Pastoral Sharings: " Fifth Sunday of Lent"

WeeklyMessage Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS 
April 6, 2014
Fifth Sunday of Lent 

It seems a bit strange that the Church presents us with  
this gospel reading today on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, it  seems to be clearly about the resurrection and yet we  haven?t got there yet, we are still plodding through Lent  and have to get through Maundy Thursday and Good  Friday before we get to the resurrection. What?s going on; have the Church?s liturgical engineers got it all wrong?

Can I suggest that this text is more about death than resurrection? After all, Lazarus isn?t walking around today; he had to undergo another death. This text is more about our life and death here and now rather than about the resurrection. We will have time enough to consider the resurrection when we get to Easter Sunday and the weeks of celebration afterwards.

St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, in his book on the Spiritual Exercises suggests that when we come to consider a particular Gospel passage we should put ourselves in the place of each character in turn and use our imagination to see how we would feel in the circumstances. This can be a most revealing exercise.

How about putting yourself in the place of Lazarus? You are dead to everything and then you hear a voice: ?Come out, Lazarus!? You look around and there you are lying in a tomb swathed in bandages and surrounded by darkness.

If we ask ourselves how we would feel the answer, of course, would be different for everyone but I think we might be surprised at how many of us would say: Thanks Lord, but I?d prefer to stay where I am.

By putting ourselves in Lazarus?s place we might feel we are unable to move or perhaps we might become aware of how tomb-like our present way of life really is. This exercise might arouse in us a sense of hope; rekindle a longing for freedom which has perhaps been buried for years.

Putting ourselves into the place of a character from scripture can awake all kinds of thoughts within us and lead us to turn to God in prayer with new words on our lips. And yet it is something so simple that we are surprised that we never thought about it ourselves.

I think that this Gospel reading is placed here in Lent to help us to realise that we have to live this life to the full and that it is often only through experiencing death that we are shocked into it. This can happen to us in all sorts of ways; often it can happen through a loss or bereavement, it might be through a religious experience, or a meeting with someone significant. It may be a terrible mistake that we have made or an experience of suffering. It is amazing how often it takes something negative to make us realise how much there is that is truly positive and worth living for.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the great writer and great Christian, was implicated in a plot to assassinate the Tsar of Russia. He was not one of the plotters but he was on the fringes of a group that wanted to overthrow the established order. The plot was uncovered and he was arrested and tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. He put in an appeal even though the chances of getting a reprieve were non-existent.

In the meantime he was sent to a prison camp in Siberia where he experienced some of the harshest conditions known to man. His appeal was turned down and he was given a date for execution. The day came round and he was put up against the wall to be shot. But at the very last moment a messenger arrived with word from St Petersburg, his sentence was commuted to four years penal servitude.

Dostoyevsky experienced a resurrection. He was a dead man; the book he wrote about his prison life is called ?The House of the Dead?, and the title literally sums up his experiences. He was dead; he regarded himself dead, because just waiting for death like that can be considered even worse than being dead. And then he was alive. And although he had to endure very harsh conditions he was alive, and he saw everything in a new way. He was able to live life to the full.

Dostoyevsky experienced life because he experienced death and this is what made him a truly great writer. A writer who has been able to get inside our souls and in his writing has explored some of our deepest feelings and emotions.

This Gospel is not here on this particular Sunday to get us to focus on the resurrection of the body and life everlasting; that comes on Easter Day. This Gospel is here to get us to wake up from our sleep and to realise that we have some living to do. We are supposed to be Christians. We are supposed to be followers of Jesus, the best man who ever lived, the only man who ever fully lived. The only man who really understood how to live.

And if we dare to accept the title Christian then we had better take a few lessons in living. We had better stop moaning and groaning and looking over our shoulder at others and saying: Would you look at her, who does she think she is?

Stop putting a wet blanket over everything and live a bit. God has given us this wonderful creation and all these wonderful people around us, so let us open our eyes and talk to our neighbours and enjoy ourselves.

We see the signs of spring all around us, and yet it is we who should be the signs of spring to our neighbours and friends and workmates all through the year.

But, of course, this is very hard for us. We have had years of training not to get above ourselves, not to think well of ourselves, not to enjoy ourselves. And the Church itself, with its penchant for rules and regulations, has played its full part in this process. Most of us have long experience of being pressed down and having our individuality and creativity squashed out of us.

I can give you countless examples of people who have experienced a resurrection in their lives. One of our own previous Provincial Superiors was a dead man. He had a very tricky heart operation which took ten hours. Afterwards he saw things very differently.

I know a man from this very parish who lost his wife and one of his own legs in a car accident. He had four young children. But he was determined to do his best for them. He told me: ?I painted that skirting board lying on my belly.? He brought those children up and was so proud of them it was unbelievable. He walked two miles each week to cheer up someone else who had lost a leg and was in the depths of depression.

There are dozens of examples. And we have a few in the Gospel today, apart from Lazarus himself. Look at Martha and Mary; they both blamed Jesus for letting Lazarus die. Sounds incredible doesn?t it? And yet it is there in the text. But when they hear Jesus speak their faith is restored.

But as we say Sunday after Sunday: We don’t experience Christ in a vacuum. We don’t find him when things are bowling along as usual and we are keeping our head down. We meet him in suffering, we meet him in encounters with others, we meet him in challenging situations, we meet him when we are vulnerable, we meet him basically when our defences are down and we are open and receptive.

And he shows us the way. And the way is to be like him. And that means getting close to people, it means living for others, it means healing the sick, it means carrying other peoples burdens, it means loving the poor, it means being close to the Father in prayer, it means dying to self so we can rise to new life in him.

I heard about a sign outside a funeral parlour in Brooklyn it said: Why walk around half dead when we can bury you for seventy-five bucks?

The question we need to ask is: Why walk around half dead when we have new life in Christ?

Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
April 6, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Lent
John 11:1-45
Gospel Summary

In John’s gospel, Jesus is first and foremost the one who gives life. In fact, the whole purpose of the gospel is “that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). From this perspective, the raising of Lazarus from the grave is merely a preview of the definitive victory of life in the resurrection of Jesus.
In human experience, death has always been the dragon that eats up our hopes and spoils our plans and casts a shadow over even the brightest days. But Jesus came to slay that dragon, and he will do this by means of a power that at first sight seems hopelessly inadequate. It is the power of loving. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (11:5). This means that God loves us also.

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Coming out of the Tomb
The gripping drama of the rising of Lazarus points towards Jesus as the Lord of Life and prepares us for the celebration of our sharing in His Life at Easter.  

But this Gospel is more than this.  It is a call for to consider if we are in a tomb, and if so, it asks us to hear the voice of the Lord calling us to shore up our courage  and to come out of the tomb.  The Gospel calls us to  walk to the Lord.

For the Love of Lazarus
Some find it hard to accept that God would love some people more than others.  That wouldn’t be fair, they say.

But God became man.  If he did not love some more than others, Jesus wouldn’t be fully human.  For human beings have family and friends.  While we can do good and even risk our lives for a stranger, we have special bonds of intimacy and affection with a rather small circle.  Out of twelve, Jesus had one especially beloved.  In the Gospel of this beloved disciple, we learn that Jesus had one family who was particularly beloved in this way.  The family was that of Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus.

Scripture Speaks Turn Mourning Into Joy
In today’s Gospel, Jesus turns mourning into joy when He raises Lazarus from the dead.

Gospel (Read Jn 11:1-45)

Today’s Gospel gives us a story about Jesus raising the dead to life, something He did on at least two other occasions (see Lk 7:11:17, Mk 5:21-23).  This episode, however, is profoundly different from those in three ways:  (1) Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus, not a complete stranger (2) Jesus purposely allowed His sick friend to die (3) the dead man was in a tomb long enough to decay.  With these details, we find ourselves in a resurrection story that will penetrate deeply into the mystery of the miracle.

Our Bodies & The Promise of the Resurrection
As Christians, we are taught that the corruption of the body is a consequence of original sin, the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. We also believe that after the resurrection, our bodies will be restored to their pristine, pre-fall condition, free of corruption and graced with immortality. For the early Church Fathers, this belief in the resurrection of the body was premised on the conviction that the body itself is a good thing.

But why? Why were we given bodies in the first place? Why do we not become like angels in the next life, freed from the trappings of the body once and for all?

The Gifts Bestowed by the Tenth Commandment, Which Forbids Coveting
The Tenth Commandment is You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Ex 20:17). It is one of more rarely quoted commandments in conversation, yet frankly is confessed more often than most of the other Commandments. It may be one of the most commonly breached of the commandments because it directly addresses our desire to possess things unreasonably. This is a very deep and disordered drive, and it gives way to many other sins as well.

Through, With, and In Him
As [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. ~Luke 9:29–31

Put yourself in the shoes of Peter, James, and John for a moment. Jesus invited them to come away and pray with him. They had seen him pray many times, even prayed with him; they thought they knew what they were getting into, and then . . .this!

The Transfiguration: 4 Steps to Hearing God’s Voice
You recall Jesus’ transfiguration: While Jesus was at prayer on a mountaintop, Peter, James, and John witnessed Him become “more brilliant than the sun.” Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, and the disciples heard them discussing his “exodus.” The scene culminated with a cloud (the Shekinah, or cloud of God’s glory) overshadowing the mountain as God the Father proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” (Lk 9:28-35).  We all want to hear God’s voice the way Peter, James, and John did; and the narrative of Jesus’ Transfiguration gives us a blueprint for doing that – a practice known as lectio divina, “divine reading.”

The Holy Spirit is God
The third person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten” member of the godhead. He is, no doubt, the least spoken of among the three persons of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Most students of our Catholic theology of the Trinity would agree: Pneumatology, or the study of the Holy Spirit, is probably the least developed after the study of the Son and the Father. It is; therefore, no surprise to find many Catholics ill-equipped to deal with some of the more notable errors concerning he who is “the Lord and giver of life.” Thus, studying the person and nature of the Holy Spirit, though sometimes neglected, is crucial for us as Catholic apologists and as Catholics in general.

Pope Francis: Married Couples Are ‘Living Icons of God’s Love’
VATICAN CITY — In his weekly general audience, Pope Francis closed his catechesis on the sacraments by reflecting on the vocation of marriage, noting that the marital couple is a unique example of divine love in the world.

“Married couples carry out this vocation in a full and definitive communion of life. As ‘one flesh,’ they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity,” the Pope expressed in his April 2 general audience address.

What Does Christian Marriage Guarantee?
A friend of mine recently asked: “What graces are promised in sacramental marriage? Is the guarantee and promise something that we give or something we expect to get?”

The answer is: The grace to do the work of marriage is promised to a baptized man and woman who unite in matrimony. What they do with that grace is another story, a wily story that goes by the name of free will. Christian marriage does not guarantee a diamond-gleaming fairy tale. It guarantees that God is faithful to set the glass of living water on your counter, as much as you will ever need. But for that water to permeate your entire being, you have to drink it.

Searching for Love
Our world is filled with a lot of hatred. One must only turn on talk radio or the nine o’clock news to see this. For whatever reason, it seems so easy to hate or dislike other people. This hatred can spew over into our daily conversations with others about certain individuals. But why do we hate?  Maybe one reason is that we are filled with jealousy, pride, or envy or we feel that we have been wronged.

The Value of Obedience
St. John of the Cross has said, “God wants from us the least degree of obedience and submission, rather than all the works we desire to offer Him” (Spiritual Maxims:Words of Light, 13). Why? Because obedience makes us surrender our own will to adhere to God’s will as expressed in the orders of our superiors; and the perfection of charity, as well as the essence of union with God, consists precisely in the complete conformity of our will with the divine will

Pope Francis and Reconciliation

There is a visiting priest who regularly fills in when our beloved parish priest is gone. He’s articulate, gets right to the point, and my kids love him—and the funny thing is that his homily is about the very same thing every single time he comes. No matter what the week’s readings are, you can bet that Father R. is going to bring it all back around to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

St. Augustine’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount
Saint Augustine once observed that the “New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” In his early years as a Manichean, St. Augustine had trouble interpreting the Bible.  Subsequently, he would acknowledge the role of his intellectual pride complicit in his prior difficulty with Scripture. After his conversion, he learned from St. Ambrose to interpret the Scriptures symbolically.  As a guiding principle for the revelation of the Scriptures’ inner spirituality, he took the Ambrosian hermeneutic: “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

UPDATED: Fr Barron on “Noah”—now with video! Catholic Culture! More!
I’ve often mentioned in my own extensive coverage of Noah that the film relies on the Jewish midrash tradition, but a point I wound up dropping from my first review (mostly for space reasons in a very long review) is that the film essentially is a cinematic midrash. I’m delighted to see that Fr. Barron takes up that point for me.

I also appreciate his response to the odd (to me) “Rock People” meme, in which he connects the dots from Genesis 6 to Enoch to the great hymn “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” (which I’ve often sung, but never connected to Enoch).

On The Spaciousness and Silence that Characterizes Deep Prayer
One of the graces of deeper prayer, if we persevere through the years, is that the Lord turns us upward and outward. And, gradually, our prayer turns more toward God and is less anxious about our own aches and pains. It becomes enough to give them to God and trust in His providence. Gradually, we simply prefer to experience the Lord quietly, in increasingly wordless contemplation.

Blessed John Paul II: First Pope of the Catholic Resurgence
Sometimes a great historical figure is not as recognized as such during his lifetime.  Other historical figures are recognized as monumentally important even while they live.  John Paul II, who will be canonized on April 27, 2014, was definitely in the latter category.  He was the most important Pope of the last century, and the first pope, I think, of what will be viewed by future historians as a great Catholic resurgence.  It will take centuries for historians to fully assess his almost 27 year long papacy, but here are some of the factors that I think they will note.

Learn to Control Your Thoughts
One of the most remarkable characteristics of all forms of organic life is the power to adapt itself to the circumstances in which it is placed. It will endeavor under the most altered conditions to live, and, in order to live, it will resort to all kinds of contrivances, sometimes effecting such changes in its outward appearance that none but a trained eye could detect its identity. Yet with all these adaptations, it will preserve its identity.

Five Positive Ways You Can Be A Catholic Rebel
Come on, we know better than the Church, don’t we?  After all, this is the 21st Century and times have changed.  Modern man is fully capable of deciding what is moral on his own, right?  All the really smart people in the media, government and academia who encourage us to embrace abortion, contraception, euthanasia and gay marriage can’t be wrong, can they?  After all, everyone knows that new and fresh ideas must clearly trump over two millennia of Church teaching.  Right?

Catholic in the Cubicle, Part 2: Interacting with Co-Workers
In my first post, I talked about three ways to be Catholic at the cubicle. As a follow up, let’s look at some ways to be a Catholic Gentleman when interacting with our co-workers.

Priest Survived Labor Camp, Recalls Suffering as Gift
VATICAN CITY — Msgr. Matthew Koo recounted being detained in a Chinese labor camp for 30 years due to his Marian devotion, noting that, although the experience was painful, there were also many blessings.

“Oh, I thought that sacrifice is God’s gift. People say that ‘you suffered a lot’; I said if not to suffer, how could I be here?” the priest said.

Beautiful lies about Evil are more effective than ugly lies about Good
Used to be, the Father of Lies told lies that were not simply false, but lies that looked ugly.

The Nazis proclaimed, for example, that Jews were miserly, baby-sacrificing vermin. Such lies achieved, in the terrible short-run, their intended impact, but, from a rhetorical point of view, the tactic of ‘uglifying’ the good suffered from the flaw that eventually derails all lies so crudely launched, namely, their own off-putting ugliness.

Hyper-stimulation is an increasing evil about which we should be aware, learn its moves, and then rebuke its influence
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Just over five weeks before the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II, Rome hotels are reporting they are almost fully booked and the Vatican has confirmed the Mass will take place in St. Peter’s Square, despite knowing that hundreds of thousands of people will have to watch the ceremony on large video screens.

Pope Francis had announced in late September that he would proclaim the two popes saints in a single ceremony April 27, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Get Your Beard On: A Call to Untrimmed Spirituality in a Clean-Shaven World
From bearded indie rockers to hipster barkeeps, facial hair is in. And with it come rumors of a holy renaissance. Men and women everywhere are rediscovering the hairy lore of church history, the long curly whiskers of the saints, the bearded patriarchs of the Bible, and how our own spiritual lives can be gnarly and unclipped.

What is more spiritual than facial hair? Socrates and Plato sported the philosophers beard, King David was the first of the bearded poets, and who can forget the gross and swarthy beard of Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus immortalized the beard. To this day, no matter how many centuries have passed since his ascension, growing a thick beard is a pastime for holy men (and maybe even a few women).

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