Sacred Heart

Catholic Church

Imlay City, Michigan  Tel: (810) 724-1135

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Fr. Paul Ward

Sunday, April 6, 2014
5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A
Sacred Heart Catholic Church

Faith and Eternal Life



   We have come very quickly to the fifth week of Lent. In the old calendar, preceding calendar of the Mass which came from the second Vatican council, these two weeks were called Passiontide, this week being passion week, next week called holy week. There is the tradition to cover up all of the statues and so forth found in the Church, as an extra measure of austerity. There is less music, less flowers, hidden statues, and our penitential practices – and so we press on repenting from our sins, begging for mercy, and preparing to join with Christ on the Cross on Good Friday, and in his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

   The Church blesses us with this magnificent reading, of the resurrection of Lazarus – one of the more important miracles for sure. That all shall rise from the dead, Christ teaches in Jn 5, but we have also read of it in Ez 37 in today’s first reading. If the scribes and Pharisees hated him up until now, it was for this reason that they decided to murder him – indeed, in the verses that follow, in Jn 11, which are not included in today’s long reading, we find (vv. 45-52) them resolving to kill Jesus and at Jn 12:10, we see them plotting to kill Lazarus, too. These murderers are not righteous men. And so in a sense the passion of Christ begins with the resurrection of Lazarus.

   Of the many points worthy of meditation in today’s Gospel passage, I wish to focus on only one, which can be gleaned from the conversation between Martha and the Lord. First let us examine what happened in this conversation, then reflect on the point I wish to stress.

   So, what happened? From the time the Lord comes, Martha speaks five times, and to these five times the Lord replied only thrice, and two of these times, he challenges her, rather starkly, to believe.

   The first reply of the Lord is very short and clear: “Your brother will rise.” If someone said that to you, shortly after the death of your loved one, how would you react? Martha, as a good Jew, remembering what Ez taught in ch. 37 of his book, asserts, Yes, “I know he will rise,” but here she falters a bit. I would not dare say she lacked faith, but I would dare say she did not yet know exactly what God – I mean Jesus – was up to. She sees Lazarus’ death as relatively permanent, something not even the Lord can for now cure, so she adds, “…he will rise on the last day.” In saying this, she speaks correctly and truthfully, for Lazarus will, and so will you.

   But then the Lord reveals a most marvelous doctrine, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The great “I AM” was spoken by the Lord, and the powers of hell trembled in fear and distress. The identity of the burning bush is once again revealed: it is Jesus, the great I AM. Yet our small minds question what he might mean; how could a man “be” the resurrection? And if life is the state of a living thing, how can he, this man here, “be” life?

   But then he continues, “whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” After establishing that one has access to eternal life and endless resurrection by believing in him, he turns to Martha and risks everything with her. He asks, “Do you believe this?” See, he just said, “Whoever believes… lives and will never die.” So now, Martha, do you believe? If she answers yes, she receives the promise; if she answers no or falters, she will not obtain it. Christ’s question is a terrible question. What will Martha answer? What conviction concerning the identity of Jesus of Nazareth will she assert, with eternal consequences? We are relieved to hear her profess flat out, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”

   So here is this great doctrine, that eternal life is made accessible to us by faith, a lived faith mind you, a faith practiced and lived out in charity. How is it that faith in Jesus can provide eternal life?

   Let us think of it like this. Every body has a soul which is its life. The soul organizes the material elements and parts of the body to one unity, and provides it with movement, growth, healing, nourishment, and so forth. Let us imagine that a body is like a sail on a large boat. When the wind picks up, the sail no longer sags, but fills up and takes its proper shape, propelling the boat through the water. The soul is like that wind in the sail.

   Now, we might further take this example and say, OK, let us pretend the soul is like the sail. What wind fills the soul? What is the life of the soul? Which breeze is it, in kind and nature, that propels the soul into movement and life, to nourishment and healing? The answer to this question is this: faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other name by which one could ever be saved. So when the soul has faith in Christ, it receives life, a life of divine origin and nature, exceeding every other being, principle or cause known in the natural world. It is for this reason that the Lord, who is life, provides eternal life to those who believe in him. Such persons fill their souls with that divine wind, that Holy Spirit, who is God himself, and will live forever.

   Let us, then, take hope in our valley of tears, for we believe in Christ, who is the resurrection and the life. Death has no power over him. He has come to set us free from the slavery to sin and death, promising to take us to himself in eternal happiness for all eternity.

   My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, be strong in your faith in Jesus! The world wants you to abandon your faith, but the world only has death to offer. Believe in God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength!

   And so we pray: Good Shepherd, Light of the World, You who are the Resurrection and the Life, we beg you through Mary’s intercession, have mercy on us and on the whole world, now and forever. Amen.


























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