Archive for April, 2011

5th Sunday of Lent

April 12, 2011

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  In Saint John’s Gospel, this is the last of the public signs that Jesus performed before He triumphantly enters Jerusalem and then underwent His Passion.

The raising of Lazarus shows Our Lord’s authority over life and death.  Jesus demonstrated that He had power over life and death right before He laid down His own life and then took it up again.  The raising of Lazarus from the dead was a powerful sign of Our Lord’s divinity; because of this miracle, many Jews came to believe in Him.

At the same time, others who also witnessed the miracle sought to put Jesus to death.  Our Gospel reading today stopped at verse 45; the next few lines in Saint John’s Gospel go on to tell us that the Pharisees “from that day on” planned to kill Jesus.  How is it that this miracle produced opposite effects in different people?  How is it that the raising of a dead man to life could draw some people to belief and yet at the same time drive others to plot murder?  The answer lies in the fact that we all have free will and God will not take our free will away from us.  The crowd that followed Jesus had minds and hearts that were open.  They saw His miracles and came to believe because of them.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, had already made a decision about Jesus: they had already rejected Him and therefore there wasn’t any sign or miracle that He could perform that could change their minds.  They did not see because they did not want to see.

Faith works the same way today.  In order to believe in the Gospel and in the Teachings of the Church we have to approach with minds and hearts that are open.  If we start with a skeptical mind and a heart that refuses to believe, the Gospel will have no effect on us.  Someone who stubbornly refuses to open his or her eyes will never see the light.  In order to be able to perceive the light, one has to be willing to open one’s eyes.  This is not to say that we cannot use our reason.  God gave us an intellect; faith and reason are meant to work together.  We can ask questions about our faith; we can study the Scriptures in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of them.  Yet if we do not approach Scripture and Tradition with a basic openness to faith they will not lead us closer to God, which is their purpose.  Faith and reason are closely related: our faith opens us to understanding; the more we understand what we believe, the easier it becomes to believe and then to put that belief into practice.  Faith without reason leads to superstition or fundamentalism: reason without faith leads to relativism, materialism and selfishness.  Faith and reason need one another, because God created us with both a mind and a soul.  Our faith calls us both to believe and to use our minds.

God reveals enough to us for us to be able to believe, yet He does not reveal Himself in such a way that we are forced to believe.  There are arguments for why belief is reasonable, but arguments alone are not enough to convert people to Christianity.  That being said, we should always be ready and willing to offer reasons for why we are Christian, but helping someone become a Christian is not a matter of winning an intellectual argument: it is a matter of bringing someone to know Christ.  People don’t become Christian on account of reason alone.  Arguments can help lead a person to faith, but at some point each person has to make an act of faith for themselves.

Living a Christian life is about being in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  As we live out our Christian faith we are help others encounter Christ for themselves.  Our words and our actions can either help or hinder others from coming to know Christ.  Understanding our Faith helps us to live it; it can also help us talk to others about it.  Most of you know that I am a convert to the Catholic Faith: the reason that I even considered coming into the Church was because I encountered a Catholic who knew their faith and they were willing to share it with me.  They didn’t have all the answers, but they were able to give me reasons to look at coming into the Church.

Each and every one of you is called to be light in the world.  Faith is a gift that has been given to us and it is a gift that is meant to be shared.  You and I are called to bear witness to Christ.  I challenge each person here to look for an opportunity to share your faith with someone this week.  There are always opportunities if we are willing to look for them.

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to bear witness to You in our daily lives by our actions and by our words.  Give those who do not know you hearts and minds that are open to coming to know You.  May we never shrink back from bearing witness to You, Lord.  Help us to truly live our faith and do all that we do for Your greater glory and honor.  Amen.

 

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Laetare Sunday

April 12, 2011

This Sunday is traditionally known as Laetare Sunday; Laetare is a Latin word that means “rejoice” and on this Sunday is a day in which the Church tells us to rejoice.  This is reflected in the prayers which remind us that Easter is swiftly drawing near: this Sunday is the point at which we are halfway through Lent.  Easter approaches and Our Holy Mother, the Church, gives us a little breathing space in our Lenten discipline and calls us to rejoice as Easter swiftly approaches.  It may seem strange to have a day of rejoicing in the midst of a penitential season, a season in which we are called to deny ourselves and turn away from sin in order that we may follow the Gospel more faithfully.

This combination of joy in the midst of sorrow is not unnatural; if we stop and reflect for a moment, we will realize that joy and sorrow are often closely associated.  How frequently joy is born of suffering, how frequently bitter grief crushes out joy.  This connection between joy and sorrow is appropriately symbolized by the rose color of the vestments for today’s Mass.  Roses represent joy and yet they always come with thorns.  Isn’t it strange that nature adds thorns to the most beautiful of all flowers?

The rosebush can give us a lesson in the spiritual life: it represents for us the combination of sorrow and joy that we all experience in our spiritual journey.  We are to have sorrow for our sins, and yet we are also called to have joyous hope in the victory that Christ has won for us.  The sacrifices of Lent and joy of the Easter Season make up two extremes, but we are called to enter into both: at times we are called to fast and at times we are called to feast.

This combination of joy and sorrow was modeled for us in Our Lord’s own life.  The Eternal Son of God became a man, like us in all things except sin, in order to suffer and die for us.  Our Lord underwent His bitter Passion before He gloriously rose triumphant.  The suffering that Our Lord endured was the means of our Redemption.  Without the Sorrow of Good Friday there would be no Victory of Easter Sunday.  Just as it went for Christ our Head . . . so too it goes for us: His mystical body.  Christ leads and we are to follow.  Christ said that if we would follow Him we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.  And it is only in dying to ourselves that we experience the abundant life that Our Lord offers to us.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord tells us that He came into the world to be Light for the world.  Jesus came to show us the way to the Father.  Jesus Christ reveals God’s love to us and He reveals the love that we are called to have for God and for others.  On the Cross, Jesus showed us what it means to love with all of our heart and all of our minds and all of our strength.  True love make a complete gift of self to the beloved: and we are called to love God above all things.

The thing that stands in the way of us giving ourselves wholly to God is sin.  We sin whenever we put other things or other people ahead of God.  We sin when we fail to love others as ourselves.  Let us make use of the time that is left in this holy season of Lent to root sin out of our hearts, so that we can truly allow Christ to reign in our hearts and in our lives.  Let us empty ourselves of all that is not pleasing to Our Lord, by means of our Lenten prayer, self-denial, and almsgiving, that we may celebrate Easter with hearts renewed and full of the true peace and joy that comes from knowing and loving God with all of our mind, with all of our soul, with all of our strength.  Lord Jesus, help us to overcome sin that we may experience the abundant life and joy that only You can give; help us to love as You call us to love.  Amen.