09 April 2011

Dominica Quinta Quadragesimæ

First Reading, Ezekiel 37:12-14
The graves represent the places where the scattered Israelites lived as strangers in foreign lands. It was their return from exile which brought about a revival for the nation of Israel. Prophetically, this Reading, although very small, contains big news. It is a prophecy about the resurrection. Our destiny is to spend eternal life with our Lord. Exactly what that will be like, no one really knows, as Saint Paul writes, "The things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). There are a couple of important phrases here worth mentioning: "Thus says the Lord God" -- Let us not pass over these words too quickly. We hear many voices in our society but none of them come with unfathomable love behind each and every word. This is our God Who offers us a chance for eternal peace and only He can fulfill what man cannot even perceive. There is much joy that can come from contemplating what eye has not seen and ear has not heard. We have to learn how to become great listeners because many voices in our lives try to overpower the gentle and affectionate whispers of Almighty God. "O My people" -- These words should be of great comfort to us because they show God's immense love for us. Because of Christ's redemptive work, we now can comfortably extend "O My people" to "O My children." God holds the entire universe in the Palm of His Hand; but for reasons beyond our comprehension, singles us out -- the bumbling, sinful creatures we are, to be the recipients of His immense love. Another possible way to interpret this Reading is to see it as a prefigurement of baptism. "Graves" are often a symbol for imprisonment. Through baptism we are freed from the shackles of original sin and rise to a new life in Christ which is bestowed upon us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Second Reading, Romans 8:8-11
"Those who are in the flesh" are those who relish only carnal pleasures, and therefore, "cannot please God." Those who "are in the spirit," mind the things which are of the spirit, and fix their hearts on the things that belong to God and His service. Certainly our world today is caught up in a desire to live in the flesh. The temptation to accept a mentality of "the more the merrier" can be a heavy burden on those who genuinely wish to live in the spirit. While immorality may have reached a point of desensitization in humanity, the reality is what is true and worthy of acceptance and imitation is that which comes from God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What we see being lived out today is an illusion and a false sense of joy and security. To live in the spirit is to experience much greater pleasure; and this choice also leads to eternal life. "If Christ," or "the Spirit of Christ," which Saint Paul also calls "the Spirit of God," as being One and the same, "dwells in you … the body" indeed "is dead because of sin"; that is to say, the body is mortal and liable to death; but the spirit and the soul lives by the life of grace because the spirit and soul have been justified and sanctified by the merits of Christ. And "the Spirit of God… Who raised Jesus from the dead," will also raise to a glorious resurrection all who remain sanctified by the grace of Christ. Unfortunately, even the Church's members have been infected with a lackadaisical attitude when it comes to being in a state of grace. Many who attend Mass are receiving the Eucharist but so few are going to Confession. Either Holy Mother Church has a myriad of living saints on earth or the sense of sin, penance and humility have fallen by the wayside. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- in 2005 had written the script as well as presided over the Stations of the Cross at il Colosseo Romano, when Pope John Paul II was unable to fulfill his Holy Week public schedule due to his physical health. At the Ninth Station where Jesus falls for a third time, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote and proclaimed: "We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in His own Church? How often is the holy Sacrament of His Presence abused, how often must He enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that He is there! How often is His Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where He waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in His Passion. His betrayal by His disciples, their unworthy reception of His Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces His Heart." May we return to the Lord with all our hearts, that He may pull us out of our pride and away from the often comfortable but deceptive place of being in with the in crowd; and may Saint Paul's words be our constant inspiration and battle cry: "But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you." One final thought on this Reading concerns a verse from Sacred Scripture found in the Old Testament which perhaps makes it unfamiliar to many Christians but is surely relevant to our modern world and our own moral responsibility to avoid doing what may be popular but not necessarily proper. The verse translated from the Latin Vulgate reads as: "You shall not follow the multitude to do evil; nor shall you yield in judgment to the opinion of most, to stray from the truth" (Exodus 23:2).

Gospel, Saint John 11:1-45
"This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God." Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Cyril both say that Lazarus is indeed dead from this sickness but he did not die as others -- continually dead; for Jesus raised him again to the glory of God. "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." The most accepted interpretation of this is that "day" means the time preceding the Passion of our Lord and "night" means the time of His Passion. By this He encourages His disciples, assuring them that the day of His sojourn on earth was not yet over, therefore, all the hatred that was aimed at Jesus, as His enemies were trying to stone Him, would not come to pass right now. When Jesus says, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep," He was saying that Lazarus is dead although the disciples thought He was referring to ordinary sleep. As far as we mortal human beings are concerned, Lazarus is dead, but to God he is asleep; for our Lord raised him from the dead as easily as we raise ourselves from sleep. Knowing that the disciples misunderstood what He meant, Jesus plainly tells them, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe." When Jesus uses the words, "that you may believe," this doesn't mean that the disciples lacked faith but only that their faith may be increased once they witness the raising of Lazarus from the dead. When Thomas said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with Him," he wasn't referring to Lazarus, but he meant that he was ready to go and die with Jesus because he was sure that when Jesus returned there He would be stoned to death. The name Thomas or Didymus means "twins." When Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died," shows that either Martha and Mary were a little weak in faith or they had not as yet fully grasped Who Jesus was because the words, "if You had been here" are not in line with what we know about God; for God is everywhere. In a homily from Saint John Chrysostom he says, "Martha believed in Christ, but not as she ought to have done. She did not yet believe Him to be God, but addresses Him as One Who is remarkable for virtue, and approved of by heaven." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha didn't know that Jesus was talking about an immediate rising from the dead but she assumed He was referring to the resurrection on the last day. Jesus says, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," meaning that He is God, the Author of both. Since He is God He will raise Lazarus up on the last day but He is also able to raise him up now if He so wishes. The Catechism of Catholic Church teaches that Jesus links faith in the resurrection to His own Person: "I am the Resurrection and the Life." It is Jesus Himself Who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in Him, who have eaten His Body and drunk His Blood. Already now in this present life He gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life [in this case Lazarus], announcing thereby His own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order (cf. CCC 994). When Jesus asks her if she believes this, her response is, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is coming into the world." At this moment, by the grace of God, Martha breaks free from the bonds of doubt and leaps into an act of perfect faith. When Mary came to where Jesus was, He asks her, "Where have you laid him?" Saint Augustine explains, "He asks what He knows to raise their attention, their faith, and their hope." Jesus wept and in doing so shows His Humanity just before He's about to show His Divinity by raising Lazarus. Jesus raised His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You for hearing Me. I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me." He knew without a doubt that even as a Man He would be granted whatever was asked, therefore, the reason that He offers this prayer to the Father was for our instruction. Origen, one of the writers of the early Church, says that Christ was about to pray for the resurrection of Lazarus, but His eternal Father heard His prayer before He presented it. Therefore Christ begins His prayer by giving thanks to His Father for having granted His request. The Catechism adds that thanksgiving precedes the event: "Father, I thank You for hearing Me," which implies that the Father always hears His petitions. Jesus immediately adds: "I know that You always hear Me," which implies that Jesus, on His part, constantly made such petitions. Jesus' prayer, characterized by thanksgiving, reveals to us how to ask: before the gift is given, Jesus commits Himself to the One Who in giving gives Himself. The Giver is more precious than the gift; He is the Treasure; in Him abides His Son's Heart (cf. CCC 2604). Blessed Teresa of Calcutta put this into practice often. Witnesses have told the stories of how she would thank God for answering her petitions even before God granted what she was asking for. When Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus, He gives the command to "untie him and let him go." Saint Gregory and Saint Cyril both believe that Jesus gave these instructions to His apostles, and therefore see in this verse a figure of the authority that would be given to priests to loose and absolve sins. The death of Lazarus and his rising are very much symbolic of baptism -- a plunge into the waters and by the power of the Holy Spirit rising from them to a new life in Christ.