Sunday Sermon for April 6, 2014, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Readings: Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
In the first reading today God promises through the Prophet Ezekiel that He will open the graves of those who have died and have them rise from them. He promises also that He would bring them back to the land of Israel so that, filled with the Spirit of God, they will be able to settle in the land. One could say that we have a fulfillment, at least in part, of this prophecy in the raising of Lazarus from the dead, as we hear in the Gospel. The same could apply to the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow of Naim.

These three people were, indeed, brought back from the dead and restored to their homeland. However, as Christians we have to see things in a larger context. The raising of these three people points to something greater and suggests that the fulfillment of the promise in Ezekiel is far greater than the people could have imagined. I always feel sorry for these three people mentioned above because they all had to die again. They were not resurrected, but resuscitated. They were restored to the Promised Land, but there is a Promised Land that is infinite and eternal that awaits those who share in the resurrection of the just.

The Church gives to us in the second reading another way to interpret Ezekiel’s prophecy in order to apply it in the present while we await its complete fulfillment at the end of the world. This application is spiritual and it is the insight which St. Paul had of the body being dead because of sin, but the spirit being alive because of righteousness. This, he says, is applied to those who are in Christ and have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them.

In the broadest sense, this is true for all who are in the state of Sanctifying Grace. However, one can be in the state of grace and still be very much focused on the body. St. Paul is speaking of the way that we have to live the life of Christ even in this world. We have to die to self and live for Christ, even to the point where St. Paul tells the Galatians that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ who lives in Him. Like St. Paul, the life we live in this world must be a life of faith in the Son of God.

This is the faith attested to by Martha when she proclaims Jesus to the the Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is coming into this world. He came into our world so that we would be able to enter into His world. Heaven is for us the Promised Land and, as St. Paul tells the Philippians, we have our citizenship in Heaven. This is why we need to live holy lives even now. If we are going to live lives of faith in the Son of God, then our lives will be holy, they will be centered on Jesus and revolve around Him. We will seek in all things to do the will of God, as we pray in the Pater Noster.

So many today are entombed in the spiritual death that our wayward society brings to the soul. We are mired in selfishness and in the seeking of ease and pleasure. So often we try to fight against God rather than peacefully and gratefully accepting His will. Jesus told his disciples that the death of Lazarus was for the glory of God. Neither they nor the sisters of Lazarus could understand what this meant until after the Lord brought the dead man back to life.

We, too, fail to see God’s will in the events of our lives until well after the fact when we can look back and see the good He brings from the situation. After seeing this enough times, one would think that we would learn to accept what comes our way knowing that God will use it for our good and His glory. This requires that we take the focus off of ourselves and keep our focus squarely on God, trusting Him and having faith in Him. This is not only how we die to ourselves, but more importantly, it is how we rise from our self-imposed spiritual death to be restored to a heavenly life of faith in the Son of God. We will be truly animated by the Spirit of God to do the will of God. The Spirit of God allows us to hear the Lord and interpret things in a spiritual way. Do we cooperate with the Spirit and listen to Jesus as we were instructed by God at the Transfiguration? Listen: He calls each of us from our spiritual tomb: Lazarus, come out!

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