20 March 2013
From Death to Life
Fifth Sunday of Lent-Third Scrutiny
For the past two weeks we have heard from the Gospel according to John at this Mass. We step aside from the usual hearing from the Gospel according to Luke to meditate and reflect upon what St. John calls the main signs of Jesus’ ministry. We do this to assist our Elect to prepare for baptism, confirmation, and the reception of Holy Communion for the first time, as we accompany them through the Scrutinies.
These three signs that we hear about all have to do with life, and are fitting for the Elect who are preparing for new life in baptism. Two weeks ago we heard about the Samaritan woman at the well, and how Jesus was going to give her living water. As we all know, we can’t live without water. Last week we heard of the man born blind and how Jesus is the light of the world. Light is an important part of life. Without sunlight, the plants don’t produce, which means we, and the animals we eat, don’t survive. Today, we don’t deal with an image or a metaphor for life, but with life itself in the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
The first important aspect is that faith is involved. The Samaritan woman comes to believe in Jesus, and so she is given the life-giving water in her soul which will never run dry. The man born blind has faith, and Jesus opens His eyes. Martha has faith that Jesus will raise Lazarus. In none of these cases is the faith complete, as if one knows it all. In fact, if one truly knows it all, faith, the knowledge of things unseen, is not necessary. But faith makes new life possible.
It is faith, at least in its seminal form, which led you, Elect of God, to ask questions about the Catholic Church. It is faith which led you to continue searching and opening the Word of God to see if this Jesus should be followed. It is faith which you will profess before you are baptized. This will not be the end of the journey, but only the beginning of new life in Christ, just as for those of us who were baptized as infants, when our parents and godparents professed faith for us so that we could receive the precious gift of new life in Christ, that moment of baptism was not the end of our pilgrimage, but the beginning. And likewise confirmation is not the end of our development of faith, but another important step in the pilgrimage, not the destination.
God’s love is shown for us in giving us new life. God promises through the prophet Ezekiel that the way we know that God is God is by receiving new life from Him. Jesus fulfills that prophecy in our Gospel passage from today.
But new life is meant to be new, not old. You don’t pour new wine into old wineskins. Lazarus had been dead for four days. His decomposing body was rank with the odor of death. It looked like a body, in some regards, but was not (we use the word corpse for a body that is no longer animated by a soul). That is how it is with us before we come to Christ. Yes, we are made in the image and likeness of God, we have human dignity because we are rational and have an immortal soul, but we do not have new life in us. That comes through baptism, at least ordinarily. Before baptism, we are plagued by original sin which puts us at enmity with God. That is why we pray for you, dear Elect, that, because you have already been chosen—elected—for baptism, the power of Satan may have no sway over you. After baptism, original sin is washed away—death is washed away—and you are filled with new life.
But our outsides need to match our insides. There needs to be a certain consonance, a certainly harmony between the new life we have in our souls, and the way we act with our bodies. Beauty comes from when the image matches the idea, and if we truly want to be beautiful, then we should try with all our might to make sure that the way we live matches what we believe. That goes for all of us, not just you Elect. How many times did Jesus decry the lack of consonance in the Pharisees: “‘You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.’” The same could be said when what we have inside does not match what we do on the outside. The temptations are great to keep our faith to ourselves and not let it impact the way we live our lives. That is where scandal arises, when what we profess with our lips does not match the other actions of our life; when we have new life in us, but we still act like a rotting corpse; when we are members of the Body of Christ, but we act no differently than those who do not know Jesus.
Dear Elect of God, we pray for you, that as you draw nearer to the life-giving waters of baptism, to the Light of Christ, to new life in Jesus, that you will grow in faith and be kept safe from the Evil One so that you are prepared to put to death the old man, and put on Christ, the new Man. And we thank you, because your consonance of life between what you believe and how you live reminds us who were baptized before to live up to that call ourselves, so that more and more will be drawn to new life in Christ that not only changes our souls, but changes how we live each day.