2nd April – Fifth Sunday of Lent (A)

Today in the parish we had a TRACTOR RUN fundraiser for the RNLI Lifeboats. It was a last wish of parishioner Michael O’Donnell who passed away a few months ago. Here is a picture of yours truly (with More Tea in my hand!) on a borrowed tractor! A great day was had by all.

tractor run

Today’s gospel was the raising of Lazarus (copied at the very end of this document). Here is my homily.

tightrope-walkingThere was once a circus acrobat who decided it was time to retire from his high risk life, get married and have a family and live happily ever after. But before retiring he had to fulfil one life ambition: to walk a tightrope between the two tallest skyscrapers in New York City!

On the appointed day he set up his steel rope between the buildings, filled up his wheelbarrow with bricks and set off across the great chasm. Half ways over a pigeon briefly landed on his head but he took no notice. Shortly afterwards a breeze came along and even though he wobbled a bit, he recovered his balance and eventually made it all the way across. When he got off, he was embraced by his fiancée who said “I always believed you could do it darling!” “Many thanks for your confidence. Now we are half ways there. Wait while I empty the wheel barrow, you can sit in and we will travel together to the other side.” At that the fiancée screamed, threw her hands in the air and ran off to the stairwell!

What this story shows is the different meanings of the word ‘belief’. We can say we believe that Jesus lived 2000 years ago, that he died on the Cross and came back from the dead. We can believe these facts like we believe that Dublin is the capital of Ireland and that 2+2=4. But for us Christians, this is not a saving belief in Jesus.

A second type of belief can be enough to save us. We believe that Jesus loves us, is the Son of God, has divine power capable of working miracles, is really and mysteriously present in the Eucharist, answers prayers, is our Good Shepherd, etc.

This belief can lead us to put some of our eggs in his basket and depend on him for our present and future concerns. But we don’t put ALL our eggs in his basket. We also invest ourselves in a career, possessions, money, entertainment, human approval and all of that the GOOD LIFE entails.

Many of these are necessary aspects of living but an important question to ask is: are these things an end in themselves or simply a means to a higher end? I asked somebody recently if they were working to live or living to work. The answer should be that we work to live. If we get it the other way around then work and its proceeds can become false gods in our life.

If Jesus is one good among many other goods in our life, then our belief in him isn’t absolute – like the trust of the fiancée in the acrobat wasn’t absolute.

The third and highest form of a saving belief is where we put all of our eggs in Jesus’ basket. We see Jesus as the ultimate and sole good of our life, as our only true life-insurance policy, as the fulfilment of all our expectations for the present and future. Going back again to the story, Jesus wants us to voluntarily sit in his wheel barrow and journey with him to the other side of the great chasm, entrusting ourselves completely to his safe keeping.

This brings us to today’s gospel and a wonderful promise made to us by Jesus. We don’t always trust promises made by others – particularly politicians during election times. But God is always true to his word. The promise is:

‘I am the resurrection.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me
will never die.
Do you believe this?’

Jesus promises us LIFE AND RESURRECTION. Not just at some point in the future when we make it through the Final Judgement and perhaps Purgatory but beginning right now. Jesus says I AM the Resurrection and the Life; Jesus didn’t say I WILL BE the Resurrection and the Life. To possess this Resurrection and Life right now, is to share in God’s eternal life right now and in a real way before we experience its fullness in the next life.

After Jesus issues this promise / invitation to Martha, he asks: “Do you BELIEVE this?”

This invitation that was made 2000 years ago to Martha is made anew to us here this morning because God’s Word is a LIVING Word, not just some sort of history lesson. To prove that Jesus has the power to do what he offers, he proceeded to give RESURRECTION and LIFE to Lazarus who has been dead for four days in the tomb.

What is to be OUR answer to Jesus’ invitation?

If we look at our hearts, it is a constant battle ground between our loyalty to Jesus and the joys of worldly living. In the second reading we heard St Paul encouraging the Romans to stay faithful: “People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you.”

How do we ensure that we remain strong in our commitment to Jesus? Well, the really important work of Lent is not giving up chocolate but in making a good examination of our conscience and confession.

This week I have been thinking about the NCT, our National Car Testing scheme. The all important NCT test in our lives is not next time we bring our car to the test centre but when we give an account of our lives to Jesus after leaving this world. Unfortunately at this time, we wont have the opportunity to come back for a re-test if things go badly. We do however have the option of doing a PRE NCT where we bring our car to the garage for an inspection. In advance of the test we fix all the things that are wrong so we can be assured that the test itself will go well.

At the back of the church is an examination of conscience that is a thorough run through the Ten Commandments that are God’s Truth for right living. Please take a copy away and reflect on it during the week. [I have copied the sheet below. There is also a formatted double sided copy on the parish website that can be downloaded and printed if you have the capacity. Visit www.tiny.cc/DCLMA and look in the Misc 17 folder for Confession1.]

In summary, Jesus is inviting us today to believe totally in him as the source of RESURRECTION and LIFE. In accepting his invitation we are pledging ourselves to live Spirit filled lives and to shun all that is unspiritual.

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A Primer for Confession

On the evening of his Resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to his Apostles and gave them the power to forgive all sins.   Breathing upon them, He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.  If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” (Jn.20:22-23)   Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, bishops and priests of the Church receive the ability from Christ himself to forgive sins.   It is exercised in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as the Sacrament of Penance or simply as “Confession.”   Through this Sacrament, Christ forgives the sins that the members of his Church commit after Baptism.

In receiving the Sacrament, the penitent (the sinner) expresses sorrow for his or her sins.   Sorrow for sins is called contrition.   Imperfect contrition is sorrow for sins motivated by the loss of one’s soul or the ugliness of sin itself.   Perfect contrition is sorrow for sin motivated by the love of God.

Contrition, perfect or imperfect, is joined with a firm purpose of amendment, that is, a solid resolution to avoid the sin committed as well as the persons, places and things that prompted the sin in the first place.   This is required for a sincere confession.

Mortal sin is a direct, conscious and free violation of one or another of the Ten Commandments in a serious matter.   Mortal sin destroys the life of grace in the soul.   God’s grace begins to draw the sinner back to him through sorrow for sin.   He is brought back to life when he confesses his sins to a priest and receives absolution (forgiveness).   The Church recommends that Catholics confess also their venial sins which are violations of God’s law that do not sever the relationship with or destroy the life of grace in the soul.

The following is an Examination of Conscience to help prepare for confession.   If you are not sure whether your sins are “mortal” or “venial” the confessor (the priest to whom you confess your sins) will help you to understand the difference.   Don’t be shy:  seek his assistance.   Ask him questions!   Do not be afraid! – his only intention is to help you and act in the person of Christ, The Good Shepherd. You always have the right to confess your sins in a face-to-face encounter with the confessor.   It is also your right to confess “anonymously” behind a screen.   The Church wants to make it as easy as possible for you to make a frank, honest confession of all your sins.   You are also free to call your parish priest and make an appointment for confession.

(GENERAL ABSOLUTION is only VALID when received in exceptional circumstances and with the intention of making a regular confession of grave sin when this is reasonably possible.)

  1. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
  • Do I seek to love God with my whole heart and soul? Does He hold first place in my life?
  • Have I been involved with the occult or superstitious practices?
  • Have I ever received Holy Communion in the state of grave sin?
  • Have I told a lie in confession or deliberately withheld confessing a grave sin?
  1. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  • Have I insulted God’s holy name or used it lightly or carelessly?
  • Have I used offensive language?
  • Have I wished evil on anyone?
  1. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
  • Have I missed Mass deliberately on a Sunday or on a Holy Day of Obligation?
  • Do I observe an hour fast before Communion?
  • Do I practice a penance on Friday in memory of the Lord’s Passion?
  • Do I try to keep Sunday as a day of rest?
  1. Honour your father and your mother.
  • Do I honour and obey my parents? Do I care for them in their old age?
  • Have I neglected my family responsibilities to spouse and children?
  • Is my family life centred around Christ and his teaching?
  1. You shall not kill.
  • Have I caused harm to anyone?
  • Have I had an abortion? Have I encouraged an abortion?
  • Have I used or consented to abortifacient birth control (pills, coils, etc)?
  • Have I abused drugs or alcohol?
  • Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilisation or encouraged others to do so?
  • Have I harboured hatred, anger or resentment in my heart towards anyone?
  • Have I given scandal to anyone by my sins, thereby leading them to sin?
  1. You shall not commit adultery
  • Have I been unfaithful to my marriage vows in action, word or thought?
  • Have I practised any form of artificial contraception or IVF in my marriage?
  • Have I engaged in any sexual activity alone or outside legitimate marriage?
  • Am I pure in my thoughts, words, actions? Am I modest in dress?
  1. You shall not steal
  • Have I taken what is not mine?
  • Am I honest with my employer/employee and taxes/social benefits?
  • Do I gamble excessively thereby robbing my family of their needs?
  • Do I seek to share what I have (time and money) with the poor and needy?
  1. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour
  • Have I lied, gossiped or spoken behind anyone’s back?
  • Have I ruined anyone’s good name?
  • Do I reveal information that should be confidential?
  • Am I sincere in my dealings with others?
  1. You shall not desire your neighbour’s wife.
  • Am I envious of another’s spouse or family?
  • Have I consented to impure thoughts?
  • Am I reckless and irresponsible in the books I read and the TV/movies I watch?
  1. You shall not desire your neighbour’s goods
  • Am I envious of the possessions of others?
  • Am I resentful and bitter over my position in life?

When you enter the place set aside for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest may greet you and together you will make the sign of the cross.   He may then choose a brief reading from the Bible to help you feel the merciful presence of Christ.   Next, you tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest  Mortal sins are confessed by name and number.   For instance, “I stole £500 from my employer”;   “I deliberately missed Mass on 2 Sundays and 1 Holy Day”;   “I gambled away a whole week’s pay cheque.”

This Sacrament is not only for the forgiveness of mortal sins.   You may also confess your venial sins.   The Church encourages devotional confession, that is, the frequent confession of venial sins as a means of growing perfect in the love of God and neighbour and obtaining grace to refine character faults.

After you confess your sins, listen to the advice the priest offers you.   You may also seek his help and guidance.   He will then give you a penance.   He will ask you to either pray, fast or perform an act of charity.   Through the penance, you begin to make reparation for the harm your sins have caused you, others and the Church.   The penance of the priest reminds us that we need to be one with Christ in his sufferings so as to share in his Resurrection.

Finally, the priest will ask you to express your sorrow for the sins confessed in an act of contrition, and then, exercising the power of Christ, he will give you absolution.   As he prays over you, know with the certainty of faith that God is forgiving all your sins, healing you and preparing you for the Banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven!   The priest will dismiss you saying: “The Lord has freed you from your sins.   Go in peace,” to which you answer “Thanks be to God.”

Try to spend some time in prayer, thanking God for his forgiveness.   Perform the penance the priest has given you as soon as possible

ACTS OF CONTRITION:

O my God, because you are so good I am very sorry I have sinned against you, and with the help of your grace, I will not sin again, Amen.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven, and the pains of Hell; but most of all because I love Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

My God,  I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin Our Saviour Jesus Christ  suffered and died for us. In His Name, my God, have mercy on me. Amen..

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Gospel                                John 11:1-45
‘I am the resurrection and the life.

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. – It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill’. On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified’.

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea’. The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied: ‘

Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’

He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him’. The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better’. The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him’.

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you’. ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘1 know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day’. Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me
will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’ When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you’. Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see’. Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away’. Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day’. Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:

‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free’.

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

The Gospel of the Lord

 

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