Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel." Ezekiel 37:12
Castel Gandolfo is a small town outside Rome where the popes have had a summer residence for centuries. In going there towards the end of the summer they escape the oppressive heat of Rome. In the papal gardens are the ruins of the Villa of Domitian, an ancient Roman emperor. I recall once years ago having had the privilege of entering these gardens, which are closed to the public, and visiting these ruins. There on the ruined walls of the villa were graffiti, initials inscribed with little stars of David. Within the walls of Roman ruins, during World War II, Pope Pius XII had hidden Jews, awaiting escape and freedom. The detractors of Pope Pius XII will never speak of it. The walls of ancient Roman ruins had been an enclosure, a tomb, where hundreds awaited a resurrection of sorts, their release from inevitable death at the hands of the Nazis. I could not help but be reminded of this story when I read the Gospel for today.
Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. The raising of Lazarus is an anticipation of the Resurrection. The odds are stacked that this was impossible. Lazarus had been dead for four days, but Jesus had come for life. Jesus commands in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11:43). With those words, Lazarus rose from the walls of a cold, dark grave and the cloths that bound him were removed. Jesus showed Himself to be what He told Martha He was. "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" (John 11:25-26). Jesus has come to resurrect not only Himself but also to raise all who share in His life.
We are given this resurrected life. This life is given to us vividly, in the Sacramental life of the Church, beginning at baptism. St. Paul speaks of this. "In baptism you were not only buried with him but also raised to life with him because you believed in the power of God who raised him from the dead. Even when you were dead in sin and your flesh was uncircumcised, God gave you new life in company with Christ" (Colossians 2:12-13). We call Sacramental Grace a share in God¹s life. It is also a share in Christ¹s resurrected life. St. Paul will write in Ephesians, "God is rich in mercy; because of his great love for us he brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin. By this favor you were saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5).
When we are forgiven sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus says to us, "Lazarus, come out!" To be forgiven is a share in resurrected life. To forgive is to share that life with others. As Our Lord Jesus said to His Apostles, "If you forgive men¹s sins, they are forgiven them" (John 20:23). When we anoint the sick or the dying, Jesus says to us, "Lazarus, come out!" I anointed a lady once on her deathbed. She was unconscious, but during the prayers she opened her eyes, recognized me and what I was doing, and beamed the most extraordinary smile. She knew Jesus Christ was giving her a share in resurrected life. As St. James writes, "Is there anyone sick among you? He should ask for the presbyters of the church. They in turn are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the LordŠ. If he has committed any sins, forgiveness will be his" (James 5:14-15). For one who has this resurrected life, there can be no ultimate destruction. "Do not fear those who deprive the body of life, but cannot destroy the soul" (Matthew 10:28). Those words must have echoed in the ears of the faithful who faced death in concentration camps.
When we receive the Eucharist, Jesus says, "Lazarus, come out!" From our Lord Jesus Himself, we hear, "He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:54). When I say, "Amen" to the Body of Christ, I am professing my faith that I will rise. Just as Jesus¹ Body and Blood are joined in me, I believe that my body and my soul will be joined in a glorious resurrection. St. Irenaeus wrote about this long ago. He was an important witness. He lived in the 2nd Christian century, was the bishop of one of the churches of the Book of Revelation, and was only twice removed from the apostles themselves, being a disciple of one of their disciples. I would like to conclude with his words that speak so eloquently about our Resurrected life in the Eucharist. "Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God¹s blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly; so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection" (Adv. Haeres. 4, 18, 4-5) . "Lazarus, come out!"