I offer this homily (and take off my hat) to any brothers who are celebrating Mass or live streaming during this crisis
Bottom line: True life, eternal life is nothing more and nothing less than a personal relation to Jesus.
Today Jesus confronts a terrible reality - death, the death of a friend named Lazarus.
Before considering how Jesus addresses death, I'd like to say a word about how ancient people viewed death. The Greeks saw us as having a place between the gods and the animals. Unlike the gods who are immortal, we must die. The animals die as we do, but they seem unaware of their coming death. We humans, however, live with an awareness of death - our own and those we love.
The prophet Isaiah says death is "the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations." (25:7)
Do we fear death? I don't sense that most people do. I think C.S. Lewis got it right. He used this quote: "I am not so much afraid of death as ashamed of it."* We feel a repugnance for death. We can see that shame or repugnance in our response to the coronavirus. The people of our country and most nations are making extraordinary sacrifices to prevent the death of others - mainly old people like myself.**
The repugnance for death has caused people to adopt an "abundance of caution". Otherwise, we are told, a person could be responsible for someone else's sickness and death.
Jesus himself felt strong emotions in the face of death. When he stood before the grave of his friend, Lazarus, he wept. When his own horrific death approached, he begged the Father to take that chalice from him.
Jesus fought against death by curing people who suffered grievous illness. The Gospels also record three instances of Jesus bringing the dead back to life. He did it as a sign of greater things to come.
First and foremost, Jesus wants to rescue us from spiritual death. Bishop Barron writes that each us "to a degree, is spiritually dead. Maybe you're like Lazarus - four days in your tomb. Maybe you feel there is just no hope for the likes of you."
Bishop Barron continues: "I don't care how far you've fallen. I don't care how dead you are. The voice of Jesus can pull you out of the tomb."
The bishop becomes specific: "Maybe you're sunk in an addiction. Maybe you've done things that you are so ashamed of that you can't even bring yourself to speak of them. Maybe you've fallen out of a relationship with the people you love the most."
There's more: "Maybe you've been a first-class jerk. Maybe you just feel you're a failure. Maybe you're terrified of dying. I don't care. Listen for the voice! 'Untie him and let him go.'"
Yes, Jesus wants to rescue us from spiritual death. More than physical death we should fear spiritual death. Although physical death repels us, if a person is in the state of grace he should welcome it. In his Canticle of the Creature St. Francis praises God for "Brother Sun", "Sister Moon," "our Sister, Mother Earth". At the end he thanks God for "our Sister Bodily Death" and he adds,
"How dreadful for those
who die in mortal sin!
How blessed are those she
finds in your most holy will
for the second death
can do them no harm."
What finally matters is your relation to Jesus. As he tells Martha:
"I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."
Let's sum up: We all recoil from death, but there's something incalculably worse: spiritual death. Jesus tells us that true life, eternal life, is nothing more and nothing less than a personal relation to him - a relation we live in prayer and the sacraments. With that in mind I extend to you the third scrutiny.
by raising Lazarus from the dead
you showed that you came that we might have life
and have it more abundantly.
Free from the grasp of death
those who await your life-giving sacraments
and deliver them from the spirit of corruption.
Through your Spirit, who gives life,
fill them with faith, hope, and charity,
that they may live with you always
in the glory of your resurrection,
for you are Lord for ever and ever." Amen.
*Here's the full quote: "I am not so much afraid of death, as ashamed thereof. 'Tis the very disgrace and ignominy of our natures, that in a moment can so disfigure us, that our nearest friends, wife, and children, stand afraid and start at us." Sir Thomas Browne
**Even though young people are much less vulnerable if they contract the virus, I am grateful so many have changed their lifestyles in response to the pandemic. What concerns me is how many people, economically vulnerable - like single moms - have lost their jobs.
From Archives (Year A homilies for Fourth Sunday of Lent):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Ordinary Time leading up to Lent*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Kurt Nagel
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru