Sunday Sermon for April 10, 2011, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Readings: Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

In the first reading God tells the people of Israel, through the Prophet Ezekiel, that He will open the graves of the people, make them to rise from their graves and bring them back to their own land. This, especially coupled with Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, sounds as if God intends to bring the people back to earthly life and have them live in the Promised Land once again. However, we can certainly understand that what is being spoken of here is the resurrection on the last day and that the real Promised Land is Heaven where, St. Paul tells the Philippians, we have our citizenship.

The idea of the resurrection is something no one really understands. How will it happen? What will our bodies be like? Since only Jesus and a few others have risen from the dead, and those in the first century, we do not know the answers to these questions. In our humanness, when there are not clear cut, scientific answers we sometimes tend to doubt. As a foreshadowing of that great event that will happen on the last day of the world the Gospel reading shows the power of our Lord to raise the dead. While Lazarus was not resurrected, but resuscitated, the power of Christ to raise the dead is nevertheless demonstrated.

We know that each of us will have to die and that our bodies will rise on the last day, be reunited with our souls and live forever in one of two possible places: with God or away from Him. There is, however, another strand of thought in the readings today that has more immediate relevance for us. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that if we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us, then we belong to Christ. Furthermore, if Christ dwells in us then the spirit is alive even if the body is dead in sin.

In the first reading God says that when He opens our graves and has us rise from them, He will put His Spirit in us. St. Paul says essentially the same thing when He tells us that if we have the Spirit of Christ in us then the One Who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit Who dwells in us. Once again, this seems to point to the end of the world, but St. Paul also speaks earlier in the reading about the fact that we are not in the flesh. This he contrasts to being in the Spirit meaning that we are living our lives according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit instead of living according to the desires of the flesh.

Even with this distinction we must recall that St. Paul also told the Ephesians that our bodies are the Temples of the Living God and that the Holy Spirit, indeed, the Holy Trinity dwells in us when we are in the State of Grace. So there is a certain kind of rising from the dead and living according to the Spirit of God even in this world. This implies a dying to sin and a dying to self in order to live for God. These are the very things that our Lord has called us to do.

If, as St. Paul says, our bodies are dead because of sin, then we realize that mortal sin not only deprives the soul of grace, but because of the union of the body and soul, such sin also causes a certain kind of death in our bodies. Anyone who has ever been addicted to some kind of sinful behavior understands this. What the devil and the world tell us is life, instead, brings death. But if the Spirit of God will bring life to our mortal bodies, then restoration to the State of Grace and subsequent growth in holiness will, over time, root out the effects of sin in our bodies so that we can live fully for God, both body and soul, even in this life.

This being the case, particularly with Easter only a couple of weeks away, each of us needs to examine his or her own life to consider not only where the soul has been harmed by sin, but also where the body has been adversely affected. Perhaps we no longer give into the sins, but maybe we still like to entertain ideas of the sins. Perhaps we are still somewhat attached to whatever idea of good or pleasure we connected to the specific sin. Not only do we need to get to confession, but we need to grow in holiness to overcome the effects of our sins so that we can live even now, body and soul, raised from the death of sin, according to the Spirit of God.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit