Message for the 5th Sunday of Lent
Fr. Joseph Levine; March 29, 2020. Readings: Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-8; Rm 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
Jesus wept. Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus, even though he knew well that he was about to raise him from the dead. Truly, Jesus knows all our suffering, all our hurt, and all our pain, and, even though he knows also how all things will work together for the good of those who love him, he weeps for us. Jesus weeps for all the misery of the world now in this time of pandemic.
Jesus weeps for all the misery of this passing world, but he weeps even more for all those who are turned away from him in their hearts, all those who are hardened in their sins, all those who refuse to believe in him, all those who are blind to his presence and reality, especially for those who should know better, especially for those who are consecrated to him, whether through the sacrament of baptism, of confirmation, or of holy orders, or consecrated to him through the special vows of religion.
Jesus weeps because he would save us, but we refuse his salvation. Jesus weeps because he would open the graves in which we have buried ourselves and lead us forth to life, but we will not come forth.
What is this death in which we now live? What is this life to which he calls us?
St. Paul writes, Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. To live in the flesh is a living death. The flesh is limited, finite, in opposition to the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, the Spirit of limitless goodness, of infinite goodness, the almighty and lifegiving Spirit
A little earlier St. Paul wrote: Those who live according to the flesh, are concerned with things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit with the things of the Spirit. (Rm 8:5)
Everyone pursues some purpose, some goal in their life. Sometimes maybe one thing now and another thing at another time, but always there is always a purpose. Sometimes the purpose is very conscious and intentional, while at other times a person is carried along rather passively, with little thought and reflection on their part, but there is still a purpose in their actions.
The purpose of the Holy Spirit is that we might become conformed to the image of the Only begotten Son of God, sons in the Son (cf. Rm 8:29), that we might thereby come to behold God, the Most Holy Trinity face to face, as he is in himself, (1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 3:2) and that finally through the resurrection of the body we might be made whole and with our whole self, body and soul, be united to God in eternal life. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is that we might be united to and enjoy the limitless, infinite good that is God himself. For those who love God all things work together to achieve this good. (cf. Rm 8:28)
To achieve this good the Holy Spirit already comes to dwell in those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, those who are dead to sin and alive to God, transforming them interiorly through his grace, sanctifying grace, which is nothing less than a participation in the very life and nature of God that makes us truly to be children of God. (cf. 2 Pe 1:4, 1 Jn 3:1)
To lead us to share in the limitless good that is God himself, the Holy Spirit leads us, paradoxically by the way of the Cross, which requires that we recognize and accept the limits that belong to us because of created human nature, the limits the law of God imposes upon us, and the limits that have been imposed upon us because of the presence and consequences of sin in the world and in our own lives. The ultimate limit of this limited passing life is the death of the body.
Only by accepting the limitation of the Cross, living with the awareness of our coming death and the judgment that follows, knowing that we will have to render an account to the one who created us, can we enter into the limitless freedom of the children of God. Only by accepting the limitation of the Cross will we be able to hear the voice of the Son of God calling us forth like Lazarus from the tombs of our own making.
Those who are in flesh, however, do not have the purpose of the Holy Spirit within them. If they yet believe in Christ, their faith is dead, because faith in Christ does not govern their thinking, desiring, and action. As a result, the purpose that directs their life and action is limited to this passing world. As a result, even those who do not pursue the manifest ‘sins of the flesh’, are in the flesh because they live in the narrowness and confines of the creature cut off from the Creator. Even, the devil, the impure spirit, is ‘in the flesh’ because he is closed off to the Creator and has devoted his powerful mind to the deceit and seduction of fleshly human beings.
We can pause now in order to pose a question for everyone, but especially for those on the front lines of the present battle against the pandemic, “What is your purpose? Why are you doing what you are doing? Where will you get your strength?” Your purpose makes all the difference.
Now let us consider what this battle is making manifest to all who have eyes to see.
The Canon law of the Catholic Church concludes making reference to the famous dictum: Lex suprema, salus animarum. (cf. CIC 1752) “The supreme law is the salvation of souls.” That, indeed, is the law of the Holy Spirit.
Contrariwise, it is now being made manifest the degree to which the law of the flesh rules the actual world in which we live. Now, in place of the salus animarum, we have lex suprema, salus corporum. “The supreme law is the health of bodies.” Notice how in Latin the same word salus is used both for salvation and for health .
The rule of the flesh, the health of bodies, is now made manifest because we are now living in fear beneath the dominion of the world “sanitary dictatorship”. Overnight, with hardly a word of protest, the entire ‘free world’ has given up their freedom. Elected officeholders, who in other times would speak much about ‘rights’ and ‘liberties’ of various kinds, have shown they have no problem issuing edicts on no authority but their own, without the least regard to all the treasured rights. All this for the sake of ‘the health of bodies’. The edicts reveal what is regarded as ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’. The health of bodies is essential; the health of souls is non-essential. The Church is usually treated in the whole affair as completely useless, non-essential, no better than any dispensable recreational activity.
The rule of the flesh has been made manifest in the world sanitary dictatorship, but the rule was already very much present. Hitherto, the rule of the limited flesh taking the place of the limitless God, sought to deny all the limits God had imposed on the flesh, for its own good.
The rule of the flesh has sought to deny the fundamental limitations of the human body, pretending to turn male into female and female into male.
Through the use of technology, specifically the means of modern communications and transportation, the rule of the flesh sought to suppress the limits of space and time. Now, while we can still communicate across the world in an instant, we have been confined to one place and commanded to stay home.
Through the use of technology the rule of the flesh sought to surpass the limitations of the human mind. So we have placed our confidence in the nearly infinite data that can be stored on hard drives and the calculating power of supercomputers. Now we are ruled neither by the wisdom of God, nor by the wisdom of men, but by statistics, processed by computer. Nevertheless, all the incomplete data at our disposal does not give us confidence in combatting the pandemic, even through draconian restrictions on human movement and activity. We really do not know if these measures will work or not.
Nevertheless, if there was one proposed good, one great promise that was placed at the root of the modern engine of progress, it was the conquest of disease. If there was one good that could always be pointed to as proof that mankind had chosen the right path, it was the conquest of disease. So many diseases that once plagued mankind and cut short life had been brought under control, giving us the illusion of godlike control.
Only now mankind has been brought low (I do not say to our knees, because that would suggest conversion to God) by a disease that we cannot control.
Jesus calls out to all who would hear him: Come forth! Depart from the tombs of sin that you have built for yourselves.
Jesus calls out to all who would hear him: Fear not! I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
The whole world now is afraid of the death of the body, but the one who believes in Jesus Christ and lives in his grace, will survive the death of the body so as to live eternally and enjoy the resurrection to life, he will never die. So, if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit dwelling in you.
His promise is true. His promise is sure. What he says will come to pass. Heaven and earth will pass away, but his word shall never pass away. (cf. Mt 24:35)
Jesus said: The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son of Man and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation. (Jn 5:28-29)
Now that the emptiness and impotence of the rule of the flesh has been revealed we must hear the voice of the Son of God, calling us forth from the death of sin to the life of grace so that we might behold the glory of God and enjoy the resurrection of life.
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.