Fifth Sunday of Lent
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
April 10, 2011
Fifth Sunday of Lent
“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
The Gospels are about faith, and in each of the Gospels for this Lent we heard about this all important virtue. The climax of the Transfiguration was an invitation to faith by the Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). The call to faith of the Samaritan woman began with a revelation of her personal life. The man born blind came to faith because Jesus gave him sight. Now, in today’s Gospel we come to another moment of faith. Like a crescendo in music, we have been building up to it, because this act of faith will usher in an incredible moment in the life of Jesus. He will raise someone to life, a prefiguring of what He himself will do in His own Resurrection.
This faith, as we have said, is a reality. What do I mean? Words virtually escape me in describing what it is. What is revealed in faith is something that we can hardly believe is possible, yet it exists. Faith is a reality because it breaks through our fears, gives flight to our belief. The Samaritan woman only realizes it slowly by way of a conversation with Jesus that works its way through a number of topics. For the man born blind, faith comes after he has received his sight. He does not even know who Jesus is until the very end when he is invited to believe. And today we meet Martha and Mary who are not lacking in faith. What happens is they engage it or more truthfully God engages them through Jesus. It is Martha who expresses the faith that lay deeply embedded in her heart. “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:27). This is in response to Jesus question, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26). The reality that Martha so willingly accepts is the belief that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” that whoever believes in him will live (John 11:25) (4).
We speak often of a “leap of faith.” For Martha to say that she has come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah means that she knows that Jesus who is life can give that life to her brother Lazarus. This is no leap over a stream. This is to leap off a cliff. Martha embraces it with all her being, and Jesus goes to the tomb and the miracle occurs.
When we read in the lives of the saints or in the journals of people for whom faith was more than “lip service” but something real and consequential, we encounter such completeness of expression. I think, for example, of the words of Paul Claudel. Claudel was a famous French poet who lived at the turn of the last century. He had been raised in an aggressively atheistic home. Religion for him was nothing more than a quaint archaic remnant of the past, until one Christmas Day with nothing else better to do he went to Notre Dame Cathedral to attend services. He even brought along a notebook in which he scribbled random notes. At some point, listening to the singing, he felt a strange movement in his heart. Thanks be to God, he did not ignore it. This is how he describes what happened:
At that instant my heart was touched and I believed. I believed, with such
a force of adherence, with such a lifting up of all my being, of such firm
belief, of such certitude that left no place for any doubt, that, ever
since, all the books, all the arguments, all the dangers of a restless life, have
not been able to shake my faith, truthfully not even to touch it. I had had
all of a sudden the heart-rending feeling of innocence, of the eternal
childhood of God, an ineffable revelation.
In a way, this is the experience of Martha. Martha was not a shy woman. She had a strong will and could call anyone to task, including our Lord himself. She is the one who goes out to Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). It is this woman, with a will as strong as that of Claudel, who makes a profession of faith from which she will not shrink. “You are the Christ, the Son of God” (John 11:27).
It is through the prism of this reality that Martha and Mary see clearly Jesus standing before the tomb and shouting, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). Martha has a hope enlivened by faith. She knows. Like Claudel, faith is real. It needs no proof. Proofs are for science. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It needs no proof. “All the books, all the arguments, all the dangers of a restless life, have not been able to shake my faith, truthfully not even to touch it.” Faith shouts out to us, “Lazarus, come out.”