Sunday, March 30, 2008

Three Ways of Exercising Mercy

Jesus appearing to Sister Faustina Kowalska

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A): This homily was given on March 30, 2008, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 20: 19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Easter 2008]

Ever since 2001, the Second Sunday of the Easter season has been officially known as “Divine Mercy Sunday”.

Most of us are familiar with the origin of the Divine Mercy devotion, but for the few who might not be: Back in 1931, a young Polish nun, Sr. Faustina Kowalska, saw a vision of Jesus with two rays of light coming out of his heart. Jesus told her to have a painting produced replicating this vision, and to have it signed, “Jesus, I trust in you!”

Over the next 7 years, the Lord gave Sr. Faustina—now St. Faustina—numerous private revelations concerning his merciful love. These she recorded in a diary, as Jesus had instructed her to do. Many of us, I’m sure, have read at least part of it. Fr. George Kosicki—an authority on the Divine Mercy devotion—has said that through these many revelations, “Jesus taught the young nun that his mercy is unlimited and available even to the greatest sinners.”

Now we all love messages like this when we apply them to ourselves, don’t we? We’re happy to hear, for example, that our God is infinitely merciful, and that through the blood of his Son, Jesus, we personally have access to his mercy. We rejoice when we’re told that our loving God can and will forgive every single sin we commit—even the most severe, even the most embarrassing, even the most habitual—if we simply repent and go to him, especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation. As we heard in today’s Gospel text from John 20, Jesus gave his apostles the power to extend his mercy to any and to all sinners when he appeared to them on Easter Sunday and said, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

That’s nice. That’s comforting. That’s great news! But, of course, it’s also only half the story! Yes, the Lord will give his mercy to each of us—as much as we need—as often as we need it—if only we repent and ask. But at the same time he expects us to be willing to show his mercy to other people! That’s an absolute requirement; it’s not an option! In one of his revelations to St. Faustina, Jesus reportedly said this: “I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it.” (Diary, 742)

Notice he didn’t say, “I ask you to be merciful”; he didn’t say, “It would be really nice if you’d be merciful every once in awhile”. Jesus said, “I demand that you be merciful.”

I mention this today because I constantly meet Catholics—some of them practicing Catholics who wouldn’t think of missing Mass on Sunday—who are also holding big-time grudges against their co-workers and their acquaintances—and even against some members of their own families!

And, worst of all, they don’t have any desire to change. None whatsoever! They don’t even have any desire to try to change!

Now if that describes you at the present moment, then all we can do for you this morning is offer you our prayers. We will pray that your heart will eventually be softened on this issue. After all, no one can force you to be merciful to another human being.

For the rest—especially for those among us who have ill feelings toward others at the present time but who want things to get better—listen to this important word from the Lord that came through St. Faustina. Jesus said to her in one of his revelations: “I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for me.” (Diary, 742)

Loving deeds—combined with reconciling words and sincere prayers—bring God’s mercy to other people through us. That’s the practical formula to follow to fulfill Jesus’ demand to be merciful even to our enemies.

Now in this regard my personal suggestion is to start off with number 3, especially if the person in question is someone with whom you’ve had a big conflict. Yes, it would be nice to start off by performing loving, kind acts toward the person, but that may be extremely difficult at first. The wound they inflicted on you in the past may run too deep.

So it’s best to begin by prayer, number 3 on Jesus’ list. This, of course, is exactly what our Lord was getting at when he said in Matthew 5, “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”

But how exactly do you do this? How do you pray for someone who’s hurt you deeply—someone you might not like very much?

Simple. First of all, you pray that God’s will is accomplished in their life (that’s always the best prayer for another person, be they your best friend or your worst enemy).

Then pray that the person will become a saint! And do it sincerely.

By the way, if that prayer is eventually answered, you will directly benefit! Because if your enemy becomes a saint, he will recognize whatever sins he’s committed against you and will repent of them. He’ll probably even come and ask for your forgiveness!

But even if he never does, by sincerely praying for him you do yourself a really big favor by keeping hatred out of your heart! Remember, hatred is a serious sin that St. John compares to murder in his first letter! We read in 1 John 3: 15: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that eternal life abides in no murderer’s heart.”

But, you see, you can’t hate somebody for whom you’re sincerely praying each and every day. It’s impossible.

So start off with prayer. Begin by extending God’s mercy in that manner. Eventually you’ll be able to move on to words—the second way of exercising mercy, according to Jesus’ revelation to Faustina. And those words can be either verbal or written. On that note, I know of a young woman who recently had a falling out with her father. It was not pretty; in fact, it was “real ugly”. At this point, she wants to reach out to him and talk with him and be reconciled to him, but she doesn’t think he’s ready to communicate face-to-face yet. So she plans on writing him a letter as a first step.

In her case, I think that’s the right approach. Hopefully, the letter will soften his heart a bit and make him more open to a face-to-face conversation.

Then the deeds will come for her—and for us in similar situations: the deeds of kindness and mercy that were first on Jesus’ list to Faustina. Good deeds, of course, can be done for an enemy at any time, but ordinarily I think that they’re most effective when they come after prayer and after conversation. In some sense they fulfill the prayers you’ve said for the person, and put into action the reconciling words you’ve already spoken to them.

Jesus said, “I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for me.”

May the grace of Almighty God—which comes to us in a special way through the Holy Eucharist—help us to do all 3 (at least eventually).

One final word now to those among us who have absolutely no interest in showing mercy to the real troublesome souls in their lives: You all might want to stop praying the Lord’s Prayer. Just a suggestion. I say that because in the Our Father we say, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Another way to phrase that line is as follows: “Show mercy to me, O Lord—only to the extent that I’m willing to show mercy to others.”

Obviously, then, if you’re unwilling to be merciful and forgive, then every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you’re telling Almighty God, “O Lord, please don’t forgive me; O Lord, please, please, please don’t show me any mercy.”

And that’s really not a good prayer to say.

A much better one is, “Lord, please soften my heart—so that I will WANT to be merciful, or at least so that I will want to TRY to be merciful.”

Sunday, March 23, 2008

How to Keep Your Smile

Hurricane Katrina

(Easter 2008: This homily was given on March 23, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Romans 6: 3-11; John 20: 1-9.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Easter 2008]

Most high school students think of themselves when they’re on vacation. But last month I’m happy to say that one of our parishioners, Brian Strafach, spent his week off from Prout thinking of others. During his winter break in February he volunteered to take a trip to Louisiana, to help in the rebuilding efforts that are continuing to go on there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
When he came back from his trip he told me this story . . .
Not long after the hurricane hit, a rescue worker who had just returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq, was walking through one of the devastated neighborhoods of New Orleans. An old man saw him, came out of his house and asked for help. He said, “I need someone to be my hero. You see, I’ve lost my dentures. I’m trying to find them in my house, but it’s full of mud from the storm. Will you help me?”
The rescue worker said, “Of course, sir,” and the two went inside. Well, they looked—and looked—and looked—and finally—amazingly—they managed to find his false teeth.
Needless to say, the old man was ecstatic—and extremely grateful. He said to the worker, “Thank you so much. You really are my hero. You know, Katrina may have taken everything else from me, but she didn’t take my smile!
As time goes on, my brothers and sisters, life “takes” many things from all of us. (That’s true even if we never have to deal with a terrible hurricane like Katrina.)
“Life” takes our youth; it takes our good health, sooner or later; it takes our physical and sometimes even our mental abilities. It can take away our possessions (as was the case for that old man in New Orleans); it can take away our freedom; it can take away our popularity (just ask a pro athlete who’s past his prime—the public acclaim he once reveled in isn’t there anymore). And, of course, life also takes many of our friends and family members through physical separation and eventually through bodily death.
And because of all this, life can very easily take away our smile (that is to say, it can take away our hope).
But, as the story I just told indicates, it doesn’t have to!
On that note, one of the things that really impressed Brian Strafach on his trip to New Orleans was the depth of faith he found among many of the people there—people from whom life has already taken a great deal. He said this about the family whose house he worked on (imagine, Katrina hit in August of 2005—that means this family has been without their own home for 2 and a half years!): “They [don’t dwell] on the past, and they say that all of their strength and hope comes from their strong belief in God.”
Life can take a lot from us, but it will not take our smile—it will not take our hope—if our faith is strong. But our faith needs to be in a god who is alive—in a god who has overcome all the negative forces of this life, including sin and death!
And there’s only one god who has done that. He’s the real God, the true God, the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead on the very first Easter Sunday 2,000 years ago!
And our faith in this risen God needs to be nourished on a daily basis, if it’s going to give us real hope! It can’t be once a year on Easter Sunday; it can’t be twice a year on Easter Sunday and Christmas; it can’t even be once a week at Sunday Mass (although being nourished in faith at least once a week with God’s Word and the Holy Eucharist at Mass is a necessary part of the process!).
Our faith needs to be strengthened daily, simply because life takes things from us daily! Have you seen the commercial where a man parks his nice, new, red sports car on a quiet city street? (This makes the point quite well, I think.) He pulls into the parking space, gets out of the car, locks the doors, and walks away. Two seconds after he leaves a rock hits the front window; then several young boys smash into the side door while playing street hockey; then a manhole cover gets blasted into the air and crashes onto the hood; then a truck backs into the rear end; then lightening strikes a nearby tree and the tree falls on the roof.
It all happens in the span of a 30-second commercial. At the end of it the announcer says, “Life comes at you fast!—be ready with Nationwide.”
He could have said, “Life takes from you fast,” and the meaning would have been the same. Yes, it can take your brand new car in 30 seconds! Actually, it can take your brand new car in less than one second, as you know from experience if you’ve ever been in an accident where your car’s been totaled.
But it can also take from us in much more serious ways. There’s a man in our parish, in his late 40s, who was the picture of health two short months ago. He literally—and I mean literally—could go out and run 10 miles with ease. And he often did. Then his back began to bother him. That’s all it was—just a backache. Well, after a few visits to the doctor and several tests he was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer.
Life takes—and it often takes quickly.
And if we’re not careful it can even take our faith, in the process of taking our health and other things! We all know people who have lost their faith in the midst of the trials of life. And when you lose your faith—specifically your faith in the risen Christ—you quite naturally lose your hope. Those two theological virtues are closely tied together.
I’ll say it one more time: This is why nourishing our faith each and every day is crucial; this is why our relationship with the risen Christ needs to be the most important relationship we have in this life. If our life isn’t built on the pillars of prayer, Mass, Confession and the Scriptures—all of which keep our relationship with Jesus strong—then it can all fall apart very quickly.
And at some point it probably will.
I’ll give the final word today to the late, great Fulton Sheen. Bishop Sheen, aside from being a university professor and television personality, was also the head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for many years. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith is an association that raises money to support the work of Catholic missionaries throughout the world. As head of the Society, Bishop Sheen would often visit the poorest of the poor in third world countries. That means that he met many, many people from whom life had taken a great deal. Listen now to his description of one of them:
“In the course of my life I have dealt with all kinds of people, with those who have been sinners and returned to the Lord and suffered much and had an indescribable joy. One of the most joyful figures I ever met in my life was a leper woman in Jamaica. She had lost her arms and half of her legs, but she was always smiling and happy and saying, ‘There’s going to be a resurrection [someday], and then I will have a [new], glorified body.’”
On the natural level, life had robbed this woman of almost everything. But it did not rob her of her faith in the risen Christ—or her hope of sharing in his resurrection after death.
She had her faith; she had her hope; and so she always had her smile.
May it be that way for all of us.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Priestly Identity

"I am a Catholic priest."

(Holy Thursday 2008: This homily was given on March 20, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 13: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Thursday 2008]

Most of us know the story of the death of St. Maximilian Kolbe. After being taken to the concentration camp in Auschwitz in May of 1941, he offered his life in exchange for another prisoner who was condemned to death.

It happened near the end of July in that same year, 1941, when someone from Maximilian’s cellblock escaped from the camp. As soon as he found out about it, the Nazi commandant decided that 10 other prisoners would be chosen at random and executed in retaliation for the one who had gotten away.

One of those chosen was Francis Gajowniczek, a married man who had a young family. When he was picked he fell to his knees and begged to be spared—for the sake of his wife and children. It was then that St. Maximilian stepped forward and offered to take his place.

The commandant sneered at him and said, “Who is this Polish swine?”

St. Maximilian answered by saying, very simply, “I am a Catholic priest.”

In commenting on this event, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee wrote the following:

“[Notice that] Fr. Kolbe did not reply:

  • I am Maximilian Kolbe . . .
  • I am a Pole . . .
  • I am a human being . . .
  • I am a friend of his . . .

His response was simply and humbly: ‘I am a Catholic priest.’

In the eyes of God, in his own eyes, in the eyes of God’s Church and his suffering people, Maximilian Kolbe’s identity was that of a priest. At the core of his being, on his heart, was engraved a nametag, which marked him forever a priest of God. That identity could not be erased by the inhuman circumstances of a death camp, or the godless environment of Auschwitz, or by the fact that Father Kolbe was hardly ‘doing’ the things one usually associates with priestly ministry . . .

[His priestly] identity hardly depended upon the acclaim of those around him or was lessened by the doubts and crisis he may personally have experienced in such a tortured setting. That identity came from God, and was imbedded indelibly within, born of a call he had detected early on from the Master to follow him, and sealed forever by the sacrament of holy orders. So conscious was he of his priestly identity that he could boldly answer the sneer of the Nazi commandant and simply state what he knew to be the central fact of his personal definition, ‘I am a Catholic priest.’”

The United States Navy used to promote itself with the saying, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” Well the priesthood is not just a job either (which, unfortunately, is what some Catholics think it is): it’s a vocation. And at an even deeper level you could say the priesthood is not just a job, it’s an identity! It’s an identity that’s tied directly to the person of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest.

Many lay people—and sad to say even many priests—have lost sight of this important truth in recent decades. And we’ve all suffered because of it.

Thankfully Maximilian Kolbe never forgot this truth—this ontological fact—about himself. He never forgot who he was by virtue of his priestly ordination! And that self-understanding is what inspired him to minister to others in the hellhole of Auschwitz, even before he offered his life for Francis Gajowniczek. Historians tell us that St. Maximilian would often share the little food he was given each day with his fellow prisoners. That fact alone is striking. I ask you, if you were given a portion of food each day that wasn’t even sufficient for yourself, how eager would you be to give it to someone you didn’t even know?

St. Maximilian also heard Confessions and said Mass in secret—putting his own life on the line for the sake of the salvation of souls.

He did the work of a priest; he served others in the spirit of the Gospel text we just heard—he “washed their feet,” so to speak—in some of the worst circumstances imaginable—because he had a strong sense of his priestly identity. He did all that he did, in other words, because he knew exactly who he was!

In the years after Vatican II, some priests were trained to think of themselves as second-rate social workers or second-rate psychologists. That became their identity. And I fear that a lot of people have gone to hell in the last 40 years because of that bad priestly formation. You see, instead of helping people to meet Jesus Christ in word and sacrament, some of these priests have been more concerned with helping people “find themselves” and experience “psychological wholeness” (whatever that means). So they’ve neglected to preach about sin, and have downplayed the need for Confession, and have failed to teach people about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Consequently some of the sheep entrusted to their care have probably not received the forgiveness and the grace they’ve needed to be saved and go to heaven!

If priests don’t know who they are, then they obviously won’t do what they’re supposed to do for their flocks—and the sheep of Jesus Christ will suffer the consequences! That means some of them will die, spiritually speaking. Think about it: If Maximilian Kolbe did not know who he was as a priest, some of the prisoners he ministered to in Auschwitz might have died in the state of mortal sin! That’s because he would have told them they were all good enough and didn’t need to go to Confession, when in fact some of them probably did need to go.

In paragraph 1563 of the Catechism it says (quoting one of the documents of Vatican II): “Through [the sacrament of Holy Orders] priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the head.”

That’s technical theological language, but basically it means that when a priest ministers sacramentally, it is Jesus Christ who is working directly through him by the grace of his ordination. This is why the priest says, “I absolve you . . .” when he brings you God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He does not say, “Jesus Christ absolves you of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”; he says, “I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As a human person, of course, the priest has no power to take your sins or anyone else’s sins away. But since he’s been configured to Christ by ordination, Jesus Christ can work directly through him to forgive the worst of sins in the worst of sinners.

This also explains why the priest does not say, “This is Jesus’ body” and “This is Jesus’ blood” at the consecration of the Mass. Because he acts in the person of Christ during the Liturgy, he speaks the words of Christ himself at the consecration: “This is my body”; “This is my blood”.

Does this make the priest any holier than other people? Absolutely not! For a priest to be holy, he has to practice the same virtues that everyone else has to practice. Holiness is not a byproduct of ordination, although it is a demand of ordination!

St. Paul, who was a priest himself, once wrote, “I discipline my own body and master it, for fear that after having preached to others I myself should be rejected.” Paul knew that he could fall into serious sin in spite of the fact that he was configured to Christ by his apostleship and by his priesthood.

But thankfully, even if a priest sins seriously, the sacraments he celebrates are still valid! Again that’s because Christ is doing the sacramental work through him. When the priest baptizes, it’s Jesus who baptizes; when the priest absolves, it’s Jesus who absolves; when the priest consecrates the Eucharist, it’s Jesus who consecrates the Eucharist; when the priest anoints the sick, it’s Jesus who anoints the sick.

So on this Holy Thursday night—on this anniversary of the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist—I ask you to pray for all priests. I’ve asked you to do that many times before. But tonight I ask you to pray for them specifically that they will know who they are: that they will know and understand the great grace that has been given to them by virtue of their ordination! Because if they know who they are, then they will help you to be the people—the disciples—the saints—that God calls you to be.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Difference Between the Repentance of Judas and the Repentance of Peter

"Feed my lambs."

(Palm Sunday 2008 (A): This homily was given on March 16, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Palm Sunday 2008]

The story of Jesus’ passion and death is found in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But each evangelist records certain details of the story that the other three do not.

For example, the details surrounding the death of Judas are found exclusively in the gospel of Matthew. Mark, Luke and John tell us nothing about Judas’ return to the chief priests and elders, his throwing of the thirty pieces of silver into the Temple—and his eventual suicide.

Matthew alone also tells us something very important about Judas’ internal reaction to the condemnation of Jesus: he tells us that Judas actually felt sorrow and remorse for what he had done. It says in Matthew 27, beginning in verse 3: “Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’”

Which raises an interesting question: What was the difference between Judas and Peter? After all, they were similar in a number of ways. Both turned their backs on the Lord; both sinned grievously; and both, apparently, repented!

So how were they different? I think Bishop Sheen answered that question perfectly many years ago in one of his books. There he wrote: “It is interesting to make a comparison between Peter and Judas. Our Lord warned both that they would fail. They both denied or betrayed the Lord. They both repented. But the difference in the word repent is that Judas repented unto himself and Peter repented unto the Lord.

When Judas repented of his betrayal of Jesus, in other words, he looked inward. In that sense he had a personal encounter with himself. The problem is it didn’t go any further than that. His encounter was ONLY with himself. That led him ultimately to despair, because deep down inside he knew that HE was the problem, not the solution! He had repented to himself, yes—but that didn’t do him any good in the end because it was impossible for him to take his own guilt away!

Peter on the other hand, after looking inward like Judas did, also looked OUTWARD. He looked to the one Person who could make things right again and restore him to grace! That Person, of course, was Jesus himself. After he had risen from the dead, Jesus met Peter by the Sea of Tiberias and 3 times asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

And 3 times Peter said, “Yes.”

That personal encounter restored Peter to grace. His repentance “unto the Lord” freed him from his guilt—forever!

I mention this today because I think many Christians in our modern world—and that includes many Catholics—mistakenly believe that “repenting unto themselves” is all they need to do in this life. This is no doubt one reason why Confession is not a very popular sacrament these days (at least it’s not as popular as it should be).

In Confession, remember, we have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ—an encounter that’s just as real as the one Peter had with Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias 2,000 years ago! But many Catholics don’t think they need that type of encounter. They think that Judas’ type of repentance is all that’s needed.

Could this be why we live in such a violent culture? In my humble opinion it’s at least part of the reason why. Notice something: Judas repented unto himself and ended up committing a terrible act of violence—against himself! To me, that’s not at all surprising. When you repent only unto yourself you don’t experience any real inner peace. You may pat yourself on the back and say, “Don’t worry; it’s okay”—but deep down inside you know that it’s not okay!

And when a person doesn’t have any peace on the inside—when he knows in his heart and soul that it’s “not okay”—he’s obviously much more likely to commit an act of violence on the outside—either against himself (like Judas did), or against someone else.

This is yet another reason to go to Confession regularly. Confession is the best and most important opportunity God gives us to repent “unto the Lord” like Peter did.

If you didn’t have a chance to go during the season of Lent, don’t worry—fear not! The good news is: here, at St. Pius, we provide Confessions all year long.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Those Who Witnessed the Raising of Lazarus from the Dead: Why Didn’t They ALL Believe?

(Fifth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on March 9, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 11: 1-45.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2008]

Not too many people have seen a dead man walk out of a tomb—especially a guy who’s been in the grave for the better part of a week!

But 2,000 years ago in Judea—in a little town called Bethany to be exact—a lot of people did.

And yet some of them still did not believe in Jesus, the God-man who had worked this incredible miracle!

A rather amazing fact, if you ask me. It says at the end of the story (and here I quote): “Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him [i.e., in Jesus].”

But “many” is not ALL!

The fact that some still did not believe is clear from the very next line of the Bible, which reads: “Some others, however, went to the Pharisees and reported what Jesus had done.”

And together they made plans to orchestrate our Lord’s death.

So why—why didn’t they believe? Or perhaps the better question is: Why didn’t they want to believe?

I say that’s the better question because all too often the evidence for something doesn’t matter to people. They believe what they want to believe in spite of the evidence, not because of the evidence. It’s like those who want to keep abortion legal in our country. You tell them to look at the clear and indisputable scientific evidence—the genetic fact about when human life begins—and they totally ignore it. They simply don’t want to believe that abortion is wrong, so they completely ignore reality.

Why didn’t these enemies of Jesus want to believe that he was the Son of God and the Messiah? Why didn’t they want to believe that he had the power to raise a man like Lazarus from the dead?

I think one reason was that it was easier for them not to believe! After all, if you really make the conscious decision to put your faith in Jesus Christ, you have to be willing to change. And change is hard—for all of us!

According to St. Mark, the first command that Jesus gave during his earthly ministry consisted of one word: “Repent!”

To repent means not only to say you’re sorry; to repent also involves making concrete changes to your lifestyle, in order to become a better person.

And it’s much easier to stay as you are, sins and all.

Another reason they didn’t want to believe in Jesus might have had something to do with their pride. I say that because no one in his right mind likes to admit that he’s been wrong about something—or about someone. We all like to think we are perfect judges when it comes to the character of other human beings. But if these men and women were ever going to say, “Yes, I now believe that Jesus is the anointed one of God,” they also had to be willing to say, in sincere humility, “I was dead wrong about him in the past, and I admit it. I thought Jesus was a fake, a charlatan; for awhile I even thought he was in league with the devil. What a fool I was!”

And that also would have been hard for them to do.

Or perhaps it was peer pressure that kept them from wanting to put their faith in our Lord. It says that some of them went immediately to the Pharisees after witnessing this miracle. Was that because they were friendly with the Pharisees? That’s a very real possibility. Was it because they all hung out at the same synagogues and in the same marketplaces?

If they socialized or fraternized with other people who had already condemned Jesus as a Jewish heretic and blasphemer (as the Pharisees had), chances are they would have felt a lot of pressure to think the same way, and to pronounce the same verdict on our Lord—in spite of what they saw that day when Lazarus walked out of the tomb!

Let’s face it, we all want our peers to like us, and to think that we’re really nice and really smart—and that can sometimes cause us to say that we don’t believe what we know we should believe.

And then there’s the persecution factor: “If Jesus has so many enemies, what will happen to me if I say I believe in him? Will his enemies become my enemies? Will the people who want to harm him, now want to harm me—and my family?” That might have been a pressing issue for some of them.

Which leads to the last reason I’ll share as to why these men and women might have hesitated to believe in Jesus after the raising of Lazarus from the dead: the fear of earthly loss. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. It’s amazing how quickly people will say they believe something if there’s a material benefit attached to it. It’s also amazing how quickly they’ll radically change their “belief” for fear of losing some material advantage. Politicians do this all the time—especially during election years!

I’m sure most of you have heard the joke about the 3 men who went to interview for a job one day. This makes the point quite well, I think. The interviewer asked the first man, “What’s 2+2?” He answered, “4.” The interviewer asked the second man, “What’s 2+2?” He answered, “4.” Then the third man came in. The interviewer said, “What’s 2+2?” He responded, “It’s whatever the boss says it is.”

Sadly, according to the story, the third guy is the one who got the job!

Perhaps these people in Bethany thought that they’d lose their jobs if they said they now believed in Jesus. If they were merchants, maybe they feared that some of their clients would take their business elsewhere. Those are both very real possibilities.

There’s an old saying: “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” We live in a world that’s different in many respects from the world of first century Bethany, where this last miracle of Jesus took place.

But human nature is still the same.

In spite of the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world—which is even greater now than it was in the first century; in spite of all that, the pressures to disbelieve and to follow another path are exactly the same today as they were back then. I hope this homily has made that clear.

May the grace of God help us all to overcome those pressures, and have a strong and unwavering faith in Jesus.