Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fifth Sunday in Lent

April 10, 2011
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

The raising of Lazarus is an important transitional passage in John's Gospel because Jesus ends his public ministry through his greatest miracle, that is, raising a man from the dead, and by doing so receives death himself. The gift of life Jesus brings to humanity ironically leads to the decisive act of unbelief by religious leaders. They formally decide that Jesus must "die for the people." Throughout the gospel, Jesus has become the fulfillment of each major Jewish feast. Last week, he become the "light" of the world; today he becomes the "life" of the world. He demonstrates that the Father has given power over life and death to the Son.

Jesus makes the point of waiting to see Lazarus so no claims could be made that he was still alive, but dormant. Lazarus died and his body decayed. His soul would have left his body in the duration. Mary and Martha and their friends mourned his death. Jesus delayed in order to make "the glory of God" manifest so that the Son will be glorified. Jesus is "glad" because the sign will provide an occasion for the disciples to believe. As Jesus goes to Judea to see Lazarus, he knows his is going to his own death.

On the way, Martha runs out to see Jesus. After being angry with him, Jesus tells her that her brother will rise and she asserts her belief in the resurrection of the dead at the end times. Jesus declares that he is the resurrection and the life and Martha exclaims, "You are the Messiah, the one coming into the world." Martha's sister Mary comes to see Jesus. Jesus shows his love for the two sisters and for Lazarus. He weeps and then proceeds to raise Lazarus. The crowds witness that the Father has given Jesus the power over "life." All who believed will now wait for the hour that is coming when all in the tombs will hear the voice of Jesus and will come forth to him. Resurrection is available to all who believe in Jesus and follow his teachings.

This event hardened the hearts of the Pharisees and religious authorities from Jerusalem. It raised tremendously dangerous questions about the hotly-debated ideas of resurrection, resuscitation, and the source of this power. They witnessed no other event as tumultuous as this one and it rattled their assumptions of faith. They needed to end this controversy. When we experience the unimaginable, we have the capacity to push God away from us.

Today, people struggle with this passage in prayer. Often they find themselves in a place of death like Lazarus and they feel too uncomfortable with their own mortality. They are bound in layers upon layers of restrictive bonds that can only be removed from one who is more powerful on the outside. It is easy to identify with Lazarus, but it is less easy for one to move towards the One who brings life. As much as we may want it, we have no strength to get past the structures that snuff life out of us.

We have to turn to Jesus Christ who can bring us that life, and it is not easy to do because we focus on all the stuff that weighs us down and the pain we feel. It is during a time like this that we realize the formidable strength of our will. It is all we have and we don't give it up easily. We also fear what the unknown future will bring. It only gets easier when we let ourselves be powerless so we can experience the strength that comes from Jesus. He alone gives us life and bring us to a place that sustains and nourishes us. He is the one who will unwrap us. We can't do it ourselves. He is the one who can liberate us to a new mode of being with him. We all want it. Let's cooperate with his desires by giving up our very own. Just as he loved Lazarus and wept for him, he does the same for each of us.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Daniel, we hear the riveting story about Susanna's unjust condemnation. She stands innocent before the prejudiced-stacked trial and declares, "Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things charged against me." It sets up Jesus as the innocent victim who went to his death. In Numbers, the despairing nomads face death from saraph serpents. The Lord tells Moses to make a saraph and lift it up on a pole. Anyone who looks upon it after being bitten will live. The theme of "lifting up" in order to save is introduced. In Daniel, the Lord sends his angel to deliver his servants, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the consuming fire. This is a saving God. In Genesis, Abram is renamed Abraham, which means "father of many nations." The covenant is set with Abraham and his descendants. In Jeremiah, the Lord God is with the Suffering Servant - even in the darkest of hours. The Lord is a mighty hero. In Ezekiel, the Lord promises to take the children of Israel from among the nations and make them into one people. They shall never be divided again.  

Gospel: Jesus symbolically acts as God when he writes in the sand when the woman condemned in adultery is brought before him for judgment. He grants her mercy. As he prepares for his death, Jesus tells the Pharisees that when he is lifted up, they will realize that he is God. Through his death, God will make people free. The works of Jesus testify to the truth that he is God. While the Pharisees invoke memories of Abraham, Jesus tells them that Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Jesus come again. The Jews picked up rocks to stone him. They wanted to arrest him, but he eluded them. Many people who witnessed the raising of Lazarus began to come to Jesus. He was gathering into one the dispersed children of God. The Passover was near and many were going up to Jerusalem. They waited to see if Jesus would come.

Saints of the Week

Monday - Stanislaus, bishop and martyr (1030-1079), was a priest at the cathedral in Krakow, Poland. He was a noted preacher and a concerned pastor for the poor. Shortly after he was appointed bishop, King Boleslaus II disagreed with him on policies and eventually killed him during Mass. The king fled to Hungary where he lived as a penitent in a Benedictine abbey.

Wednesday - Martin I, pope and martyr (d. 655), was an Italian deacon who was sent to Constantinople as the Pope's delegate. He was elevated to pope after Theodore I. He opposed the heresy that stated Christ only had a divine will and no human will. The emperor Constans II believed in the heresy and arrested Martin and threw him into exile in Constantinople. He was stripped on honors, lived in misery, condemned to death, and because the last pope to be venerated for martyrdom.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Apr 10, 1585. At Rome, the death of Pope Gregory XIII, founder of the Gregorian University and the German College, whose memory will ever be cherished as that of one of the Society's greatest benefactors.
·         Apr 11, 1573. Pope Gregory XIII suggested to the Fathers who were assembling for the Third General Congregation that it might be well for them to choose a General of some nationality other than Spanish. Later he expressed his satisfaction that they had elected Everard Mercurian, a Belgian.
·         Apr 12, 1671. Francis Borgia, the 3rd general of the Society, was canonized by Pope Clement X.
·         Apr 13, 1541. Ignatius was elected general in a second election, after having declined the results of the first election several days earlier.
·         Apr 14, 1618. The father of John Berchmans is ordained a priest. John himself was still a novice.
·         Apr 15, 1610. The death of Fr. Robert Parsons, the most active and indefatigable of all the leaders of the English Catholics during the reign of Elizabeth I.
·         Apr 16, 1767. Pope Clement XIII wrote to Charles III of Spain imploring him to cancel the decree of expulsion of the Society from Spain, issued on April 2nd. The Pope's letter nobly defends the innocence of the Society.

Lenten Scrutinies

Candidates and catechumen who have been preparing this past year for their sacraments during the Easter season will be scrutinized by their church and their community of faith. This third and last scrutiny is conducted this week.

In Cycle A, the third scrutiny is from John 11: Raising Lazarus from the dead.