Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Lesson of Lazarus: First We Need to Be Raised Up—AND THEN WE NEED TO BE SET FREE!

The "fifth stained glass window" in St. Pius X Church.

(Fifth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on April 6, 2014 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 2014]

For Lazarus to live a full and normal human life again, two things needed to happen to him: the first is obvious; the second, I would say, is not so obvious.  But it was equally necessary.
(And that second thing that needed to happen is illustrated beautifully in the fifth stained glass window in our church on the left side.)

The first thing that needed to happen for Lazarus to live a normal human life again, was that he needed to be brought back from the dead!

That, as I said a few moments ago, is obvious.  The man, after all, had been in the tomb for four days!

But, in and of itself, that was not sufficient.  As essential as it was for Lazarus to be raised up from the grave, that alone was not enough to enable him to live a normal human life again with his family and friends.

the man ALSO NEEDED TO BE SET FREE!  HE NEEDED TO BE SET FREE FROM THOSE BURIAL CLOTHS THAT HAD HIM TIED UP LIKE A MUMMY (as is illustrated so well in our stained glass window).

And Jesus addressed that issue at the very end of the story.  As we heard St. John tell us a few moments ago, “[Jesus] cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’  The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.  So Jesus said to them, ‘Untie him and let him go.’”

“Untie him and let him go.”

He couldn’t untie himself.  He needed help from others.

And, thankfully, he did receive that help and he was able to go home that day with his family.

The raising of Lazarus was a foreshadowing—a prefigurement—of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.  It’s what theologians call a “type”—as the adults taking our Catechism class would tell you.

But here’s the important difference: When Lazarus was raised from the dead he came back to this mortal existence—which means that he had to experience physical death again—a second time—at some point after the events we heard about in this gospel reading.

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a resurrection to an eternal life where there is no physical death.  As St. Paul puts it in Romans 6: 9, “We know that Christ, once raised from the dead, will never die again; death has no more power over him.”

And THAT’S the resurrected life that we look forward to sharing in when our time on this earth is finally over.

But there’s another dimension to this miracle which goes back to what I said at the beginning of my homily, and it’s that dimension that I want to focus on this morning.

I said that for Lazarus to live a full and normal human life again, he first had to be raised from the dead, and then he had to be untied and set free.

And that, spiritually speaking, is exactly what needs to happen to us if we’re going to be the disciples—and saints—that the Lord calls us to be.

Last week I talked about the importance and power of the sacrament of Confession in my homily.  (Actually, since I quoted from Pope Francis so much, I suppose you could say that he preached on that subject last Sunday at St. Pius through me.)

Well you could say that, in a certain sense, what Jesus did for the physical body of Lazarus in today’s gospel, he does for the soul in the sacrament of Confession (especially the soul of a baptized person in the state of mortal sin).  As the Catechism puts it in paragraph 1468: “the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true ‘spiritual resurrection,’ restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.”

A soul in the state of mortal sin is spiritually dead, as the body of Lazarus was physically dead.  And because of that fact—because a soul in mortal sin lacks sanctifying grace and is dead, spiritually—it needs to be “raised up” before anything else spiritually beneficial can happen to it (just like Lazarus’ body had to be raised up before it could experience anything that was physically beneficial).  For example, it would not have benefitted Lazarus in any way if his two sisters, Martha and Mary, had prepared a great meal for him while he was still in the grave!  Before that meal could benefit Lazarus physically, the man’s body needed to be restored to life.

Common sense, right?

But that’s not all that needed to happen!  Lazarus also (as I said a few moments ago) needed to be untied!  He needed to be “set free” from those burial bands and from that cloth which was wrapped around his face!  Only then could he make the trip home and enjoy that great meal with his family and friends.

Do you know what that means, my brothers and sisters?

It means that Confession alone is not enough!  It is necessary, yes—but it’s not sufficient to make us the disciples and saints that the Lord calls us to be.

For that to happen we also need to be set free!  We need to be set free from the sins we get forgiven for in Confession (and even the ones we get forgiven for outside of Confession).

I’ll give you one example today of what I’m talking about.

It’s no secret that viewing pornography on the internet—and the sin of self-abuse which often follows from that activity—is a growing problem in our society right now.

The sin of self-abuse is a serious sin which needs to be confessed—and, praise God, it very often is.  And I commend those who have the courage to confess it.  (I’m sure this is one of those sins Pope Francis was alluding to in that talk of his that I quoted from last week, when he spoke about the “shame” people sometimes feel after they commit certain sins.)

Well let’s be clear about it: Every time a person confesses that sin in Confession with true sorrow in their heart, God forgives it!  Even if the person commits the sin every single day and then repents in Confession every single day, the Lord will forgive that sin and spiritually raise that man or woman from the dead every single day.

And that’s great!  But ask any serious Catholic who struggles with this problem, “Is that forgiveness of God enough for you?” and they will tell you in no uncertain terms, “No, it isn’t!”

And if you then say, “Well, what else do you want?” they will tell you without any hesitation whatsoever, “I want to be set free!  I want this habitual sin out of my life!  I want to be able to say no to this temptation!  I don’t want this ruining my marriage and my family anymore!”

They want what happened to Lazarus physically to happen to them spiritually.

And it’s interesting, the process of getting “untied” from this addiction and set free from it often does require the assistance of others (just like the help of other people was necessary to free Lazarus from his burial cloths).

Thankfully, there are good groups of people out there who are ready and able to lend the necessary assistance—groups like Covenant Eyes, which is the one I always recommend to people.  Covenant Eyes can be easily accessed on the internet.

Now, you might say, “But, Fr. Ray, I don’t struggle with that particular sin.”

Well, okay, maybe for you the troublesome sin that you commit over and over again and are having trouble getting free from is gossip, or foul language, or impatience, or lying, or laziness, or gluttony or anger—or something else.

We all have certain sins that we struggle with and need to be freed from.  This is one reason why daily prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments—as well as seeking the help of others—is so important.

Jesus gave Lazarus the gift of life and the gift of freedom on the day he raised his body from the dead.

“Untie him and let him go.”

Let’s pray today at this Mass that the Lord will give all of us those same two gifts where we need them the most: in the spiritual dimension of our lives.