being brought to the place of burial when Jesus came across the procession and had pity on the weeping mother. He approached the coffin and told the young man to arise. The third instance is found in today’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Put all of this together with the other numerous places in Scripture where eternal life is mentioned plus the fact that all of us experience rising, conversion, spiritual awakenings from impossible situations in life that we are entirely powerless over and I think we have good grounds for a well-founded faith and hope in eternal life, life after death. Certitude, no. A well-founded faith and hope, yes. Jesus, I believe that after my death I will be with you in some way forever and see you face to face. Help any unbelief I may have.
Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 10 2008 (John 8: 1-11)
Place this Gospel for today’s Liturgy of Jesus forgiving the woman caught in the act of adultery along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and we have a pretty good idea of Jesus’ reaction to our sins. He is a loving and forgiving Redeemer and how blessed we are because of that. Sometimes we do things that we just know God will not forgive. We can’t even begin to forgive ourselves for having done them. But these very human attitudes fade away, hopefully, when we read about Jesus’ attitude toward our sinfulness in the Scriptures.
In reading, I came across a neat prayer of St. Augustine about this very thing that shows our human beliefs regarding Jesus condemning us for our sins. It goes like this: “God our Father, we find it difficult to come to you, because our knowledge of you is imperfect. In our ignorance we have imagined you to be our enemy; we have wrongly thought that you take pleasure in punishing our sins; and we have foolishly conceived you to be a tyrant over human life. But since Jesus came among us, he has shown that you are loving, that you are on our side against all that stunts life, and that our resentment against you was groundless. So we come to you, asking you to forgive our past ignorance, and wanting to know more and more about your forgiving love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Maybe we should hang on to this prayer for future reference.
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 11, 2008 (John 8: 21-30)
Jesus said to them, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world.” Human beings just being human beings belong to what is below. Human beings who have undergone the conversion of following Jesus belong to what is above. Such would seem to be the gist of our Gospel reading for today. Sin and darkness are below. Joy, happiness and quality life are above. Once again, it is my way or God’s way, So simple, really, and yet sometimes it takes years and years to discover that Jesus the is the way, the truth and the life, not I.
In yesterday’s homily, I quoted a prayer of St. Augustine (354-430). Again today, in line with what I just wrote above, my thoughts turn to another beautiful writing of St. Augustine in his Confessions, written about the year 388, Perhaps you have already read this quote. It goes like this: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” Let us seek what is above.
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 12, 2008 (John 8: 31-42)
Today’s Gospel selection immediately follows yesterday’s Gospel of John. Today we hear the goodness that will be ours if we continue to follow Jesus, if we continue to seek that which is above. This goodness consists of truth and freedom. Truth and freedom are just the opposite of darkness and sin. Jesus tells us, “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.” The sinner, therefore, does not know the truth nor does he/she have freedom.
These are not just words. They express a great truth. I sought after what was below, away from Jesus, darkness and sin, for a long time. During that time I thought I possessed the truth and was free as a bird. But, I discovered I was sadly mistaken. Truth and freedom do not lead to misery and destruction. “By their fruits you shall know them.” This also applies to the goodness or the badness of our actions. Finally, when I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, I discovered the way, truth and life of Jesus. I tried to bring these into my life and it was then that I discovered what truth and freedom really are. Those words of St. Augustine are really true: Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 13, 2008 (John 8: 51-59)
Jesus nurtured his intimate relationship with the Father by listening to and doing the will of the Father. “Not my will, but yours be done,” Jesus exclaimed during his Passion. Anyone who does likewise, Jesus tells us, will never see death. Death here is separation from God. That will happen if we
do not listen to his word, seek his will through prayer and follow it. These things are part and parcel of our intimate relationship with God. We can’t just sit on the sidelines nodding our heads when Jesus speaks to us. We have to get up and get in the game, listening to him intently and then putting into practice what we have heard from Jesus. As I recall, this is what the story of Martha and Mary is all about. We should remember the words of Jesus in that story: Mary has chosen the better part.
Jesus, help me not only to hear, to listen to your word and nod my head in agreement, but to get busy and put it into practice in my life. It is so easy to talk the talk. It is far more difficult to walk the walk.
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 14, (John 10: 431-42)
The end, the cross of Calvary, is getting ever closer and closer for Jesus. In today’s Gospel, the people picked up stones to stone him and tried to arrest him, “but he escaped from their power.” All of his violations of the Sabbath law, all of his confrontations with the Scribes and Pharisees, all of his criticism of their “laws” were catching up with Jesus. Now, to seek safety, he has crossed the Jordan River to where he was safe. But he didn’t stay there very long. Very shortly he was to hear of the death of his friend, Lazarus, and then he crossed the river again and returned to Bethany where Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. And he didn’t return unnoticed. The Jews were watching for him; they watch every move he made. And when they saw him return and raise Lazarus from the dead, they all scooted off at high speed to the authorities to tell them what had happened: He’s back again, and you won’t believe what he did this time!
Jesus never lost sight of his mission, his purpose in becoming incarnate. He came to take our sins upon himself, to suffer and die for us on the cross. This coming Sunday, once again, we begin the most holy time of the year, Holy Week and the Triduum, where with Jesus we will enter into the Paschal mystery. Lord, you suffered so much for us. How can we ever repay you?
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent, March 15, Solemnity of Joseph, the husband of Mary
(The Solemnity of St. Joseph is usually celebrated on March 19. This year, however, March 19 is the Wednesday of Holy Week so Joseph’s feast is moved to this Saturday, March 15.)
Everything we know about St. Joseph, and that is not very much, comes from the Scriptures. We know he was a carpenter, a working man, and that he was not a rich man. When he took Jesus to the Temple he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons because he could not afford a lamb. Despite his humble work and lack of money, he was from a royal lineage. Both Matthew and Mark tell us he descended from King David, the greatest of the Kings of Israel.
We also know that Joseph was a compassionate and caring man, He was also a man of faith and most obedient to whatever God asked him to do. And, perhaps best of all, we know he loved Jesus very much and did his best to care for him. All of these are admirable qualities for us to imitate.
As usual, with people mentioned in the Scriptures, there is much we do not know about Joseph that we wish we could know: Where was he born, where and how he died, what he did in his free time, etc. The Scriptures quite simply tell us he was “a righteous man.” That tells us all we need to know.
St. Joseph, watch over us as you watched over Jesus and Mary. Protect us and guide us in Jesus’ ways.