Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Lent A

On April 27th, the Church will celebrate the canonization of two great Popes – Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. How wonderful it is to have saints, of our time, who we can emulate – who can intercede for us. They are wonderful witnesses– two men who possessed that “Christian Hope”, a hope that allowed them to live difficult lives without fear – for God was with them – and would always be with them.

Good Pope John the XXIII, or Angelo Roncalli, came from a poor peasant family. He suffered with various illnesses in his life, finally succumbing to stomach cancer. Soon before his death, when a friend approached him with concern, the Pope said ““Everything is grace. Pain is God’s grace, so don’t be worried.” He remembered the young Carmelite nun, Thérèse of Lisieux, who during her final moments, reassured her nurse - who had just seen her coughing up blood and was worried - because it was night time and finding a doctor would be difficult. “Sister, she said, do not worry: everything is the grace of God.” A fearless trust in God.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose name was Karol Wojtyla, experienced pain and loss at a very young age, losing his whole family by age 21. He suffered through Nazism and Communism. Soon after his election as Pope in 1978, he began to experience health problems. Being shot and almost killed in 1981 he spent several months in the hospital being treated for abdominal wounds and a blood infection. In time he would suffer a dislocated shoulder, a broken thigh bone, arthritis of the knee and an appendectomy – and then the most devastating illness, Parkinson’s disease. Hours before his death, struggling to swallow and breathe, the Holy Father mumbled his final words in Polish: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” A fearless trust in God.

Living our lives without fear – especially the fear of death - this is today’s gospel message. Death does not have the final word.

Jesus receives a message from his friends Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus is ill. He replies “‘this sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory.” Now Lazarus is a very dear friend of Jesus. So why doesn’t Jesus “jump up” and run to see his friend? Instead, he waits two days. This seems very “out of character” for Jesus – who preached the consequences of not visiting the sick. It seems he is giving Lazarus time to die. When Jesus finally arrives, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Four days was the number of surety that a person was “really” dead.  Quite understandably, Martha is annoyed with Jesus when she says, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Still, she knows that Jesus is holy – and close to God. She continues “even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’  Jesus tells her, your brother will rise again. Martha says yes, I know - at the resurrection on the last day.

Jesus then reveals truth to Martha, and to all those around her – and they all must have been astounded. Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life.” I AM. Yahweh – I AM GOD.  These are dangerous words to say – most especially in Judea. He says “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’ Martha is beginning to get it – that death has no power. Jesus is distraught, asking where they have placed his friend, and then he weeps. God loves us so much, that he enters into our loss and our pain - that He weeps.  God is not aloof from our human condition. He arrives at the tomb – the stone is rolled away. Jesus says “Lazarus, here! Come out!’ And so Lazarus awakens from his sleep. 

Jesus says to us today “Come out!” Come out of the darkness – come out of your fear. Be not afraid. Death has no power. 

In our world today – the darkness of death, the fear of death, the finality of death – it conditions everything – it conditions the way we think, the way we organize our lives, politics, economics. The world tells us that the absence of life is the ultimate evil. Pope Benedict XVI said “Jesus revolutionized the meaning of death. He did so with his teaching, above all by facing death himself. "Dying he destroyed death," Death is no longer the same: It has been deprived, so to speak, of its "venom." If we live in faith, with no fear of death, our lives are radically changed.  How we face the difficulties and tragedies of life – how we react when we are told that a loved one – or even ourselves – is very sick – with a terminal illness. If we truly believe that death does not have the final say, then the nature of our fear is transformed. We will know that there is future glory for those that believe in the Lord.

At our baptism, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit – we become a Temple of the Holy Spirit.  In St. Paul’s letter today, he writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead - will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.”
John XXIII and John Paul II will be canonized this month – declared saints. Their lives gave witness to Christ – who conquered death for all time.

Good Saint John XXIII, Great Saint John Paul II, pray and intercede for us, that we might be worthy of your having touched our lives.  Thank you - for you have each uniquely given us models of how to follow Christ well.  As they have done so - may we do also.

                                                                                                                        Deacon Brian J. Murphy

* Above painting " The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio 1310–11

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