Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
Why is this so hard for so many of us (m0st of us? all of us?) It ain’t rocket science. It ain’t brain surgery. You don’t even have to stay at a Holiday Inn Express to understand it.
Do yourself a favor. Find a quiet place and spend ten minutes meditating on these words. I promise it will change your attitude toward life. Then, make yourself repeat this process every day for the remainder of Lent. I promise it will make you a new person.
Yay, it’s Friday! Not the ordinary TGIF type of Friday, but the first day of Catholic fish fry season. Where I live, in Saint Louis, MO, you can’t throw a rock during Lent without hitting a great fish fry, and we take advantage of as many of them as possible. You get a great meal and you help your local parish.
I am traveling today and was surprised to see that Catholic fish fries apparently aren’t a universal phenomenon. I guess other places aren’t as into fried fish as we are in the Gateway City. That’s too bad.
As I wrote in a series of posts called 40 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic, way back in 2012, reason number 35 was Catholic fish fries. I wrote back then,
“When the Church said we couldn’t eat meat on Friday the parish fish fry was born. When it was decided that we only had to abstain on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent, we turned it into an art form.”
So, do yourself a favor today and instead of settling for a Filet O’Fish, head for your local parish and enjoy the real thing.
“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”
This is a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta who, as you probably know is being canonized by Pope Francis today in Rome. I think it’s important that we all understand what it means to be called a Saint by the Church. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow (today) she’s any different than she was when she was alive. Some people will mistakenly say that Francis is making Teresa a Saint. That’s wrong. Only God can do that. What is happening is that the Church is officially recognizing what we all knew all along.
You and I can be saints just as surely as Teresa is a saint, and we don’t have to travel to India to do it. We don’t have to open a hospital or tend to the sick and dying. It doesn’t hurt. But it’s not necessary. Teresa said it herself.
“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”And that’s coming from someone who did a lot of good things.
Another woman, an American nun, said “We’re all called to be great saints.” That was Mother Angelica. She didn’t build hospitals. She built a TV station. But she did it with great love and I suspect she’s as much of a saint as Mother Teresa. I hope someday the Church canonizes her too.
As I was doing research for this homily I was surprised at how much negative stuff I found about Teresa. She had a lot of critics; even a lot of enemies. But isn’t that always the way? After all, they DID crucify Jesus Himself. When you do good things, you’re going to arouse a lot of resentment, mostly from people who don’t do anything themselves.
Look at today’s Gospel. Jesus tells the crowds, “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Look at what happened to Him. Luke tells us “great crowds were traveling with Jesus.” He speaks to them and lays down some pretty heavy instructions. “Take up your cross.” “Renounce all your possessions.” “Hate your parents, your wife and your children, your siblings, even your own life.”
In the end, when He was crucified, the great crowds were gone and He was pretty much alone. It wasn’t easy to follow Jesus. It still isn’t.
I’ve always had a problem with the idea of renouncing all my possessions. We’ve just gone through the Beyond Sunday campaign, and the Annual Catholic Appeal. There’s a second collection today for Catholic University. Your chapel is always in need of money. How can I respond to all these things if I don’t have any possessions? It seems confusing.
The answer is in today’s bulletin, in the Stewardship Thought for the week. Here’s what it says: “what we must renounce is the belief that our possessions belong to us. Everything that we have belongs to God alone. All of our resources are entrusted to us not only for our own use, but also so that we can help others. Once we renounce the idea that we possess or are entitled to anything, it is much easier to share the many gifts that God has given us. Then we truly are His Disciples.”
That makes perfect sense. After all these years I finally understand. I don’t have to give up my stuff, I just have to understand that it’s not really mine. God has given me things so I can use them for His glory. When we’re asked to give, either to the Church, or to the poor, or to some other good cause, we’re being asked to give back a little of what wasn’t really ours in the first place.
The first reading asks us, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” That’s a good question. The answer is nobody. We can’t know what God intends. We’re not smart enough. But, as the reading says, “He has given us wisdom and sent His Holy Spirit from on high.” And every once-in-a-while, we’ll get a flash of inspiration, like I did when I read the Stewardship quote.
The same goes with Jesus instruction to “hate” our families. He’s not telling us to hate anyone. He’s the guy who told us to love one another as we love ourselves. What He’s telling us is to not put anyone before Him. We’re not supposed to hate our own lives. He wants us to give our lives in service to others.
So, as we celebrate this last holiday weekend of the summer, and celebrate the canonization of a great Catholic woman, let’s remember where we started, with the quote from Saint Teresa,
“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”
In today’s Gospel we learn something very important about Jesus. It’s important to all Christians, but especially to us Catholics. He’s teaching in the Synagogue. But the people who’ve gathered to listen to Him will learn that this isn’t just some ordinary teacher, some ordinary Rabbi. Teachers in Jesus’ time, just like today, taught based on someone else’s authority. Father Paul and I don’t just make this stuff up. We rely on someone else’s teachings. We have the Scriptures, we have the words of religious scholars, we have the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, and we have the Holy Spirit. If Father, or I, or anyone else who assumes the role of teacher stands up here and makes stuff up, you have every right to complain.
If any of us comes up with some new, radical teaching of our own invention, you should get on the phone to the Archbishop and tell him that we’re preaching heresy. Then the Archbishop will call us in and demand to know what’s going on. It won’t be pretty. We may even lose our faculties to preach or worse. We’re not allowed to preach anything that isn’t the truth, as it’s been passed down over the centuries.
In Jesus’ time, Rabbis taught from the Torah. That was the Word of God and that’s what the people wanted, and deserved to hear. But, here’s this Jesus teaching something new. His message was extremely radical for the first century. And, as Mark says, ”the people were astonished at His teaching.” They said, “What is this?”
One man even speaks up and says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” But to get an idea of what’s going on, we have to look back at Moses’ words in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Jesus is that prophet, but the people don’t realize it yet. God promised Moses that He would put His words into His, this new prophet’s mouth. God goes on, “Whoever will not listen to my words which He speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”
Jesus is that new prophet. This man who challenges Jesus is possessed by an unclean spirit. Here’s the evil one, Satan, challenging Jesus in the Synagogue, the very house of God. Jesus rebukes the man and says to the unclean spirit, “Quiet! Come out of him?” And the spirit, with a loud cry, comes out of him.
Naturally, the people are amazed. “They asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” Satan has made a huge mistake. His attempt to discredit Jesus backfires and the people understand. Jesus is teaching with authority, not human authority, but with the authority of God the Father. For the first time in history, someone other than God the Father, has the authority to speak on His behalf. Up to this time, every teacher has taught strictly from the Torah. As Mark says, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”
Today, Christians rely on both the Old Testament word of God, and the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ. But, why is this more important to Catholics than it is to other Christians? To find the answer we have to turn to Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tell the disciples that whoever hears them, hears Him and whoever rejects them, rejects Him. And whoever rejects Him, rejects the One who sent Him. This is the beginning of the teaching authority of the Church.
This begs the question, “Do we always like what the Church teaches?” Not necessarily. Do we have to believe it? We do unless we want to reject God, and that’s dangerous territory. As faithful Catholics, it’s up to us to learn what the Church teaches and to know the difference between Church doctrine and discipline.
The Eucharist is a perfect example. In a few minutes, Father will take the bread and wine, which will be presented to him by members of the congregation representing all of us. The bread and wine are your gifts to God. Then he’ll turn that bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s God’s gift to you. It’s scriptural and has been taught by the Church since the very beginning. If you don’t believe it, then you’re not a Catholic. It’s a core belief and it’s non-negotiable. In fact, according to Saint Paul, if you partake in communion without believing it is what it is, then you’re guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ.
On the other hand, the Church calls us to fast for an hour before we receive His Body and Blood. If you forgot and ate a donut 59 minutes before communion, are you committing a sin? No, that’s a discipline. It’s something we should do, not something we have to do. It can change and it did change after Vatican II. Remember, you used to have to fast for twelve hours. Under certain circumstances, for example, if you’re a patient in the hospital, you can receive the Eucharist at any time.
Disciplines can change, doctrine can’t. Remember when you couldn’t eat meat on Friday? It wasn’t that long ago.
Recently our former Archbishop, Cardinal Burke, has been in the news for things he’s said that aren’t in agreement with Pope Francis. You may wonder, how can this be? Who are we supposed to believe? If you study what both men have said, they don’t disagree on Church doctrine. The disagree on disciplines. Male alter servers aren’t Church doctrine. If the good Cardinal thinks servers should all be altar boys, that’s his opinion. Again, it’s something that has changed over the years. Given the power of the feminist movement, it’s not likely to change back, but it could. In fact, there are still some dioceses where they don’t allow female servers. But, remember that here in Saint Louis he did allow girl servers when he was Archbishop. Frankly, it’s not that big a deal.
To wrap this up, today’s readings remind us that Jesus has a special kind of authority and He shared that authority with His Apostles and their successors, the Pope and the Bishops. It was unique. It was radical. It was outrageous! It’s no wonder that the Jewish authorities didn’t want Him around. His authority was a challenge to their authority.
Make no mistake, there are people alive today who hate Jesus and His Church. Why? For the same reason. Jesus’ authority, and by extension the authority of His Church, is a challenge to them. If I’m in the business of selling sin, our course I’m going to hate the Church. If the Church challenges my political authority, I’m going to hate the Church. If I represent a religious denomination that doesn’t accept the Church’s teachings, I’m going to hate the Church. If I suddenly decide to divorce Jan and marry another guy, I’m probably going to hate the Church. Any time the Church challenges anyone on anything, there’s going to be a backlash. Remember that there were enough people who hated Jesus that they tortured Him and killed Him.
As Catholic Christians, we have a responsibility to know what the Church teaches, to accept those teachings, and to share those teachings with others.
If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
Jesus was a Jew. Everybody knows that. His mother was a Jew. His step-father was a Jew. All his aunts and uncles and cousins were Jews. Most of the people He ministered to were Jews. Jesus lived in a Jewish society.
In Jesus’ time, Jews had an entirely different view of God than we do today. Look at today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus. The Lord says “you shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword, then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.”
Whoa! The Old Testament God didn’t mess around. “If you’re not nice to widows and orphans, I’ll kill you.” End of story. Jesus introduced us to a kinder, gentler God. He told us it was OK to call God “Our Father”.
Look at our Gospel reading. The Pharisees decided to test Jesus. One of them asked Jesus “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” We all know the answer to that question. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment.” He goes on to say that the second commandment is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, he knew that the Pharisees, experts in the Jewish Law, weren’t following either of these two commandments.
As 21st century Christians, we look at this reading and think, “OK, out of the Ten Commandments these two are the greatest. But wait! “Love your neighbor” isn’t one of the ten.
Maybe we should have a little quiz here. Who knows the Ten Commandments?
I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
The first three are about loving God. The last seven are about loving our neighbors. The Ten Commandments can be reduced to just two.
But, remember, Jesus was speaking to 1st Century Jews, not 21st Century Christians. The question the Pharisee asked Jesus was, “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” He wasn’t asking about Moses’ TEN commandments, he was asking about the commandments of the Jewish law. The Jewish Law, which still applies to Jews today, was made up of SIX HUNDRED THIRTY ONE LAWS! And every good Jew was expected to know all of them!
If we look back at the first reading, every point the writer makes is one of the Jewish Laws. Don’t molest or oppress an alien. Don’t wrong widows and orphans. Don’t demand interest on a loan. If you take your neighbor’s cloak, give it back before sunset. There are 627 more. And observant Jews know all of them.
One of the Jewish laws is to “love all human beings who are of the covenant”, in other words, to love all other Jews. Another law says to “love the gentiles”. The Jewish laws did direct the Jews to love everyone, but Jesus wrapped up dozens of individual laws of the Old Covenant into one law of the New Covenant.
Even though the Jewish Law says to love one another, it does make some distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. For example, charging interest on a loan to a fellow Jew is prohibited in the law and in today’s first reading. But the law also says charging interest to a Gentile is mandatory.
The point is that today’s Gospel, which we’ve all heard dozens of times was a major shift in thinking about God. Don’t fear God. Love God. Love your neighbor. The two are one and the same. Our God’s not an angry God. He doesn’t kill people with swords. We don’t think of Him as being wrathful. We think of Him as Our Father.
When Jesus came, everything changed. He didn’t come to abolish the Jewish law, He came to fulfill it. At the time, the 631 individual laws made sense. They covered every area of life. The Jewish people weren’t just a religious group, they were also a society. Their laws were their constitution. Their laws protected them from making bad choices. In today’s world, our Church doesn’t care if you charge interest on a loan, as long as it’s not excessive. If you were to take out a loan from the Vatican bank, you’d better believe you’ll be charged interest.
There are a lot of Jewish dietary laws. Many of them make perfect sense, even today. “Don’t eat a worm found in a piece of fruit” is pretty good advice. “Not to eat or drink like a glutton or a drunkard” is also wise. Some of the laws about certain foods were written to keep people from poisoning themselves and that’s a good thing.
Without rules, it would be impossible for people to live together. You and I have rules where we work. If we’re retired, we still have rules we have to follow. If you’re married, there are rules you follow to keep a happy home. If there weren’t traffic laws, none of us would ever be able to go anywhere. There would be chaos. But it’s hard to find a rule about anything that doesn’t fall under “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” And “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Catholic Church has laws. They’re called Canon Laws. This is the Canon Law book. Thanks be to God you and I don’t have to memorize it. It’s nearly 2,000 pages long. I’m willing to bet that you don’t even own a copy of it. Frankly, if someone hadn’t given it to me, I wouldn’t own one either. It costs about $100.00. But it exists and there are people who do know it backwards and forward. They’re called Canon Lawyers.
When I studied Canon Law the instructor told us there was just one thing we needed to remember. It was the telephone number of the Office of Canon Law. They could answer any question.
The thing is, we need these rules and laws to maintain an orderly church. What happens at Saint John Nepomuk in Saint Louis is the same thing that happens at Saint Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague. At least that should be the case. It’s in the book.
But the point is, Jesus boiled all of this down for us into two sentences. Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s it. If we judge everything we do according to those two simple sentences, we’re doing God’s will. Anything we do that’s contrary to those two sentences is against God’s will. It’s all so simple. And it’s all so very, very hard.
When we gossip; when we talk about people behind their backs, we’re not loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we refuse to accept change because it’s not the way we’ve always done things, we’re not loving our neighbor either. When we criticize the Church and its leadership, we’re not loving God or our neighbors. When we don’t welcome strangers, we’re not doing God’s will. When we come to church with the attitude that “it’s all about me”, we’re violating God’s commandment. When we act like a Pharisee instead of like a disciple, we’re breaking the covenant that God made with us by the death of His Son.
Our faith is simple, but it’s not easy. The Pharisees thought they knew it all. They did everything they could to defeat Jesus, up to and including hanging Him on a cross. But they didn’t win. They committed the greatest Sin of all time. And Jesus lives! He’s alive for each of us and He’s in each of us. All we have to do is remember the two commandments He reminds us of today.
We’re called to constantly judge our actions against these two commandments. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I a Pharisee or am I a disciple?”
When I looked at the readings for this week my first thought was, “Oh, no. Not the loaves and fishes again.” It seems like this story comes up about once a month. Not really, but we’ve heard the story so many times, what can I say about it that you haven’t heard before?
Actually, this is Jesus’ only miracle, other than the Resurrection, that appears in all four Gospels. That’s why we hear it so often. But if you look at all four versions, each one is slightly different. In Luke and John’s telling of the story, there are FIVE loaves. Mark and Matthew say there were SEVEN.
In John’s Gospel there is a boy who has five loaves in two fish. In the other three versions, including Matthew’s, which we read today, the disciples come up with the food themselves. But the differences aren’t that important. It was a miracle, whether Jesus started with five loaves or seven and no matter where the bread and fish came from.
But there is a small difference in Matthew’s telling of the story which makes it unique. It’s only one sentence. But it is significant. When Jesus asks them for something to feed the people, the disciples say, “FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH ARE ALL WE HAVE.”
Think about that! Jesus isn’t asking them for SOME food, He’s asking them for ALL THAT THEY HAVE. They must have been thinking, “But, what will WE eat tomorrow?” Of course, we know the answer. After the multitude is fed, there are twelve wicker baskets of food left over. One for each of them! Clearly, there’s a message here for us. Mark, Luke, and John focus on the miracle itself. Matthew offers us a lesson on selfless giving.
You and I are always asked to give. Give to the Church. Give to the poor. Give to the hungry. Give to this special collection and that special collection. Give to the ACA. And, on and on and on. But how much are we supposed to give? Shouldn’t we take care of our own needs first?
The Old Testament tells us we should tithe. That’s ten percent. Or to put it another way, God has given us everything we have. As a kind and benevolent Father, He says we get to keep NINETY PERCENT. When you think about it, that’s pretty generous. So, why doesn’t He just give us ninety percent and keep the other ten for himself? Good question.
God wants to see how much we really love Him. By giving us all that we have and then letting us decide how much to give back, He puts the decision squarely on you and me. Do we return part of our time, talent, and treasure to Him, or would we rather keep all of it for ourselves?
A side note here: The Catholic Church teaches that our tithing includes all giving. If we give five percent to other good causes, then we’re only expected to give five percent to the Church. The TOTAL of our giving should be at least ten percent.
Some churches teach that the ten percent tithe applies only to them. Anything else you contribute is over and above. If you want to give money to secular charities, that’s great! But that comes out of YOUR ninety percent, not their ten. Some go so far as to demand that members turn in a copy of their W-2 forms so they can make sure you’re doing your part. The Catholic Church would never go to such extremes. What you give is between you and God.
The disciples in our Gospel gave Jesus all that they had. But at the end of the day, they got much more back. They had faith in Jesus and their faith was rewarded. My experience has always been that that’s the way things work out. My former pastor used to say, “God can never be outdone in generosity.” How true that is.
But, the disciples didn’t give all their food hoping to get something back. Thinking as human beings, they had no clue how Jesus was going to feed so many people with so little food. They didn’t know what Jesus was going to do. But their faith made them give.
Does your faith cause you to give?
I’m constantly getting things in the mail offering to increase what YOU give. “Do this and your collections will go up by 10%” “Buy this program and people will be breaking down your door to give you money.” I say, “NONSENSE”. I don’t think Jesus wants us to trick you into giving more to the Church. I believe that He wants us to teach you, by word and example, why you should be generous to our God.
In the first reading, Isaiah tells the people, “All you who are thirsty come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost.” In other words, if you have no money, God will provide. That’s the flip side of giving. If you’re broke, if you’re out of work, if you’re hungry, God will provide. Of course, what that really means is that you and I will provide on God’s behalf. This month, we’re collecting school supplies for kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them.
With four grown kids, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on school supplies. Shouldn’t my crayon buying days be over? Well, no, they’re not. I know what it’s like to have to choose between buying something I want and buying spiral notebooks. Most of us do. But we sacrifice for our kids and now that most of our kids are grown, it’s our turn to help others. Besides, it’s kind of fun to see all the new things that they have for back-to-school. Even though I basically hated school, it was always exciting to start back with a brand new box of 64 Crayolas, all with sharp points. A small blessing, but still a blessing. And, I didn’t even go to CATHOLIC school.
Who knows? The kid who gets the supplies that I contribute may grow up and find the cure for cancer. That may sound farfetched, but is it more outrageous than Jesus feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes? Not really.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to guilt anybody into buying a backpack and a box of pencils. It’s not about guilt and it’s not about pencils. It’s about loving God and giving back what’s rightfully His to begin with. There’s an old saying, “God loves a cheerful giver.” That’s true. Like the story of the widow who gives her last penny, God will bless those of us who give when it’s sacrificial.
Isn’t it hypocritical for us to get down on our knees and thank God for all that He’s given us, then to ask Him for more, then to throw five bucks in the collection basket when we know we could do more?
Our minds aren’t even capable of understanding all that God has done for us. We have roofs over our heads and food on the table. But that’s small change. You and I live in the greatest country on earth, even though we do have our problems. The big news right now is how thousands of people are trying to come to America. Very few Americans are trying to get out. That’s a gift from God. Our very lives are a gift. No matter how smart or how talented we think we are, none of that is a result of anything we did. God gives us everything and He asks for very little in return.
For the third weekend in a row we have a fairly long Gospel. Even the short version is longer than we’re used to. But these three Gospels, according to John, are a set. In this “A” year we get to read some of John’s best work. Hopefully you remember that two weeks ago we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. He said to the woman, “I am living water.”
Then last week Jesus healed the blind man. Jesus declared “I am the light.” Today we hear the familiar story of Jesus raising his friend Lazurus from the dead. You may wonder, as the people did, why didn’t Jesus rush back to save Lazurus while he was still alive. When He heard about His friend’s illness, he “remained for two days in the place where He was.” He also said, “This illness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” He could have rushed back and healed Lazurus. He could have even healed Lazurus “long distance”. He’s God. He can do that.
Remember that the people of Bethany, where Martha, Mary, and Lazurus lived weren’t exactly waiting to give Jesus the key to the city. They had tried to stone Him to death, so there was a certain amount of risk in going back there. But after two days, He did go back.
When He got there, Martha ran out to meet Him. She says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Imagine having that much faith! Lazurus has been in the tomb for four days. When they rolled back the stone the stench must have been overwhelming. But Jesus said, “Lazurus, come out!” And out he came. Jesus defeated death! That’s why Jesus had said “it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.”
Jesus makes His third “I am” statement. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Three Gospels—three “I ams”. I am the living water. I am the Light. I am the resurrection and the life.” Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, when we’ll all participate in the reading of His passion, Jesus will be asked twice if He’s the Messiah and both times He’ll answer, “You say that I am.” That’s a critical point. In this case it doesn’t matter what He says. It’s what we believe that’s important.
As Catholics, we’re supposed to look at the big picture. We don’t teach our kids individual Scripture passages. We tell them stories. On this fifth Sunday of Lent we’re near the end of a six-week experience. It’s “the greatest story ever told.” In just two weeks we’ll celebrate His glorious resurrection. Today He said that Lazurus must die “for the glory of God.” It’s a precursor to His own death which would also be for the glory of God.
So, what can we take home from today’s Gospel? I’d say that with God, anything is possible. We just have to have faith. There was no reason for Martha and Mary to believe that Jesus could raise their brother from the dead after he’d been in the tomb for four days. If anything, you’d think that they would be angry and disappointed that Jesus hadn’t been there to save His friend. But their faith was strong enough that they believed that Jesus could bring him back. And, so He did.
But what about us? When we ask Jesus for something do we really believe He’ll come through for us? Or do we have doubts? Think about the people who built this church. Nobody, and I mean nobody in Saint Louis in 1870 thought Bohemian immigrants could build such a beautiful house of God. Everybody expected them to fail. But they had faith. They didn’t think; they didn’t suspect; they didn’t hope; they knew that their prayers would be answered. And when they were finished, people came from all over to celebrate their accomplishment with them.
Then just 26 years later they had to do it all again when the tornado destroyed what they had built. And again, they KNEW they could do it. That’s the kind of faith that built this place and filled the pews several times each Sunday.
Now, if I were to look you in the eye and say to you that we can restore Saint John Nepomuk to that former glory, how would you respond? Would you think I’m crazy? Would you say it’s impossible? Or would you say, “Yes! With God anything is possible. If Jesus could raise Lazurus from the dead and then raise Himself from the dead, then He can certainly make this church come alive again.”
As we prepare to celebrate our 160th anniversary this year, I want you to think about what you can personally do to ensure that we have a 170th and 180th and beyond. I suggest we all start with prayer. Ask God for the faith necessary to move mountains. Because it’s faith that will attract more people. They may come the first time to see the statues, or the stained glass windows, but it’s our faith that will bring them back again.
That means working together and loving one another. There’s no room for negativity in God’s Church. A house divided against itself cannot stand. If we want to do more than just keep the doors open, we all have to be on board.
Our Church, both this chapel and the Catholic Church in general is in a crisis. That empty seat next to you used to have someone sitting in it. I believe that, like Lazurus’ death, this crisis is “is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” One thing that impresses people is when someone or some thing rises from the dead. Pope Francis seems to be the right man to lead this revival of the Church. I believe we can do our part right here in South Saint Louis.
Pray every day for our historic church. Tell anyone you can get to listen that we have something special here. Most important of all, love one another. That’s what Jesus asked us to do. In fact he called it the most important commandment. We’re living in a very impersonal world. Facebook and twitter have taken the place of face-to-face communications. Don’t get me wrong. I have almost 200 Facebook “friends”. We use social media to promote our chapel. But people are desparate for human contact.
If you and I go out of our way to make people feel welcome, to make them feel loved, we won’t be able to keep them away.
The shortest verse in the Bible is part of toay’s Gospel. “And Jesus wept.” Jesus, the Son of God, knew what He was going to do. He knew He would raise Lazurus from the dead. But the human Jesus, the man Jesus, had lost a good friend. He couldn’t help it. He cried. He became man so He could feel what we feel. And the loss of a friend, a human contact, filled Him with tears. He may have been constantly surrounded with His apostles, but Lazurus was His friend; His buddy. Even Jesus needed to feel the love of another human being.
Today’s Gospel is telling us to have faith, but it’s also telling us to have love. Love one another. Welcome visitors. Most of all, love God. He loves us and will do whatever we ask of Him as long as we have faith; faith as strong as Martha and Mary who believed in Jesus, even when He had disappointed them.