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  • Writer's pictureFather Puddleglum

5th Sunday of Lent - A

At the death of a loved one we are stricken with pain and sorrow accompanied by a sense that this is not how things ought to be. There is this correct intuition within us that death is unnatural, that it is a grotesque part of humanity which should not be the case. This realization is made evident by the tears we shed. We wish that death were not a reality. As Catholics we believe that death is part of the broken and sick human condition. We live in a fallen world and death is part of this brokenness. Death entered the world immediately after the original sin of Adam. This is precisely the reason why God became man. By Jesus’ death and Resurrection we are shown that death is not the end. If we are joined to Christ, with Baptism being the necessary and primary means of that connection, then we are given a share in the resurrection at the end of time.

Every time we pray the Creed we proclaim “I believe in the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come”. I have found that many are mistaken in their belief about the afterlife, that many (if not most) believe that our final destination is Heaven after our bodies are separated from our souls in death. But the interim Heaven where souls temporarily dwell while awaiting the final resurrection is unnatural. As human beings we are made up of a body and a soul. That is our nature. We do not become angels after we die. Our bodies and souls are not meant to be separated. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “we firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day” (CCC, 989).

Notice that the Catechism says that the righteous will live forever with Christ. If we would want to be joined to Christ after the resurrection from the dead, we need to live righteously in this life. In other words, for us to enjoy bodily resurrection with Christ we need to obtain spiritual resurrection. Sin kills grace, the life of God, within us. We need a spiritual rising from dead.

When you observe the Gospels you will find three occasions when Jesus raises someone from the dead. He raises the daughter of Jairus immediately after she has died. He raises the son of a widow who is being carried to his burial place. And He raises Lazarus who has been dead for four days. In each of these instances the deceased has been dead for varying amounts of time. St. Augustine notes that from these three deceased persons we can draw an allegory of three kinds of sinners. Those who sin in their heart such as those who hold lustful or wrathful thoughts are represented by the girl who had died in her home. Her body had not yet been carried out of the house. Those who wrestle with interior sins have not yet moved to act on them. Then there are those who have made the step and acted, externalizing these internal sins. They are represented by the boy being carried to his grave. His body is now out in public. The sinner no longer sins interiorly but externally. Then there are those who stink with sin, those who are entrenched in bad habits and vices. Their conversion seems nearly impossible. These are represented by Lazarus who was dead for four days.

In each of these cases, Christ gains the victory. There was no one too far gone for Him to bring back to life. Even Lazarus who was tied up, rotting in a grave, and sealed in with a stone was not too far gone. There is no sinner so far gone that Christ cannot restore life. This truth ought to bring us encouragement and hope.

Perhaps you have a loved one who is spiritually dead, entrenched in a life of sin without any sign of conversion. Perhaps your spouse has fallen away from the faith. Perhaps your children have been swallowed up by cultural ideals that are inimical to Christianity. Perhaps you yourself are tempted to despair by your own vices and stench of sin. Whatever the case may be, no one is too far gone that they are out of the reach of Christ and out of the range of His voice. He constantly calls sinners to come out of their sin just as He commanded Lazarus to come out from the grave.

You may ask “how can I respond and come from the grave of my sin? How can I direct others to conversion?” It is through repentance that we arise from our sin. The primary means of repentance and turning away from our sin is the Sacrament of Confession. The doorway to the confessional is the doorway out of the tomb of sin. People generally do not like to be reminded that they must confess their sins. It might be awkward and uncomfortable. People may feel anxious. Or, even worse, people may not be convinced of the necessity of Confession. But Christ gave us this Sacrament as a sure means of obtaining His mercy. Far too few make use of the Sacrament or welcome the kiss of Christ in His mercy. This is a tragedy.

If we want to participate with Christ in the resurrection of the body, we first need the resurrection of the soul from sin. No one is without access to the resurrection of the soul. Christ freely offers the gift of spiritual resurrection which is obtained only through death to self. Death is necessary for resurrection. Christ has transformed death from merely an affliction on humanity to the very means of resurrection. We must die in order to rise. This is true for our spiritual resurrection from sin. We must put to death our anger, jealousy, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, and especially our pride. We must put to death anything that separates us from Christ and repent of our sin. No one is too far gone. Hope is offered to all. To those stuck in the mires of sin St. Augustine says

“Yet let not even him despair; he is dead in the depth below, but Christ is exalted on high. [Christ] knows how by His cry to burst asunder the burdens of earth, He knows how to restore life within by Himself, and to deliver [the sinner] to the disciples to be loosed. Let even such as these repent. For when Lazarus had been raised again after the four days, no foul smell remained in him when he was alive. So then let them who are alive, still live; and let them who are dead, whosoever they be, in which kind soever of these three deaths they find themselves, see to it that they rise again at once with all speed” (St. Augustine, Sermon 48 on the New Testament).

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