Sunday, April 10, 2011

Let my eyes shed down tears night and day, and let them not cease. Sermon of April 10th, on Passiontide

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A
April 10th, 2011
John 11:1-45

And Jesus wept.

In these final two weeks of the season of Lent, the Church enters into the period which in former days was called Passiontide. It is the time of the Lord’s Passion, a time when the whole focuses most intently upon the suffering and death of our Savior.
Throughout the whole of Lent we have engaged a spirit of contrition and of sorrow, sorrow for our sins and for those of the whole world. Now, in these final days, we turn our attention toward the results of sin, toward what it took to blot out those sins: The Passion of the Christ.

In the season of Passiontide, the whole Church weeps for her suffering Lord. Every Christian is meant to mourn the death of the Savior. Throughout these two weeks, the saints tell us, we are to weep constantly and to be filled with sorrow.
Some of the spiritual doctors go so far as to direct us not to think of anything happy or joyful – even desisting from considerations of the Resurrection or of Heaven. Rather, they say, we are to be totally immersed in the Passion of our Lord. We think of nothing other than the sorrows of Jesus our Savior and, our hearts and minds being filled with his wounds, we are called to have compassion on our good Lord whom we have so poorly treated.

We are instructed by the saints to be so focused on the sufferings of the Lord that, from the first moment when we wake in the morning, we ought to banish from our thoughts anything which is joyful or humorous and ought rather immediately turn our attention to some aspect of the death of Christ. Perhaps we may consider one of the Stations of the Cross or one of the Sorrowful Myesteries of the Rosary.

Yet, as I am sure you are probably thinking, there is a certain difficulty in all of this. As we live in the world and must go about the daily business of our affairs, it is not clear how we can incorporate this spirit of profound sorrow into our daily lives. Indeed, I am quite certain that many of our non-Catholic neighbors would be very confused if all the Catholics in town walked around teary-eyed and frowning for the next two weeks!
So, what are we to do? Obviously, our spiritual life must be integrated well with the real and concrete elements of our vocation. All true spirituality is rooted in the vocational calling to which we have responded.

While it is probably true that we cannot go about exteriorly consumed with sorrow for the next two weeks – certainly, there are many circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to express the inner movements of our hearts – we may nevertheless be totally immersed in an interior mortification.
While we go about the exterior motions of our day in a manner which draws to us no special attention, we may still carry Jesus crucified in our hearts. This is our task for the two weeks of Passiontide: To make a space in our hearts to carry Christ, and him crucified.
A simple example will suffice: Any time we look upon ourselves in a mirror or see our reflection in a piece of glace, we may consider the face of Christ as it was in the Way of the Cross. Consider how his face was disfigured with bruises from the many blows he had received. His holy face was now made dirty and covered with spittle. And then, the holy woman Veronica came to our Lord. She offered him such a small act of compassion, but the love which motivated her was divine. Join St. Veronica and compassionate your Savior so poorly treated by men.

Yes, these next two weeks will be difficult – in many ways they are the most difficult period of Lent. Our hearts will become very heavy with grief and we will be downcast. But, in order that we may not lose hope or become despondent, Holy Mother Church puts before our hearts and minds today a final consideration of the glory of the Resurrection.
We do not hear of Christ’s Resurrection itself, but instead we hear of the promise of the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time. The Lord says to the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! It is the promise of life, a promise which gives us hope.
The same is reiterated by St. Paul in the second reading. In the Gospel, however, we turn from promise of the general resurrection to the resuscitation of Lazarus. In order that his disciples might have hope in him and might not despair at his death but instead may believe and look for his Resurrection, Christ our God raised Lazarus from the dead.

Yet, even here, in this wonderful miracle of the resurrection or resuscitation of Lazarus, we see something most interesting. For St. John tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters. And, precisely because he loved them he waited two days before going to Bethany. Precisely out of love for Martha and Mary and Lazarus, Jesus waited and allowed Lazarus to die and the sisters to be filled with sorrow.
Even when Christ arrived in Bethany, he did not immediately work the miracle and raise Lazarus, but first he entered into the sorrow of Mary and Martha and the other Jews as they mourned for Lazarus. Jesus was so filled with sorrow at the death of Lazarus that he himself wept – and here we have the shortest verse in all of Scripture, And Jesus wept.
It was only after entering into that period of mourning and of sorrow that Jesus worked his great miracle. First he wept bitterly and was greatly perturbed – entering fully into the spirit of true compassion, suffering with Martha and Mary – and only later did he wipe away every tear and call Lazarus back to life.

This is our task in these days: To join Christ in his sorrows, as he has joined us in our sorrows. To compassionate the Savior who has been so compassionate toward us. To weep with him who has wept for us, to mourn for him who mourned for us.
By joining our God in his dolorous passion, may we soon be brought to the glories of life everlasting.