Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 6, 2014
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

“O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them. You shall know I am the Lord. I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” Several people instantly come to mind when I hear this passage. They are good people who were dealt a difficult hand in life and needed patience from someone, anyone, whom they could trust long enough to accept them. For instance, the new transfer student that is shy, awkward, and lacking confidence that no one wants to talk with because he is odd and does not appear like the rest of us; the young mother of a classmate that died in a car accident who cannot bring herself to carry on in life according to the expectations of others; the grieving wife, who after six years is still not ready to date again because she is still lovingly attached to her deceased husband. For all of them, nothing feels joyful and they wonder if they will ever smile again.

 Then there is the curmudgeonly colleague who carried her great secret of misery tightly inside herself. From the first day of meeting her, her drooped shoulders and lowered eyes revealed heaviness and despair. Nothing outside of her space interested her and she was only interested in doing a good enough job to get her paycheck so she could go home to tend to those matters that were more important to her. A team player? No. She was unable to share her own burdens with anyone because no one lived up to her standards. She, as you would guess, was not the life of the party. Happiness was elusive; something else was always on her mind.

Civility was the best way to tiptoe through the delicate eggshells upon which we all walked. When a snarky comment came our way, we graciously (and sometimes not) accepted that we had to endure this behavior. Patience was not easy to muster when frequent mistreatment wore us down. She was only mildly pleasant to her boss, but that had its limits as well. The office politics became us against her because she was a frustrating character and the walls to protect her were constructed quite high. The last thing anyone wanted to do was to be kind to her, but that is just what she needed.

One day I wrote her a card to wish her a pleasant day and placed it on her desk. She acknowledged a thank-you with a nod of her head. Two weeks later, I placed a piece of chocolate cake I baked on her desk alongside another brief note. One day, as I was taking orders for lunchtime sandwiches, I matter-of-factly included her. “No thanks,” was the reply, “I brought my lunch.” From then on, she moved around the office a little differently, just some subtle, almost undetectable changes. She seemed to be a little more relaxed and she walked without the intense heaviness that weighed upon her. I remarked positively on a comment she wrote in a letter and then told her that I liked the way she accessorized her colors that day. Afterwards, she took more care about the way she dressed, and a few weeks later, she mounted on her face an expression that resembled a smile. “Your whole face is transformed when you smile,” I said, and the smiles came about more frequently afterwards.

Then the unexpected occurred. I received a note on my desk that simply read, “Can we talk?” It was a beginning of conversations in which she revealed the great heart-wrenching heaviness in her life and her challenge to confront what happened to her, but little sustained acts of kindness helped pull her out of her worries enough so she could trust another person to share the pain contained within her story. I cried upon hearing her story. I cried with her. She went through years of her turmoil and self-hatred as she wrapped in the linen cloths of death that suffocated her. She knew she died spiritually and emotionally and she never thought she could live again. Only a power from outside of her could set her free from the pangs of death that shrouded her life.

Jesus unwrapped the skeins of cloth that bound Lazarus to death. He set him free. Why? All because of this tiny line in Scripture: ‘Jesus wept.’ The Jews remarked about him: ‘See how he loved him.’ Jesus was weak enough to be moved to tears. It means that he cared enough to give compassion to the one who is in need. He saw the person and not the behavior. The suffering of others breaks his heart and he wishes to person to be free from the shackles that we place upon our soul. When we make ourselves vulnerable enough to hold the pain and suffering of others, we are given new life.

We all have wrapped ourselves in some garment that protects us. Let Jesus remove those heavy wrappings from you because we cannot do it ourselves. We do it by telling him our stories – every bad memory, every detail of pain that kills our soul. It is painful to do but he wants to take that from you and to nail it to the cross where it belongs. It has spent far too long on your shoulders. Let him remove the suffering from you because you deserve to live, to cry, to be compassionate to others, and like my colleague, to smile once again. Jesus weeps for you. Let him hold your story with solemn reverence. Gaze into his eyes as he takes the wrappings off your face, and watch his tender smile as your eyes catch his. See how much he loves you.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The Book of Daniel recounts the story of the innocent Susanna, who is unjustly accused of impurity by two elders who conspired to bring her shame because she came from a wicked family. Daniel put these men on trial and determined their stories did not hold up, thereby restoring the good reputation of Susanna. ~ As the children of Israel were wandering in the deserts of Sinai, seraph serpents were sent among them to add to their punishment of hunger and thirst. Many were bitten by the snakes, but Moses raised a seraph, mounted it on a pole, and all who gazed upon it were spared death. ~ King Nebuchadnezzar sent Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace to die because they would not worship his god, but the King and his men saw four men standing in the furnace unharmed and untouched by the fire. The King gave up his god to worship the God of the Jews. ~ When Abram prostrated himself before God and the covenant was established, he was given a new name so that he would become the father of a host of nations. ~ The prophet Jeremiah claims that the suffering one of God will be denounced on every side and will face great isolation and hostility, but the favor of God is found upon him. ~ The prophet Ezekiel says the Lord God will take the children of Israel from among the nations and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land. One nation will be made of them. Never again shall they be two nations and a covenant of peace will be an everlasting covenant with them.

Gospel: Near Jerusalem, a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus for judgment, but he did not condemn her. Instead, he asked the sinless person to condemn her, but he found none. She was released to live without further sin. ~ In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees that, just like the seraph serpents, he will be lifted up and all who gaze upon him and believe will receive eternal life. ~ Jesus tells the hostile Jews that everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin, but if the Son of God frees you, you will be truly free. They fail to recognize that Jesus is sent from the Father because they do not believe in his works. Rather, they are descendants of Abraham and cannot allow themselves to believe that Jesus has come from God. ~ The Jews exclaim in protest to Jesus that Abraham is their father and he existed centuries ago. Therefore, Jesus is too young to know Abraham. Jesus tells them that he is the equivalent to God and the people stone him. ~ Jesus protests, “If I have show you many good works from my Father, for which of these are you trying to stone me?” Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized. Many came to him and began to believe. ~ Some Jews went to the Pharisees, which convened the Sanhedrin, and wondered what they should do about Jesus. Caiaphas, the high priest, said it was better that one man should die instead of the people. They conspired to kill him and the nearby Passover feast was a great opportunity. Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews and he settled in Ephraim as he waited until the feast of the Passover.

Saints of the Week

April 11: Stanislaus, bishop and martyr (1030-1079), was born near Krakow, Poland and studied canon law and theology before he renounced his family fortunes and became a priest. Elected bishop, he oppose the bellicose and immoral King Boleslaus II who often oppressed the peasantry. He excommunicated the king who ordered his murder but the soldiers refused to carry it out. The king murdered him by his own hands, but then had to flee into exile.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Apr 6, 1850. The first edition of La Civilta Cattolica appeared. It was the first journal of the restored Society.
·      Apr 7, 1541. Ignatius was unanimously elected general, but he declined to accept the results.
·      Apr 8, 1762. The French Parliament issued a decree of expulsion of the Jesuits from all their colleges and houses.
·      Apr 9, 1615. The death of William Weston, minister to persecuted Catholics in England and later an author who wrote about his interior life during that period.
·      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.