|The Rolling Stones in 1964.|
(Fifth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on April 2, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Ezekiel 27: 12-14; John 11: 1-45.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2017]
I can’t get no satisfaction.
If you were around back in 1965 and listened to your AM radio on a regular basis (like I did), then you know what that is: it’s a line from an old Rolling Stones’ song that made it to Number 1 that year.
I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no—oh no, no, no …
(Just be thankful I didn’t try to sing that! I spared you all an extra Lenten penance!)
Now there are very few times when I will look to the Rolling Stones for a spiritual insight—but this is one of those rare occasions. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are definitely not my philosophers of choice, but I believe they’re onto something here.
Because the fact of the matter is, I “can’t get no satisfaction” in this life, and neither can you. Here I mean perfect satisfaction, perfect fulfillment, perfect happiness—which I think was what Jagger and Richards were getting at when they wrote those lyrics. Of course, in one way or another, many of us do try—and try—and try—and try to attain perfect satisfaction during our time on this earth, but we always end up falling short of the goal.
And we always will—on this side of the grave.
The perfect will come only when the words of today’s first reading are fulfilled for us: when the Lord “opens our grave,” so to speak, and gives us eternal life in the resurrection.
That’s reality. That’s the truth. The problem comes when we, consciously or unconsciously, fail to accept this truth and conduct our lives as if we can find perfect satisfaction here. That’s a problem not only because it can lead us into serious sin, but also because it can lead us to experience incredible frustration—the kind of frustration that we can almost “feel” in the lyrics of that song: “I try, and I try, and I try, and I try—but I can’t get it!”
This kind of unrealistic perspective on things can also blind us to the many blessings the Lord has given to us—and is giving to us—in our life. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I visited a 77-year-old woman in the nursing home recently. She was there, not as a permanent resident but rather for some physical rehabilitation. And she was understandably down when I saw her. She’d much rather be home—and healthy—and have her independence back.
We’d all feel the same way, I’m sure, in similar circumstances.
But as we talked that day, I discerned that this woman also had some unrealistic expectations—unrealistic expectations about the level of satisfaction she’ll be able to attain during her remaining years on earth. And I discerned that those unrealistic expectations were affecting her emotionally—and even spiritually—in a negative way. So I said to her at one point:
It’s very clear to me that you have a desire for perfect health and perfect happiness—and that’s good! God put that desire in you; it’s really the desire for heaven. But you can’t expect that kind of perfection here. Here on this earth we’re never going to be perfectly satisfied—and we’ll only get frustrated if we think we can be. You told me that you were diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer 25 years ago—a cancer that very few people beat. But you did. You told me that more recently you were diagnosed with another form of cancer, but that you’ve responded very well to the treatments they’ve given you. Praise God! You have a lot to be grateful for. But that’s still not enough, is it? You’re not perfectly satisfied. That’s because we don’t just want some health, we want perfect health.
You just showed me some really nice pictures of your great-grandchildren. What a blessing! You know, my mother died 24 days before her first grandchild was born—so I know what a great gift it is to see grandchildren born into this world. And here you’ve been blessed to see your great-grandchildren. But that’s not enough, is it? It’s never enough. Even if you were blessed to see your great-great-great-great-great grandchildren born into this world, that would NOT completely satisfy you—nor should it.
This world wasn’t made to completely satisfy us! Only heaven can do that.
I mention all this today because of this gospel story we just heard: the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Of all the miracles that Jesus performed during his 3-year earthly ministry, this one was certainly the most extraordinary, the most spectacular. Yes, he had raised others from the dead prior to this (like the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain), but in this case the guy had been dead for four days!
And yet, as incredible as this miracle was, it did not completely satisfy. It did not bring complete satisfaction to Martha, or to Mary—or even to Lazarus.
That’s because this resurrection was only temporary! Yes, Lazarus was raised from the dead—yes, he walked out of his tomb at the command of Jesus after being in the grave for the better part of a week. But, lest we forget, Jesus brought Lazarus back to THIS life—this earthly life—this imperfect life—this temporal, mortal existence.
Consequently, Lazarus knew that he would eventually have to die again! He knew that even as he was walking (or maybe I should say, “shuffling”) out of the tomb. Martha knew it, too—as did Mary and everyone else who was there that day.
So, as happy as they all must have been, they were definitely not perfectly satisfied!
But now they are! At least Martha and Mary and Lazarus are!
They’re perfectly satisfied because they’re now sharing fully in the resurrection of Jesus Christ—the resurrection to eternal life that was prefigured and foreshadowed in this miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
So the bottom line is this (and I’ll conclude with this thought): Don’t try to get on earth what you can only get in heaven.
That’s the Lord’s message to us today at this Mass: Do not try to get here on earth what you can only get in heaven.
If we keep in mind the fact that perfect satisfaction is for heaven only, chances are we’ll keep things in perspective here on earth, and we’ll make the effort to stay on the narrow road that leads to God’s eternal kingdom.
If, on the other hand, we try to find our ultimate satisfaction here in this life, in all likelihood we will find ourselves “singing along,” so to speak, with the Rolling Stones.
And that, in this case at least, is not a happy song to sing.