5th Sunday of Lent A

The sacraments lift us up.

During World War II, Geoffrey Jackson, a young British Catholic, made the acquaintance of an older Catholic man in the Middle East. The older man, who was dying and aware of it, did not hesitate to share his wisdom with this new young friend. The most important thing, he advised, is to cling to the Mass at all costs. No matter how routine it could seem to be at times, he said, hold on to it and you will “surely come out on the other side with certainty and peace of heart.”

After the war, Jackson entered the British diplomatic service and was eventually named the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Uruguay. In 1971, during a guerrilla uprising by the Tupamaros, Ambassador Jackson was kidnapped, drugged, and locked into an underground prison. His captors held him there for nine months, with daily threats of death. Only lately has he set down on paper an account of how his faith sustained him before his release, and even enabled him to rise into a better self.

During that long “burial,” he found by experience how much prayer helped him to remember that he was not alone. Now he recalled especially the counsel of his Middle East friend, long since dead, to “cling to the Mass.” He marked a calendar on the wall, and each Sunday in particular he “attended” Mass. Fondly picturing himself back in his parish church and recalling as well as he could the Mass prayers of priest and faithful, he went through the whole rite with devotion. When his captors finally agreed to give him a bible, that helped his “Eucharistic celebration” even more. Of course, he could not receive communion, to his deep regret. (Ever since those days he has found it unbearable to think that some people in the world are totally deprived of the Bread of Life year after year). The wonderful feature of these spiritual Masses was that he could be taking part in one of them right under the unsuspecting eyes of his masked jailers. Prayer, he concluded, is “tyranny’s enemy, the safeguard of its victim’s mind and life.”

Today’s special preface fits in with this story when it says “Christ gives us the sacraments to lift us up to everlasting life.” I am sure that since his release Geoffrey Jackson has often prayed in the spirit of today’s final prayer: “Almighty Father, by this sacrifice may we always remain one with your Son, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood we share, for He is Lord for ever and ever.”

May his experience help us, who have no problem at all about attending Mass every Sunday and even every day, to better appreciate the Mass as a prayer that will carry us through to “certainty and peace of heart.”

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q466: What a powerful miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11)! But how does it possibly relate to me today?

Let me suggest three things for you to look for in this wonderful story. First, Jesus was in command at all times. He knew Lazarus was about to die, when the sisters sent word to him that he was ill. He also knew what he intended to do, as we see from the text itself.

Secondly, although he had the power to do so, Jesus did not remove the stone from the grave, nor did he remove the body wrappings. Instead, he asks those present to do these things. Jesus always asks for our cooperation in his works of mercy – both before and after. In fact, it is our participation (or lack thereof) that determines whether mercy will be manifested or not.

Finally, and most important of all, Jesus gives us the promise of eternal life with him, if we only believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God. Such belief will gain us eternal life, and will enable us to “see the glory of God.” He provides a glimpse of that glory, as he raises Lazarus from the dead and restores him to life.

It is a great and wonderful paradox: “even if we die, we will live”! Only one who holds power over death can make such a promise! But clearly, part of the equation is our participation in the mission of Christ. He wants to use our hands and our hearts to transform the world, with his own divine power working in us through our love and compassion. We cannot stop with simple “belief”; our faith must lead us to action – works of charity and actions to achieve justice in the world and restore dignity to every single person from the womb to the tomb.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus’ prayer to his Father teaches us how to ask: with thanksgiving before the gift is given (CCC #2604), an attitude of confident trust that our Father hears all of our prayers. All of the dead will be raised on the last day, to either the resurrection of life or judgment (CCC #998).

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I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Many people think that resurrection is just another way of talking about immortality, but the two ideas are quite different. “Immortality” tells us that life goes on but “Resurrection” tells u that life is transformed. Today’s liturgy calls us to meditate on life, immortality and resurrection. Ezekiel speaks of the resurrection of Israel through the infusion of the Spirit. St. Paul tells us that the Spirit of God that raised Jesus will also raise us to new life. The raising of Lazarus is not only a great miracle ; it is a symbol of that deeper awakening to the fullness of life that comes with Christian faith. This transformation is the work of the same Spirit who raised Jesus to the new life of resurrection. That spirit is already at work in us through faith and baptism. Our transformation, which will be completed at our resurrection, has already begun. The Spirit enables us to share in the risen life of Jesus and moves us to live that new life through acts of love, patient endurance, generosity, and self control.

Father, as Christ’s Passover draws near, help us to share more fully in the death and resurrection of you Son. Make us one in his spirit so that we may discover a new way of living in deeper faith and greater love.

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