FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
The first reading is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. These words were spoken to the Hebrew people after many of them had been deported by Babylonian armies from the land of Israel to Babylon, what we know as Iraq today, at the beginning of the sixth century B.C.
The Spirit of God leads the prophet Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones of humans. This is an image of God's people who have left God, adored false gods and have died. They had lost hope, vision, and identity as God's people. So God promises His people, “I am going to open your graves, bring you back to the land of Israel, and you shall know that I am the Lord. I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live.”
The second reading is from the letter that St. Paul wrote to the parish in Rome when he was in Corinth, Greece, during the winter of 57 - 58 A.D.
In this part of the letter, God our Father speaks to us about what the Holy Spirit does for us right now in this very moment.
St. Paul says that "The body is dead because of sin": meaning that our body is like a corpse if we sin (seriously) because then the Holy Spirit is no longer in us.
In Jesus, we, like Lazarus, are freed from the constraints of death and given new life. The death signified here is primarily spiritual death, and the new life promised us by Christ signi¬fies resurrection to eternal life.
Our resurrection opens the way to Christ's embracing us unto eternal life, a life foreseen by Ezekiel in the vision of the dry bones.
God wants to literally dwell in us and for us to abide in Him, as St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading.
Thus the only death that matters, the only death that can endure, is the death caused by mortal sin. This is a topic I invite you to reflect on today - that a mortal sin is so grave that it excludes Christ from our life, and causes spiritual death because we no longer abide in Him nor does He live in us.
The three conditions needed in order for a sin to be mortal are : (1) serious matter, (2) sufficient knowledge and (3) full consent of the will. Unless all three are verified, mortal sin does not occur. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1857.)
Sacred Scripture gives us several lists of actions which are seriously wrong in themselves. For example, St. Paul in Galatians 5:19-21, lists fornication, impurity, licentiousness (which is living in a permissive or lewd manner), idolatry, sorcery, enmity (which is living in hostility or hatred), drunkenness, and carousing (cf. Catechism, No. 1552.).
The Church has clearly acknowledged certain actions as evil in them selves, either in ecumenical councils or in Papal teaching or in ordinary Magisterial doctrine. Clear examples are direct abortion, euthanasia, and sins against reverence for human life.
Contraception is another example, a sin against the holiness of human sexuality. All of these are a rejection of God.
Likewise, recourse to artificial forms of conception, what the world calls "techno¬logical reproduction is also a serious sin.
But full knowledge and complete consent are necessary for the sin to be called mortal. To sin mortally you must know that the sin is serious, you must know that it is agains God’s Law and you must have deliberately consented to it through your own free will. (Catechism, No. 1859).
Mortal sin excludes us from Christ's kingdom. This means eternal death, the death of hell, for our free will has the power to make choices forever, with no turning back.
Mortal sin is so lethal to the soul that it cries out for reconciliation, which is a gift from God. Reconciliation comes from Christ through His Church, primarily through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as the Sacrament of Penance, or, simply, confession.
These thoughts should help us make a resolution about confession at least before we enter Holy Week and celebrate Easter. The precepts of the Church remind us that Catholics are required to confess their serious sins to a priest at least once a year.
Just as schoolchildren must attend school daily in order to remain in school and employees must show for work each day to keep their jobs so too must Catholics follow the precepts of the church in order to be considered good, practicing Catholics in full communion with the church. Does everyone remember what they are?
The 6 precepts of the church are:
1. Attending Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation.
2. Receiving the Holy Eucharist during Easter Season.
3. Confessing your mortal sins at least once a year.
4. Fasting and abstaining on appointed days
5. observing the marriage laws of the Church
6. Contributing to the support of the church.
Catholics should all be aware of these 6 precepts – as they are the minimum required to keep a Catholic in good standing in addition to the Ten Commandments which also apply to every Christian and Jew alike. Those who attended the parish mission heard Father Paul Moret tell us that it would be very helpful to a family’s spiritual welfare to have not only a Bible but also a Catechism of the Catholic Church handy in their home.
This Sunday's Gospel recounts one of Christ's most astounding mir¬acles: the raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead. But there is a big differ¬ence between the Lord's Resurrection and the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus came back to life after having been dead for four days: but he eventually died again.
Christ's Resurrection, on the other hand, is quite different, because He cannot die any more. Our risen Saviour looked quite different from the way He was before His crucifixion and death on Calvary-so different, in fact, that His closest friends had trouble recognizing Him on Easter.
The fact that neither Mary Magdalene nor the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Him makes it clear that Jesus is not merely a man who has come back from the dead, like Lazarus. He is the same person He was, yet He now lives a new kind of life; in fact, He says to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life..." (John 11:25).
"I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus says in the Gospel Reading, and He backs up His words by raising Lazarus from the dead.. "Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die."
The apparent contradictions in these words are explained by the fact that Jesus, like St. Paul, is speaking of two different kinds of life: natural life, by which we are mortal and can expect to die; and supernatural life, also called eternal life, divine life, everlast¬ing life, God's life, spiritual life, etc., by which we are immortal and live forever.
Calling himself "the life," Jesus does not only mean that life which begins beyond the grave, but divine life in our soul - the life which unites us to God here and now, and makes us capable of seeing God "face to face" in heaven.
Of this life, St. Paul says, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20 RSV).
How do we live in Christ, how do we abide in Christ? Our answer is in the same Gospel of John. In Chapter 15 Jesus tells us first to abide in Him. To live in Him. Jesus says “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me. “
Jesus also tells us how we do this. How we live in Him and how He abides in us.
In John chapter 6 verses 54-56 Jesus says “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day, for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.
This is how we abide in Jesus and how He abides in us – through Holy Communion, worthily received.
That is, we must have no serious sin in us when we come up to receive Him. If we do then we must first confess these sins to a priest and receive sacramental absolution in order to be able to receive Holy Communion worthily.
As Father Moret also reminded us that we must not receive Holy Communion if we know that we are in serious sin because if we do so then we bring condemnation upon ourselves. St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians tells us that whoever eats or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer”.
The Church refers to the new life we get from Christ by the name sanctifying grace: "grace" means "a gift" and "sanctify" means "to make holy." Sanctifying grace, then, is the gift of God's own holiness in us.
We first receive sanctifying grace in baptism, the sacrament of our rebirth from water and the Spirit (John 3:5)-our rebirth as adopted children of God the Father, members of Christ's Body the Church, and temples of their Holy Spirit.
If we are Christ's members through faith and baptism, His victory over sin becomes our victory too, and His resurrection-life becomes ours too.
Only one thing can rob us of sanctifying grace, and that is mortal sin. When a person turns their back to God, when they love themselves more than God, sanctifying grace cannot remain.
Surely all sin offends God and harms our relationship with him. However, the Bible, our Catholic tradition, and common sense tell us that some offenses are worse than others.
For a disciple of Christ, mortal sin is a horrendous prospect. A con¬tradiction of all we believe, it is essentially ugly and repugnant. There is nothing good or beautiful about it; it is never justified, never tolera¬ble, never neutral.
If one could draw a picture of mortal sin, one would portray Jesus, the Son of God, crucified, His Precious Blood pouring forth, his voice crying, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" This is what mortal sin looks like. (look at the crucifix)
If we should foolishly forfeit the life of grace through mortal sin, we would be all the more foolish to put off going to confession.
The sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance restores us to life - the life of grace - if we are spiritually dead. For that reason, the Early Church Fathers nicknamed it a "second baptism”.
Christ came to save the whole person. Not only our souls but also our bodies have a place in the kingdom of God. At the general resur¬rection on the Last Day, God will reunite bodies and souls as befits each person's degree of holiness.
This He has already done for our Blessed Mother, the first and best Christian, by bringing her body and soul to heaven. The rest of us must wait until Christ returns in glory.
In the meantime, let us not forget that God's grace in us, nourished by the Eucharist, is the pledge of our own resurrection, soul and body, to eter¬nal life.
In Today’s Gospel when Jesus sees them weeping, He is greatly disturbed and deeply moved and He weeps.
Why does Jesus weep? He is both God and man and He knows that Lazarus will come to life again. Why does He weep?
In the very beginning and throughout the ages there has always been those whose pride prevents them from serving.
They refuse to follow Jesus.
Jesus knows that many will be lost even today because they refuse to listen to His teachings given to them through His Church.
He weeps not only in sympathy for Lazarus’ family but also because being both God and man He knows how many souls will be lost because they refuse to believe in Him.
Jesus asks them to show Him the tomb where Lazarus has been laid. He says, “Take away the stone.” Looking upward toward His Father He prays, “Father, I thank You for having heard Me ...I have said this for the sake of the crowd so that they may believe.”
Now Jesus cries out in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!, The dead man comes out. Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go” and then many believed in Jesus. Doesn’t the same thing happen to us in confession – in essence - doesn’t Jesus say to Satan “Unbind him or her and let them go”.
We say we want life, and we want it to the full, and yet, as Jesus said, "you are unwilling to come to Me to possess that life."
This is why Jesus weeps. We know the way – but we refuse to listen to either Jesus or His Church since both are one and the same – Jesus said “Whoever hears you – hears me” - instead many prefer to do it their own way – believing that they can save themselves.
This is the offer Christ makes that we can, if we let Him have His way, come to share His di¬vine life, the life that He has by nature because He is begotten by God the Father, Who Himself has divine life by nature. If we accept this offer, we too become sons and daughters of God.
Therefore hearing this let us make a resolution not to neglect the sacrament of penance, espe¬cially during Lent.
We acquired Spiritual Life when we were baptized. However, we can let our Spiritual Life die, through mortal sin. We can also let our Spiritual Life starve, through lack of nourishment.
Let’s not neglect the Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Mass either, in which we eat Jesus's Body and drink His Blood and He abides in us and we in Him.
The Sunday following Easter is the Sunday of Divine Mercy – you are invited to make a real effort to find out all that you can about this great devotion and plan to take part in those special services which are provided for our spiritual benefit.
Let us pray, in the words of the final prayer of this Sunday’s Mass, that we will believe Jesus, that we will place all our trust in Him and that we will remain one in Him – that we will abide in Him and He in us – “FOR HE IS LORD FOR EVER AND EVER. AMEN
Deacon Bernard Ouellette