Sunday, April 6, 2014

Does Your Soul Stink? Don't Despair. St. Augustine and Lazarus Might Help

I stole something and I'm not sorry for it.  I stole big. I stole really big.  This weekend, I stole my homily material from St. Augustine.  It was just so good that I couldn't help myself.  I'm happy to say that I think Augustine would be edified that some 1600 years after his death, university students in Boston are still learning from his teaching.

In commenting on the raising of Lazarus, Augustine notes that the gospels record three times that Jesus raised somebody from the dead. There was the young daughter of Jairus who died in her house. There was the young man whose body, accompanied by his mourning mother, was being transported outside the gates of the city to his tomb. And, then there was Lazarus.  Augustine says that each of these situations has something to teach us.

Jesus, the Gospels tell us, came to the bedside of the young dead girl who was "in the house."  Augustine says that her place within the house reminds us of those who have committed sins in their minds and in their hearts.  Perhaps through hatred, lust, or envy (or many other sins), we can sin inside the house of our very self.  We may not act outwardly on these things, but internally, we have consented to them.  And, in consenting to them, we have died.  In raising the young girl, Jesus reminds all of us who have sinned in this way, that he can bring us to new life.

The young man was being carried outside the gates of the city.  In this way, we can ponder those times when we have committed sins outside of ourselves.  These are sins that not just were inside our hearts and minds, but sins we acted upon.  Sins of calumny, gossip, the flesh, violence, indifference to the poor, and many other sins done on the outside.  Again, Jesus raises this man and so teaches us that we who have died in our souls by such actions can be raised and come to new life.

Lastly, we have Lazarus.  Today's gospel is not "too high in the sky."  It is earthy.  Martha says, "Lord, don't roll back that stone.  Ol' Lazarus has been in that tomb for four days. That is going to be one horrendous stench."  Lazarus wasn't just dead.  He was really really dead.  He was stinky dead.  In this way, says Augustine, Lazarus foreshadows all of those who have become immersed in sin.  He foreshadows those trapped in habitual sin; those who seem beyond any possible hope.  Lazarus wasn't dead for an hour or so and in need of some really special CPR.  He was dead and in a tomb for four days.  He wasn't getting better any time soon.

When we become immersed in some sort of sin and dwell in sin, we can feel like Lazarus: Dead, filled with stench, buried away, beyond all hope.  Ah, but Christ comes into this situation and raises Lazarus.  No one is beyond the mercy of God.  No one should despair.  Today, Christ calls to all of us who have perhaps sinned on the inside, on the outside, or have become habituated in sin.  His mercy reaches even to those whose souls seem beyond all reach.  Do you feel dead?  Rancid?  Beyond help?  Welcome to Lazarus' world.  Lazarus, however, was raised.

The Gospels are not primarily filled with people who were perfect.  They are filled with people who encountered Christ and were transformed by him.  The Gospel ended today by saying that many who were there that day came to believe in Jesus.  The most effective evangelization is our own conversion.  Imagine being at a cocktail party with Lazarus after all of this.  Talk about a good story.  "Yeah, I had an interesting thing happen to me.  I was dead for four days and they had buried me.  Then Jesus came and raised me up."  Now, that's an interesting story! The Church is filled with people who were dead and are now alive in Christ.  This is what it is all about.  We want to spend our whole life telling people that we were dead and Jesus entered into our stench and brought  us back to life.  

(For those who were with me at Mass today, they would have heard something like the following):

I'd like you all to take your phones out right now.  No, I mean it.  Take them out.  Don't check Facebook or read your messages.  Just go to your calendar and open it to April 15th.  That's tax day.  That's the day you have to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.  But, we also have to render unto God what belongs to God.  And God wants our sins.  On April 15th, from 7-9pm, we will have a bunch of priests here available for confession.  So, I want you to write "Confession" on that date and then put one of those little alert things on it, so you don't forget.

Jesus raised Lazarus because he loved Lazarus and his sisters.  But, he loves us too and he wants to raise us to new life.  Whether we have only sinned inside, or whether we've sinned outside, or whether we are immersed in the darkness and stench of habitual sin, we are not beyond Christ's mercy.  Don't give up on yourself.  Jesus is weeping and calling out for you.  He's calling out to us.  Let's be given new life by him and through our conversion, may many others come to believe in him.  

(St. Augustine, I hope you forgive me for paraphrasing you.)

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