Sunday Word

In Lazarus, we see ourselves

Father Berinti
Sunday, April 2
Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45

All wrapped up; bound and gagged; strangled by the cold hand of death; prostrate at the bottom of a deep, dark pit. A frightening scene from a Stephen King novel? Another creepy moment from an M. Knight Shyamalan eerie thriller?

Or just the way life can tend to overwhelm us, push us to the edge, crush us under burdens we never imagined? As we meet Lazarus in the Gospel account for this final Sunday of Lent, in a sense, we meet ourselves. We too find ourselves helpless, frustrated, bound up, and trapped in darkness as we struggle with relationships gone sour, misplaced expectations of others, workplace gossip, disappearing opportunities, the pain of an aging body, the lack of joy and zest for getting out of bed tomorrow, lackluster worship and a whole host of other death-dealing experiences.

When Jesus arrives on the scene and makes his way to the tomb of Lazarus, he weeps bitterly for what has befallen his beloved friend and companion. And the Lord does the same when meeting us in our moments of entombment — when we are trapped, bound, listless and unable to see the light of day.

In the midst of his profound sense of loss and tears, the crowd around Jesus cautions him not to approach the tomb, not to expose the decay and rot, for surely there will be a stench. And for this reason, we too often shy away from peeling back the stones that keep us or those whom we love stuck in the grasp of dying. We too, with great reluctance, want to simply leave things as they are; we become accustomed to the darkness of our little deaths.

But Jesus will have none of this caution. Jesus faces the tomb of Lazarus on this day just as he did every other day of his public ministry, when he called out and exposed all manner of death-dealing. Why? Because the God of Jesus is a God of life.

The prophet Ezekiel affirms this truth: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them. I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” The Letter to the Romans declares in no uncertain terms: “The One who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit dwelling in you.”

From a groaning heart and soul deep within him, Jesus cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” And he speaks our names, calling us out from death into life.

As the elect of the Church make their final preparations to go down into the tomb of the font so to then rise up from the womb of the font — reborn by water and the Spirit — so too Jesus wants to restore our dying spirits and breathe new life into the culture of death that pervades so much of humankind.

As the curtain begins to fall on yet another Lenten season, are we making our final preparations to hear the Lord’s voice, the Lord’s forceful invitation to come back to life, to renew the baptismal promises through which we are claimed by Christ, and to be showered with the new waters of Easter?

Father Berinti, Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, is director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Live as children of the light

Father Hernández
Sunday, March 26
1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ps 23: 1-6; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

Were you afraid of the dark when you were a child? Maybe even now? Even for those who have never had to deal with blindness, the images of blindness and the recovery of sight, as well as of light and darkness, which are so prevalent in the Scriptures, touch us close to the heart. Once again, this Sunday, have a long passage from the Gospel of St. John (9:1-41), this time the series of dialogs related to the healing of the man born blind. In the first reading, the idea of seeing is touched upon, in the account of the vocation of David (1 Sm 16), where Samuel is told that he must see as God sees.

In the second reading from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians (5:8-14), we read about our identity as “children of the light.” Perhaps all these readings could be summarized in a few words: Jesus opens our eyes so that we can see him and recognize him as the Son of Man, and in seeing him, to believe in him and follow him. Then, with eyes wide open, we can see others as God sees them and we walk in the light as God wants us to walk.

In the Jewish mentality, physical defects, especially serious handicaps such as blindness, were seen as the result of personal sin, and therefore the Gospel passage begins with the question and the answer: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responded: “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

Think about that. The man was born blind so that we might see. He will be cured so that Jesus might be revealed as the “light of the world.” Does this not challenge us to see all the difficulties in our lives as opportunities to give glory to God and to help others to see and recognize the love of God?

Later, Jesus puts mud in the man’s eyes and the man can see. The Pharisees, upset by this healing on the Sabbath, interrogate first the man who was blind, then his parents and then the man again, looking for something to use against Jesus. I invite you to read this passage carefully, especially if in your parish the pastoral option is taken of reading an abridged version of this Gospel. (I will admit it’s long!) There are moments of courage, cowardice, fear and even humor in these 41 verses.

Physical sight becomes spiritual sight when Jesus asked the man born blind: “Do you believe in the son of man?” He responds and asks, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” It is then that Jesus tells him: “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” The man who was born blind, but can now see clearly, responds: “I do believe, Lord.” St. John adds, “and he worshiped him.”

When we really see Jesus, recognize him and believe in him, then not only are we recognizing the truth about him, but we are also seeing the truth about ourselves. Therefore, the advice of the Letter to the Ephesians is so important: “Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.”

We go on to read in Ephesians about some specific ways in which we must live as “children of the light,” but certainly at the center must be the will to live in the light, so important at a moment in history in which there is so much darkness

Finally, we conclude our review of Sunday’s readings, full of faith in Jesus, who has given us light and vision and is our Good Shepherd (Ps 23), with the first reading from 1 Samuel 16. When we live as children of the light, then we can truly see our brothers and sisters as God sees them. As the Lord said to Samuel: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” Would our relationships with others not be different if we really tried to see them as God sees them, with the same love which God looked at David and Jesus looked at the blind man?

There is no reason to fear the dark in the world around us. Ask Jesus today to be able to see him and have faith in him, to live as children of light and see others with God’s eyes. Seeing with the eyes of faith, we can say, “I do believe, Lord,” and worship Jesus and give glory to his Father in heaven.

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. 

Jesus: the spring of living water

Father Hernández
Sunday, March 19
Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42

The next three Sundays, our readings are very closely related with the meaning of Christian initiation. In fact, even in the other two cycles of the Sunday liturgical readings, these are the readings at Masses for the elect (participants in the RCIA process) who are preparing for baptism, confirmation and Communion at the Easter Vigil. This Sunday we hear of Jesus, the spring of the life-giving water, while next week we read that he is the light of the world, giving sight to the blind. In two weeks, as we read the account of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, we will see his power over death — giving life to the world.

In Sunday’s Gospel (Jn 4:4-52) Jesus meets the Samaritan woman and assures her: “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus’s encounter with this woman has many elements, but at the center we find his identity, as the source of the life-giving water, who makes it possible that those who come to him may transmit this life to others. We can see in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman that he wants to call her (and us) to understand more deeply who he is and to participate fully in his life.

When Jesus first meets this the woman, he violates the social boundaries in several ways. He speaks to a woman, being alone with her. He speaks with a Samaritan person, with whom the Jews would have no dealings. He asks her for something to drink, without having an implement to use, and thus would have had to use the Samaritan woman’s ritually impure bucket.

In all these ways, Jesus shows that he not only wants to call this woman to faith in him, but he wants her to be able to invite her community to faith also. In this process, there are moments of partial understanding and misunderstanding. A key moment is when Jesus shows that he knows the truth about the woman: “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” In this way he shows that he knew her heart, and he shows that he knows our hearts. At the end of the meeting, the Samaritan woman has not only come to have faith in Jesus, but she has become an evangelist: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”

Those who have been baptized, as St. Paul says in this Sunday’s second reading taken from the letter to the Romans (5:1-2; 5-8), have been justified by faith. We can sometimes miss the apparent freedom of a life of sin. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, it is possible to cry out to the Lord: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Ex 17:4). The readings for this Sunday remind us that Jesus knows who we are and what we have done, and that he heals us and gives us life.

Whenever we bless ourselves with holy water on our way into church or on our way out, we are reminded of our identity in baptism, life Jesus has given us. Whenever we approach the sacrament of reconciliation (which is sometimes called the “second baptism”), Jesus shows us that he knows the darkest secrets of our hearts and still loves us and us call to the communion with him. If in your parishes this weekend you see some of our elect go through the first scrutiny, as one of the stages in preparation for Easter is called, pray for them — and for all of us as Catholic Christians — that drinking from the spring of life-giving water, we can all be bearers of life to the world.

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. 

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