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Lent 5th Sunday A - Lazarus is Raised

The five Sundays of Lent gives the picture of death and Resurrection in faith and in life.
1. The first two Sundays depict Jesus' own death and resurrection in daily life (Temptation/Desert/Rejection and Transfiguration / Mountain / Belovedness)
2. Then we have three Sundays with three scenarios of death and resurrection:
a. The Samaritan woman (sociological death to become the first missionary) - her faith in Jesus
b. The Blind man (Physical and spiritual death to growth in faith - he recognizes Jesus, the man, Jesus the prophet and then Jesus the Lord - daring missionary to proclaim the healing and the Lord despite threats of ostracism) - his faith
c. Lazarus - Physical death to actual resurrection - belovedness to Mary and Martha and to Jesus - their faith
d. Passion Sunday: Moving from another "mount" (donkey) to "crucify him". Life is a constant journey of baptism to the desert to the transfiguration to simple realities of our daily life and mission and occasional anniversaries and jubilees. That summarizes the Lenten season, I suppose.

-Tony Kayala, c.s.c.
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Opening Story: 1: A sign of resurrection:

As Vice-President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow.  She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed.  Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed in Communist Russia: she made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest.  There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all made a gesture suggesting that her husband had been wrong.  She hoped that there was another way of life – a life best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that this same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband and raise him up on the Day of the Judgment.  (Gary Thomas, Christian Times, October 3, 1994, p. 26.)


2. Look, he's Moving!:

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: "What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?"
The first of the friends said: I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community. 
The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow," said another. 
The third friend said, I would like them to say, "Look, he's moving!!" 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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Today, the 5th Sunday in Lent, we conclude the trilogy of instructions taken from the Gospel of John for Catechumens.  The gospel readings of the previous two Sundays focussed on water (Jn 4) and light (Jn 9). Today our focus is on life (Jn 11).  These three narratives, centring on the three primordial elements, are a build up to the Easter vigil which will also revolve around water, light and new life.  These three elements simply point to Christ, the source of life. (Fr. Sahaya Selvam, sdb)

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Gospel text : John 11:1-45

 Michel de Verteuil
General notes

As on last Sunday, we have a long passage in which several stories are interwoven. Jesus brings Lazarus out of the tomb; this is experienced as a liberation from bondage – “Unbind him and let him go free.” Identify with Lazarus from your experience. He symbolizes those who have been written off (by others but also by themselves) as dead – people? communities? a country or a civilization?
Textual comments
       Verses 3 and 36; 15; 39; 41 and 42 : Faced with the bondage of the tomb, Jesus is armed with love (verses 3 and 36), trust in the Father (vs. 15, 39, 41 and 42), and deep compassion (vs. 33, 35, 38). Enter into the dramatic confrontation in which these forces are victorious over death.
       Verses 25 – 26; 29 and 40 :  Jesus leads Martha (and to a lesser extent Mary) to a new insight into the power of faith over death by his teaching (vs. 25 and 26) and by commanding her to take the stone away (vs. 29 and 40). Recognize this journey from your own discovery of the power of faith over the forces of death and whatever keeps us in bondage. Where is Jesus teaching us this by word and example?
       Verses 9 and 10 :  Jesus returns to Judaea, the place of death, in perfect freedom, because of his own faith which is an inner light that keeps him from stumbling.
The disciples decide to accompany Jesus in his journey to death, which turns out to be a place of new life and freedom. When did you or your community take such a risk and experience a similar surprise?
       Since we are approaching Holy Week, interpret the story of the crucifixion of Jesus in the light of this story: there too, faith and love prove victorious over the forces of death and darkness.

Scripture reflection
 Lord, we remember today the times when we were like Lazarus in the tomb,
rejected, discouraged, in despair, feeling that life was not worth living,
overwhelmed by guilt so that we wanted to hide ourselves away from the world.
We thank you that you sent Jesus to us as we lay in the tomb –
a friend, a parent, uncle or aunt, some member of our church community –
and this Jesus loved us,
reached out to us in the tomb,
and in a loud, confident voice, called us to come out.
Thank you, Lord.
 “Christianity is not about opposing evil. It is a call to live in contrast to the prevailing mode of fragmentation and despair.”  ….Derrick Wilson, founder of the ecumenical Corrymeela Centre in Northern Ireland
Lord, there are many who are Lazarus in our country,
seeming alive but really in the tomb:
– those who are letting themselves be killed by alcohol or drugs,
– those who are cynical, who have no energy or enthusiasm,
– those who are lost in our own national history
We ask you to send them Jesus
– someone who will be a friend to them as Jesus was to Lazarus,
– will not be afraid to remove the stone that is closing them in,
– will ignore us when we protest that they are already four days in the grave
and will smell,
– will call them to come out, and set them free.
 How much better to carry relief to the poor rather than sending it.”  ….John Wesley 
 Lord, we thank you for Jesus’ great distress, for the tears he shed,
for the sighs that came straight from the heart.
We come to you today with our own grief,
our anger in the face of death, hatred, cynicism and despair.
Teach us, like Jesus, to leave ourselves in your hands,
remembering that you always hear our prayers,
if we only believe we will see your glory,
and through our faith we can call Lazarus from the tomb,
unbind him and set him free.
“All the doctrinal work of the Church is focused in only one direction, serving human beings in their every condition, in their every ailment, and in every way.   …. Pope Paul VI
 We pray for your Church, in our country and in the world,
– that we may be Jesus in the world,
– walking without stumbling because we are walking in your light;
– not afraid to go to Judaea even when we know we could be put to death there;
– that we may let ourselves be led to where Lazarus is lying in a tomb,
– so that we can share in the grief of the world and in its sighs.
Fill your Church with the love of Jesus for Lazarus,
and with his trust in you,
so that she may call him out of the tomb and set him free.
And Lord be merciful even when your Church sins and hurts it’s own people.
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Thomas O’Loughlin 
Introduction to the Celebration

Today we recall how Jesus was told of the death of his friend Lazarus and how he restored him to life. In this we have a ‘trailer’ of the whole message of Christian life: to believe in Jesus Christ is to be brought out of the tomb of death, freed from what binds us, and offered eternal life. Let us now reflect on our own need to be freed from sin, our own need to have burdens lifted, and our own need to begin life afresh. 
Homily notes
1. What does believing in the resurrection mean in our lives The temptation is to make an abstract statement about what one ‘believes’ will happen post mortem, but Christian faith is much more than this: it requires that we live as people who have been raised to new life and for whom death and the tomb are not the end. To believe in this sense is not to assent to a set of statements beyond what can be proven by some sort of empirical observation, but to adopt a lifestyle that embodies the assumption that God is calling each of us to new life. Christian believing is, therefore something that requires constant practice. This means that I cannot believe, in my life, and living and activity, that God is offering people new life, while being indifferent to human suffering, pain, poverty, a oppression.
2. Many people dwell at length on the difficulties of believing and wondering whether they can assert as true or false some statement such as ‘there is life after death’ or ‘there is a continuation of personal identity after death’ or whether or not there is a cycle of reincarnation’. But these speculations are quite irrelevant to the gospel- and its challenge of taking the difficulties of the lifestyle of resurrection do not attract the same attention as the abstract ‘difficulties of believing’. The gospel writers all believed that there was a caring and involved God, and and individual identity that survived death, and that there was an ‘afterlife’ – none of these beliefs are an issue in the gospels they are simply assumed. What they proclaim as new, and as revealed in Jesus, is that God offers a covenant of forgiveness that cannot be destroyed, and the invitation to follow the way of holiness is to live life after the pattern of that forgiving and constant divine love.
As we are loved, so we love;  as we are forgiven, so we forgive;  as we receive mercy, so we must be merciful, and as our lives are transformed, so we must help to transform the lives of others.
What we wish for from God on the heavenly plane, must be that which we transmit to others on our own human plane. So to believe in resurrection, and in the resurrection of Jesus, is to live such a life, of hope:
if I look forward to mercy and fullness of life from God, how can I not show mercy to someone in need;
if I look to the transformed life of heaven, how can I not want to transform the lives of those suffering on earth. Here lies a difficulty:  is it easier to engage in disputes over abstract beliefs;  or to engage in alms-giving and be really committed to a just world – perhaps one where one has to take a fall in one’s own standard of living so that others can have a better life? Believing in resurrection is not ‘yippee, I’m saved by Jesus’, but something very costly: I believe I am given new life; I must act on that as the fact in my life and convey new life to others.
3. On the other hand, we have to note how we often live within a pattern of attitudes that are equivalent to denying resurrection. The gospel today shows up several of the main forms of non-belief.
First, attitudes of despair in the face of human suffering deny resurrection. Here are some of the standard expressions of despair: ‘Why bother when it will make no difference,’ or ‘There is nothing to be done,’ or ‘It is too late.’ We must act with hope and one only needs hope when one is in the presence of adversity.
Second, attitudes of it ‘all being too much bother’ when faced with wickedness or falsehood or discrimination. There are always difficulties – ‘there will now be a smell’ – but until we confront them as a community which is strengthened by God’s grace, those difficulties will only grow. Not that there is any guarantee that in confronting them we will succeed or that we will not encounter suffering – our symbol is a cross – but that in confronting the difficulties we look forward to the final victory of the Christ.
Cross and hopeThirdly, attitudes of fatalism: the assumption that there is really no hope of things changing, and that there is no possibility of conversion. Lazarus is already in the tomb, dead and bound. Such an attitude of fatalism denies the forgiving nature of God, and denies that there can be goodness in his universe.
4. It is in confronting each day the suffering, darkness, and wickedness that can engulf us that we show that we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the one who has shattered all that oppresses us.
Belief in resurrection may seem one of the most abstract aspects of our religion, yet nothing makes such concrete and material demands on us.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
How much is our faith like Martha’s faith? During Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary after the death of Lazarus, Martha professed true faith in him. When Jesus asked her if she believed that he was the Resurrection and the Life, she acknowledged him as ‘the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world’ (Jn 11:27). Martha was one of the few people in the New Testament who expressed such a faith in Jesus before his own death and resurrection. Another person who expressed a similar faith was Peter (see Mt 16:16). Thus Martha’s faith anticipated a truly Easter faith.
Martha believed that physical death was not the end. Instead, physical death gave way to eternal life because, for her, Jesus Christ was (and is) the Lord of life. Martha looked forward to the resurrection of the body on the last day. Meanwhile she maintained a sure and certain hope that is characteristic of the basic Christian hope which is at the heart of our Christian faith.
At Easter, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Because he is risen, all of us will likewise be raised from the dead. We are all invited to share in his death and resurrection and, provided we are committed to the newness of the risen life that he offers us, we gain an everlasting place in heaven. This means that if we turn away from the sins that separate us from God — for example, irreligion, theft, adultery, disregard for parents, and drunkenness — we will gain heaven for eternity. This is the real meaning of Easter, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is at the centre of our Christian faith.
Therefore, as Paul teaches (see 1 Cor 15:14), if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain and we are foolish people. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the proof that everything he said and did in his public ministry is true, bearing in mind that what he is portrayed as saying and doing in the gospel has been painted with ‘resurrection spectacles’. Sharing in his risen life demands that we remain faithful to his teaching and committed to his Church.
laz and resurrectionThe all-important question for us at Eastertide is: Do we sincerely believe, like Martha, that Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life? In other words, do we accept that he is raised from the dead and that he is the Lord of life? How can we have the sure and certain hope that was characteristic of her faith? Martha provides an inspiring example of Easter faith. Despite her obvious grief at the death of Lazarus, she put her faith completely in Christ. We are challenged to do the same.
How much is our faith like Martha’s faith? Let our prayer today be: Lord, our God, strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. May we learn from Martha’s example so that the message of Easter may change our lives and lead us to eternal life.
For meditation
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. (Jn 11:25-26).
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Donal Neary SJ:  A human heart
When people read this they say they see that Jesus is a real hu­man being, son of God, God of heaven, man of the earth, weep­ing over a friend.
His was a human heart. He liked friends and he found a home and a safe place with them, over the hill and away from the mob. We might picture him there – the talk, the chat, the prayers, the love; meals with other friends who dropped in, times of prayer and silence.
The one who can share a laugh, eat a scone, have a drink or a cuppa. The one who’d give a wink at the sign of peace! Not always so serious, even about religion. There’s no such thing as a sad saint!
He is a good friend. Friendship gives new spirit.
When life is ending we will give thanks for friends, and regret the way we have drifted or hurt each other. Real friendship is when another’s thoughts and life become at least as or more im­portant than our own.
So the resurrection and the life is not just for after death. It is for now. We raise each other up in friendship and in love. In that is the grace of the Lord, himself a friend, for when we love, God lives in us.
Picture your friends and those you love and give thanks to God for each of them.Lord, help me to keep love and friendship alive in my life.
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From the Connections:

THE WORD:
As was the case in John’s account of the healing of the man born blind (last Sunday’s Gospel), the raising of Lazarus is more than just a sign of Jesus’ love and compassion.  Each of the seven miracles that John includes in his Gospel (“the Book of Signs,” as this section of John’s Gospel is titled) is dramatized by the evangelist to underscore some dimension of the redemptive nature of Jesus’ work.  Today’s Gospel, the climactic sign in John’s Gospel, is presented in five distinct, self-contained scenes: Jesus receiving the news of Lazarus’ death, the disciples’ protesting Jesus’ return to Judea, Martha’s pleading with Jesus, Jesus’ emotional arrival at the tomb, and the miraculous raising of Lazarus.
The raising of Lazarus is clearly intended by John to demonstrate Jesus’ power over life and death.  The raising of Lazarus plays like a rehearsal for the events next week’s liturgies will celebrate.


HOMILY THEMES:
As Jesus called out to Lazarus to be untied from the wrappings of the dead and to be free to live once again, so we are called to be free from those things that keep us too busy from loving and being loved.
Resurrection is an attitude, a perspective that finds hope in the hardest times and uncovers life among the ruined, that reveals light in the darkest night.  To each one of us belongs Jesus’ work of resurrection at Lazarus’s tomb: to help others free themselves from their tombs of dark hopelessness and the fear and sadness that bind them.

“A hole in the basket”
While many parishes struggle financially, one suburban parish’s weekly offerings are actually up.  And the pastor thinks he’s discovered the secret:
Start giving the money away.
It started when the pastor was asked to help some children in a nearby town who needed new clothes for school.  After discussing it with the staff and pastoral council, they decided to give a percentage of the profits from the parish’s biggest annual fundraiser to the cause.  The event turned out to be the parish’s most profitable ever.
The parish continued to make charitable outreach part of other parish fundraisers — with the same result.
A spirit of generosity began to build in the parish.  People now regularly send in checks to be “given to someone in need.”  The parish staff has been able to quietly help with mortgage payments, tuition costs and house repairs.  Even though the privacy of those assisted is strictly protected, word of such help is getting out and more and more parishioners want to help.
And none of this has lessened the Sunday collection — in fact, the pastor writes, the Sunday offering “has increased every year, along with Mass attendance and parish enrollment.  I suppose it all has to do with trust.  Even with fewer dollars at their disposal, people want to participate in good works.  If it is evident that donations are used to meet real and urgent needs, people find a way to give even in pinched circumstances.  We all have to trust that God is continually at work, figuring things out, planting ideas, making connections, and passing the basket.
“A good way to increase the Sunday collection is to put a hole in the basket.”

[From “A Hole in the Basket: With Sunday Collections, You Get What You Give” by Father Nonomen, Commonweal, February 7, 2014.]
This parish’s realization of their ability to serve others despite their own pressing needs is a story of resurrection.  As he calls Lazarus from the grave, Jesus calls us out of the graves of self-centeredness,  anger and fear that we dig for ourselves and “come out” from them into the light of compassion, reconciliation and peace.  The Christ who calls Lazarus from his tomb calls us out of the tombs in which we “bury” ourselves and to walk in the light of hope and possibility.  Resurrection is an attitude that finds hope in the hardest times and uncovers life among the devastated and broken; resurrection is a perspective that sees light even in the darkest night.  To each one of us belongs the work of resurrection: to bring the transformative, healing power of the Easter Christ into our own lives and the lives of those around us. 
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 ILLUSTRATIONS: 

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading we hear Ezekiel speaking words of hope to the Israelites. At first he may seem to speak of the resurrection, but he is actually predicting the renewed vitality of the whole people of Israel. In the passage before this, Ezekiel painted a picture of dry bones, the bones of warriors fallen in battle which remained unburied and littered some of the battlefields. For Ezekiel the dry bones are without life, like the graves mentioned in today's reading. He predicts that God's life-giving breath will restore his people, give them new life and resettle them in their land.

‘Death Be Not Proud’
John Gunther's book 'Death Be Not Proud' tells the story of his son's last year of life. At sixteen, when most young people are dreaming about their future, John Gunther's son was dying from a brain tumour. The boy's quiet courage in his encounter with death prompted critic Judith Crist to write: "His story is a glowing affirmation of the nobility of even the shortest of lives." Book reviewer Walter Duranty of the New York Herald Tribune said: "To read 'Death Be Not Proud' is to grasp the meaning of man's power to defy Death's hurt; to be filled with confidence and emptied of despair."
Albert Cylwicki in ‘The Word Resounds’

In today’s Gospel we are told that Jesus was informed by his friends Martha and Mary that their brother was seriously ill. Strangely, he delays his leaving for two days before he comes to their house. The whole story is full of symbolism and signs that point to a deeper reality. It is worth noting that Martha and Mary merely bring the plight of Lazarus to Jesus, without requesting or demanding that he come immediately. We see Jesus does not act according to human timetables; in human terms he is late but it all fits in, even death, in God's plan. When Jesus arrives on the scene Martha voices her regret but immediately she professes her faith. Jesus is quick to reassure her: "Your brother will live again." But for this miracle to happen Jesus needs her belief. "Do you believe this?" And Mary once again professes her faith: "Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus asked to be taken to the tomb of Lazarus and was greatly distressed and he wept so much that the Jews remarked: "See how much he loved him." In Jesus we see the care and concern of our God for all who suffer. John wrote his gospel for the Greeks, who believed that God was unmoved by the human condition. John paints a different portrait of a God who does not look upon the world stoically but is constantly involved in it, and interacts with it. The death of Lazarus does not mean that it is too late for Jesus to be his life. When Jesus reached the tomb he asks that the stone covering the tomb be taken away. For Jesus time, like death itself, is no barrier: "If you believe, you will see the glory of God." Before Jesus works the miracle He prays, He has full trust that His Father will listen to him. In a loud voice Jesus calls: "Lazarus come forth!" The miracle is that hearing the voice of the Son of God, Lazarus lives again. The same call of Jesus is addressed to all of us; He challenges and invites us to come alive again: "Come forth!" The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead proclaims that Jesus is the Lord of life; that Christian life begins when we hear his word and obey it. We may be dead in the midst of life and Jesus can bring us to life again! “Come forth!”

Keep the Fork!
There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, and what scriptures she would like read. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her. "There's one more thing," she said excitedly. "This is very important; I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand. That surprises you, doesn't it?" The young woman explained. "My grandmother once told me this story and, from there on, I have always tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement. In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favourite part because I knew that something better was coming...like velvety chocolate cake or apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder ‘What's with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork ... the best is yet to come.’" The pastor's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye. He knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She knew that something better was coming. At the funeral people were walking by the young woman's casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the pastor heard the question "What's with the fork?" And over and over he smiled. During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.

Old Rattle Bones
Many years ago there was a man, crippled and poor, who was cruelly named “Old Rattle Bones” by a group of boys in the neighbourhood. The leader of the group, Freddie, was worried one day when he saw the crippled man heading right towards his home. Because his friends were with him, the boy attempted to hide his anxiety by taunting. “Go on, Old Rattle Bones,” he shouted, “see if I care if you talk to my mother.” The man looked at Freddie sadly as he passed the group of boys and said, “You would not be calling me such names if you knew what caused my crippled condition.” He continues along the street arriving at Freddie’s home, whereupon he was warmly welcomed by Freddie’s mother. She called for her son to come in also. While the mother brought out a pot of tea, the man turned to the boy and told him a story. “Years ago on the first day of spring, a young mother took a baby outdoors for a carriage ride along the river. Stooping to pick a flower, she briefly let go of the handle; suddenly the carriage lurched forward, careening down the hill. Before she could catch up with the carriage, it had plunged into the river. I was sitting on a nearby bench and heard her scream. I ran after the buggy and jumped into the river. After a difficult struggle, I managed to get the baby safely back to shore. I left before anyone could ask my name. But you see the river water was very cold, and it aggravated my rheumatism. Now ten years later, I can scarcely hobble along. For you see Freddie, that baby was you.” Freddie hung his head in shame and began to cry. “Thank you for saving me,” he wept. “Can you ever forgive me for calling you ‘Old Rattle Bones’? I didn’t know who you were!”
Brian Cavanaugh in ‘Sowers Seeds of Christian Family Values’


Giving up hope until
A pastor tells of the experience of a young woman at a local children’s hospital. She was asked by a teacher from the church to tutor a boy with some school work while he was in hospital. The woman didn’t realize until she got to the hospital that the boy was in a burns unit, in considerable pain and barely able to respond. She tried to tutor him, stumbling through the English lesson, ashamed of putting him through such a senseless exercise. The next day when she returned to the hospital, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to the boy?” Before she could finish apologizing, the nurse interrupted her: “You don’t understand. His entire attitude has changed. It’s as though he has decided to live!” A few weeks later, the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until this young woman arrived. With joyful tears he explained, “They wouldn’t send a tutor to work on nouns and verbs with a dying boy, would they? –Sometimes we are invited into people’s lives and into places and events that, on the surface, have no meaning or purpose to us. We ask ourselves, what are we doing here? What purpose do we have here? Often we define ourselves only by what we can see or understand; we forget that we are part of something larger than ourselves.
Anonymous


Resurrection
The interviewer asked Joseph of Arimathea, “Now the grave you lent is yours again. What are you planning to do with it?” Joseph took a long look at him, and then confided. “When I heard that he had risen, naturally I raced to the tomb. He was not there. He had given my tomb back to me. So what I did after that was: I placed a comfortable bench under the trees just opposite the opening of the tomb. In the evening as the sun is going down, I go and sit there and think to myself, Jesus of Nazareth has slept in this tomb and God raised him from death. Joseph of Arimathea will also lie in this tomb, and what will God do with him?’ Jesus had said, ‘I live and you shall live’. I can depend on that word.”
Hans-Georg Lubkoll


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From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1: A sign of resurrection: As Vice President, George H.W. Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (November 1982). Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed in Communist Russia: she made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all made a gesture suggesting that her husband had been wrong. She hoped that there was another way of life – a life best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that this same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband and raise him up on the Day of the Judgment.  In today’s Gospel, Martha expresses her Faith in Jesus’ assurance of the resurrection of her brother Lazarus. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/)

2) Carrying a dead soul in a living body? In Virgil, there is an account of an ancient king, who was so unnaturally cruel in his punishments that he used to chain a dead man to a living criminal. It was impossible for the poor wretch to separate himself from his disgusting burden. The carcass was bound fast to his body — its hands to his hands; its face to his face; the entire dead body to his living body. Then he was put into a dungeon to die suffocated by the foul emissions of the stinking dead body. Many suppose that it was in reference to this that Paul cried out: “O wretched man that I am!”  Today’s readings invite us to turn away from sin, approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation and revive the dead soul we are carrying within our body, thus becoming eligible for the glorious resurrection Jesus promised to believers at the tomb of Lazarus. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/)

3) “Mike, come out!” “Joe, come out!” Dr. A. L. Jenkins was an emergency-room doctor for 48 years in Knoxville, Tennessee. In this capacity, Dr. Jenkins saw the best and the worst side of the field of medicine. But his most vivid memories are of those moments that are medically unexplainable. Dr. Jenkins recalls one man who was dead on arrival in the emergency room. It was Dr. Jenkins’ policy to attempt resuscitation anyway. After fifteen minutes of CPR, the previously dead man began to show signs of life. The man sat up, looked around him, then said to Dr. Jenkins, “Oh, I wish I was still out there! It was beautiful!” The man would never explain what he meant but would only repeat that the place he had been was “so beautiful, so beautiful.” (Kristi L. Nelson, “From near-death to dynamite,” The Knoxville News-Sentinel, date unknown). Now, many explanations have been given for so-called near-death experiences, including chemical changes in the brain. But, all explanations aside, it is amazing how these experiences affirm what the Bible teaches us about life beyond the grave. There will come a time when the doctor can do no more for us, but somewhere on the other side, Christ will say, “Mike, come out!” “Joe, come out!” “Sally, come out!” This is a story that affirms resurrection. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

4} A dear old lady knew that she was about to die and hence asked her pastor to give her the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. After being anointed she said: “Soon I’ll be rocking in the bosom of Moses.” “No dear,” corrected the pastor, “the Bible says the bosom of Abraham.” She replied: “Father, at my age, you don’t care too much whose bosom it is!”

5)  A funeral director called a man for further instructions about his mother-in-law’s body. “Do you want her embalmed, cremated or buried?” “All the three!’ the man answered promptly. “Don’t take any chances.”

3)  After an atheist died, a friend looked at him in the casket, shook his head, and remarked: “All dressed up and no place to go.”

6)  A man was surprised to read the announcement of his own death in the obituary column of the local newspaper. Ringing up his close friend, he enquired, “Did you see the announcement of my death in the paper this morning?” ” Yes,” was the frightened answer in a shivering voice. “But where are you speaking from? Heaven or Hell?”

7) Alexander the Great once found his philosopher friend Diogenes standing in a field, looking intently at a large pile of bones. Asked what he was doing, the old man turned to Alexander and replied, “I am searching for the bones of your father Philip, but I cannot distinguish them from the bones of the slaves.” Alexander got the point: everyone is equal in death. From the greatest to the least, from the most beautiful to the most ordinary, death is the universal equalizer.

8) The pastor was visiting a terminally sick parishioner in the hospital. As he started consoling the patient the sick man said: “Don’t worry about where I am heading to, Father. I have friends in both places.”

9) Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: “What would you like people to say about you at your wake service while your dead body in the coffin is visible to everyone?” The first of the friends said: “I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian who cared about his community.” The second said: “He was a great husband and father who was an example for many to follow.” The third friend said, “I would like them to say, ‘Look, he’s moving in the coffin!!’”

10) Dwight L. Moody. Moody said, “One day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Well, don’t believe a word of it. I will have gone up higher, that’s all. Out of this old clay tenement into a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And at that moment, I will be more alive than I have ever been.”

29 Additional anecdotes

1) “There is no reason to fear death.” Lee Trevino was sitting under a tree when lightning hit. “It bolted my arms and legs out stiff, jerked me off the ground,” he recalls, “and killed me. I knew I was dead. There was no pain. Everything turned a warm, gentle orange color. I saw my mama who had been dead for years. I saw other people from my life. It was a newsreel like you read about – my life passing before my eyes. But it was so pleasant, so wonderful, I felt great. I thought, boy this dying is really fun. It was when I woke up in the hospital badly burned and in pain that I knew I had come back to life again for some reason.” Eternal life means that we do not have to live our lives fearing death. Lee Trevino said after his experience, “There is no reason to fear death.” [Willie: An Autobiography. Willie Nelson with Bud Shrake. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), pp. 218-219.] Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/)

2) What a friend we have in Jesus: One of the simplest and the most consoling hymns ever written is: ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit; O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.’ Joseph Scriven wrote this hymn in 1857. He was a Christian missionary working in Canada, when he heard that his mother was seriously ill in Ireland. He could not go there to be with her. Instead, he wrote a consoling letter enclosing it with the words of this hymn, and mailed it to her. He offered to her in her illness the company and the comfort of Jesus. He knew that in times of illness and loneliness, there is none who can give us a better company and comfort than Jesus. There can be no greater friend then Jesus. (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies). Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

3) “Now, when will I die?” A little boy was asked to give blood to his injured brother because he possessed the same rare blood type. Realizing that his brother would die without this blood, he agreed. When the transfusion was completed, the young donor asked the doctor, “Now, when will I die?” We are moved by the innocent courage of a child who would give his blood to his brother thinking that it would cost him his life. Our Lord, however, knew for certain that the blood needed to save humankind was a total transfusion. To raise Lazarus and us to eternal life, our Lord literally had to bleed to death for us. To give life to us, Jesus had to give his life for us. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/)

4) “Look, he is moving!” I am reminded of the story of three buddies who are all killed in a car crash and they are immediately in Heaven going to orientation. They are all asked the question, “When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say at your funeral?” The first guy said, “I would like to hear them say, ‘He was a great doctor and a great family man.'” The second guy said, “I would love to hear them say, ‘He was a wonderful husband, a great school teacher and made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.'” The last guy said, “I would like to hear them say, ‘Look, he is moving!'” Lazarus was moving, because Lazarus was once again alive. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

5) “What I want to know is how can I come back?” When Tiger Woods won the Masters and was holding at the same time, all four major titles to what is known as golf’s “Grand Slam,” he was asked in the press conference what he would say to the great golfer, Bobby Jones, if he walked into the room. Of course, Bobby Jones has been dead for many years and Tiger Woods said, “I would ask how he came back, because when I go out what I want to know is how can I come back!” I’ve got the answer for Tiger Woods – believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will find out that death does not have the final say – Jesus does. He has conquered the fear of death and He is the only hope because Easter Sunday tells us that Jesus paid it all. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

6) “I’m having my autopsy”: Over the years, Reader’s Digest has printed many quirky items from the daily lives of ordinary people. Many of these items are quite amusing. A woman wrote in with a funny excuse she heard from a co-worker. The man explained his absence from work by saying, “I’m having my autopsy. But with any luck I’ll be in tomorrow.” (“All in a Day’s Work,” April 2006, p. 69). I don’t know what kind of medical procedure the man was having, but few people are able to return to work the day after their autopsy. Perhaps Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead, came back to work five or six days later, but there is no indication they did an autopsy on his body.

7) Good news and bad news: John and Jim were professional players with the Atlanta Braves who lived and breathed baseball. These guys breathed, discussed, ate, and slept baseball. One of their big concerns was whether there would be baseball in Heaven. They loved baseball so much that they were not sure at all they wanted to spend eternity in heaven unless they could play baseball. They had an agreement that the first one who died would somehow get a message back to earth, letting the other know whether baseball was in heaven or not. Well, it happened. John died, and Jim grieved. He grieved for days – deeply saddened over his friend John’s death. About two weeks went by, and then it happened. Jim was awakened in the middle of the night by the calling of his name, “Jim, Jim, Jim, wake up! This is John.” “John, where are you?” “I’m in Heaven – and I have some good news and bad news. It’s exciting, Jim. We do have baseball in Heaven. It’s great. We play every day and there are marvelous teams, and tough, exciting competition.” “That’s great,” said Jim. “But what’s the bad news?” “Well,” said John, “You are scheduled to pitch next Tuesday.” Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

8) He had been “turned loose, untied.” Robert McAfee Brown was a chaplain in World War II. He was on a troop ship with 1,500 Marines on their way home after having served in Japan. To his surprise, he was approached by a group of Marines asking him to lead a Bible study during the voyage. One day, after the group had studied the passage about the raising of Lazarus, a Marine came to Dr. Brown saying, “The story is about me!” The young man had gotten into a lot of trouble before going into the service. He could not stand the thought of facing his family. The story of Lazarus gave him hope and courage to face the consequences back home. He had been “turned loose, untied.” [William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Revised Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), pp. 102-103.] Christ had rolled away the stone of his past life. That’s what Christ does for us. He gives us the power to start again, to live again. He said to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out!” Then to those who were present, “Take off the grave-clothes and let him go.”

9) “Is that Jesus knocking?” There was a nurse who, before listening to the heartbeats of children, would plug the stethoscope into their ears and let them listen to their own hearts. One day she tucked the stethoscope into the ears of a four-year-old. Then she placed the disk over his heart. “Listen,” she said, “What do you suppose that is?” Thump, thump, thump. He drew his eyebrows together in a puzzled line and looked up as if lost in the mystery of the strange tap-tap-tapping deep in his chest. Then his face broke out in a wondrous grin. “Is that Jesus knocking?” he asked. Well, maybe so. Maybe Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart this day. Maybe Jesus is ordering the door rolled away from your tomb. “Lazarus, come out!” Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

10) Ghost story: There was an article about a judge in Yugoslavia who was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on a light while standing in the bathtub. He was zapped and fell out of the tub. His wife called the doctor who pronounced him dead. In accordance with government health regulation, the judge’s body was immediately placed in a vault beneath the cemetery chapel. In the middle of the night, the judge regained consciousness. He had no idea where he was or what had happened. When he DID realize where he was, he ran to the closed vault door and began shaking it and yelling for help. The guard who was there was terrified and fled. Fortunately, the guard got some help; came back; opened the door and released the newly revived judge. The judge phoned his wife that he was coming home. She screamed and hung up the phone. Next he tried going to the homes of several friends. They took one look at him, thought he was a ghost and slammed the door in his face. Finally, he found a friend who hadn’t heard he was dead. He convinced that friend to act as a go-between. Gradually, the judge was able to convince his friends and family that he really was alive! Lazarus from John’s Gospel could have identified with that judge. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

11) “But for the last 25 years, I drove a hearse.” There was a guy riding in a cab one day. He was new to the city and was looking for a good place to eat, so he leaned forward, tapped the cabby on the shoulder and said, “Hey, Buddy.” The driver let out a blood curdling scream and lost control of the cab. He nearly hit a bus, jumped the curb and stopped just inches from going through a huge plate-glass window and into a crowded restaurant. For a few minutes, there was dead silence in the cab. All you could hear was two hearts beating like bass drums pounding out a quick march. The driver finally turned around and said, “Man, you scared the living daylights out of me.” The passenger, who was white as a sheet and whose eyes were as big as dinner plates, said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize tapping you on the shoulder would scare you so badly.” The cabby said, “Well, it’s not your fault. This is my first day driving a cab. But for the last 25 years, I drove a hearse.” (Patricia Ridpath, Laughter the Best MedicineReader’s Digest). If I’d driven a hearse for 25 years and somebody tapped me on the shoulder, you can bet I’d have screamed like a little girl. I’m kind of goosey anyway. Just ask Mary or the staff. If I’m concentrating on something it’s not hard to startle me. To say that Mary, Martha, the Disciples and the mourners gathered at the grave Lazarus were startled, would be putting it mildly. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

12) Carpe Diem, seize the day: In the movie, Dead Poets’ Society, Robin Williams plays the role of John Keating, a transformational teacher in a rigid, regimented private school. On the first day of Literature class, Keating takes his students down to the school lobby where trophy cases display the photos of earlier graduating classes. “Look at these pictures, boys,” says Keating. “The young men you behold had the same fire in their eyes that you do. They planned to take the world by storm and make something magnificent of their lives. That was over 70 years ago. Now they are all fertilizing daisies. If you will listen, they have a message for you.” As the students gazed at the class photographs, Keating begins whispering, “Carpe Diem, Carpe Diem, seize the day, seize the day.” Life is a gift here and now. Enjoy it as God wishes and be ever ready to share His eternal life. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

13) “I was alive. What a blessing.” Sometimes it takes a traumatic moment to awaken us to life. Jane Marie Thibault is a professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Louisville. Jane is nationally known for her work in clinical gerontology. In her book, A Deepening Love Affair Jane writes: “I began seeing life as a gift when I survived a collision with an 18-wheeler on October 2, 1990. After crawling out of my battered car, I wobbled around a field in a daze. What I remember most is being totally aware of the greenness of the grass, the blueness of the sky, a few puffs of cloud overhead, and some birds squawking raucously in the tree. I was alive. What a blessing. What a precious gift everything was at that moment.” Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

14) “They have swords, we have songs.” Huber Mates, a teacher and journalist, was imprisoned in 1959 when Castro tried to destroy the Church in Cuba. A letter Huber smuggled out of prison to his wife and children contained these words: “I know that I will die in prison. I am sad not to see you again. But I am at peace. They have swords, we have songs.” The people of the Resurrection have songs to sing. Golf pro, Paul Azinger, put it this way while he battled cancer, “We are not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We are in the land of the dying going to the land of the living.” There is a resurrection for you. Get a life. In the lily bulb there is a flower, in the seed an apple tree, in cocoons a hidden treasure, butterflies will soon be free. In the snow and cold of winter there’s a spring that waits to be. If resurrection rings through all of nature, could there not be a resurrection for me? Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 


15) “What is the greatest problem you see in your university?” Harvard University is considered one of the greatest academic institutions in America and around the world; its students have the highest SAT scores, the brightest minds. A few years ago, the President of Harvard University was asked, “What is the greatest problem you see in your university?” He said, “Emptiness! There is no meaning or passion for life. Everybody is bored–no fulfillment.” Fancy titles and good credentials do not guarantee even a bright mind a good testimony unless they are connected to the living God. When Jesus made this bold claim, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” he was connecting us to the living God–for He is God the Son. Our existence is not filled with some run-of-the-mill expectation–but by resurrection power. We are called to life. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

16) We can find humor even in cemeteries: Every once in a while a series of epitaphs comes across the Internet. I’m glad that we can find humor even in cemeteries. Here are some of the best ones I’ve seen: “Harry Edsel Smith of Albany, New York: Died 1942. Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.” Or this one from an English cemetery: “Anna Wallace The children of Israel wanted bread, and the Lord sent them manna. Clark Wallace wanted a wife, and the Devil sent him Anna.” In a New Mexico cemetery: “Here lies Johnny Yeast . . . Pardon me for not rising.” In a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery: “Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake. Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.” In a Silver City, Nevada, cemetery: “Here lays The Kid. We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger, But slow on the draw.” In a cemetery in Hartscombe, England: “On the 22nd of June, Jonathan Fiddle went out of tune.” In another English cemetery we find this last thoughtful epitaph: “Remember man, as you walk by, As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so shall you be. Remember this and follow me.” To which someone replied by writing on the tombstone: “To follow you I’ll not consent . . . Until I know which way you went.” We are not making light of death. We simply hope to put it in the proper perspective. We want to see it in the light of an empty tomb. The story of the raising of Lazarus helps us do just that. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

17) “So from that day on they plotted to take his life.” Army Captain David Roselle lost his right foot when the Humvee in which he was riding hit an anti-tank mine in Iraq. Roselle was airlifted to a hospital in Germany and later to Walter Reed where he worked hard to walk again. After taking a leave to witness the birth of his son in Colorado, Captain David Roselle returned to his command post in Iraq to finish the job he had started. Other wounded military personnel have done the same. They are going back to finish the job they started. The highest form of courage belongs to those who won’t quit. Real courage means being perfectly aware of the worst that can happen, yet doing the right thing anyway. Jesus went back to Jerusalem. In raising Lazarus from the grave, Jesus set in motion his own crucifixion and burial. “So from that day on they plotted to take his life” (Verse 53). When He set His face toward Jerusalem, He set His face toward the cross and death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century pastor who gave his life resisting Adolph Hitler in Germany, opens his book, The Cost of Discipleship, with these words, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 
18) “Nothing. I just helped him cry.” Leo Buscgalia tells about a four-year-old child whose elderly neighbor had recently lost his wife. Seeing the man crying, the kid went over and climbed up in the old man’s lap and sat there. Later the little boy’s mother asked, “What did you say to Mr. Jones in his grief?” The kid replied, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.” Some of the best things that we can do is to help our friends cry in their sorrow. Every time a heart is broken, every time a grave is opened, every time a divorce happens, every time a child suffers, every time the pain comes, Jesus cries. He weeps because He cares. When buildings are bombed, and wars won’t cease, when children are abused and tsunamis sweep over the innocent, Jesus weeps; his heart is touched with our grief. St. Joseph Catholic Church sits directly across the street from the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Less than a year after that tragic day, the church erected a statue of Jesus weeping. When terror strikes, when evil reigns, when the wrong has its day, Jesus weeps. Jesus is deeply troubled that death still has its grip on us. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

19) The Lord of the Rings: There is a scene in the movie Return of the King, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga The Lord of the Rings, in which Aragorn gives the dead soldiers who had deserted their king a chance to regain their honor if they will help to defend the City of Kings which is under attack by evil powers.  He enters a cave through a small crevice in the mountain.  It is dark and the sound effects make it clear that this is not a pleasant place.  He steps over piles of dry bones heaped up against the walls of the cave. Suddenly, in the center of a large room, these skeletal creatures begin to threaten him, even though they are not really alive.  Aragorn offers them a chance to redeem themselves by making good on their pledge to defend the good against evil, and to be a part of a community that will restore the kingdom.  The prophet Ezekiel, in the background for today’s first reading, has a similar experience.  In a vision or dream, he is with God in a valley of dry bones (37:1-11).  God tells Ezekiel to instruct the bones to listen to the Lord.  God restores their bodies with muscle and flesh and gives them breath, raising them to life and the knowledge that God is the Lord. This powerful image of God’s Spirit being breathed into the bodies brings us back to the creation story in Genesis and also to the way in which the Holy Spirit makes us spiritually alive. Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

20) No sequels to Lazar episode: Every now and then, you’ll find a film critic who bemoans the state of Hollywood movies by pointing out that there are too many sequels. Last year, a writer noted that in 2010 there were 86 sequels in various stages of development.  Just this year, we have “Scream 4″ about to open, along with “Underworld 4,” “Mission Impossible 4,” “Cars 2,” “The Hangover 2,” “Transformers 3,” and the final part of the Harry Potter Series. Ever since the first story was ever told, human beings have wanted to know: “What happened next?” I find myself feeling that way about this Sunday’s Gospel – surely one of the most dramatic and moving episodes in all of the New Testament.  And it always makes me wonder: What happened to Lazarus after he was brought back from the dead?  How much longer did he live?  What did people say to him?  What did he say to them?  Was he haunted by his memories of his former life?  Did he remember what happened when he was dead?  How did all of that change him? More importantly: what would any of us do if given a second chance at life? Well, there is no Lazarus 2. His story stands alone. (Deacon Greg Kandra: http://www.patheos.com/community/deaconsbench/ ) Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

21) Most athletes cried: One of the most touching moments in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles came by surprise. It happened one night on prime-time television, after Jeff Blatnik of the United States defeated Thomas Johansson of Sweden for the gold medal in Graeco-Roman wrestling. When the match ended, Blatnik didn’t jump up and down. He didn’t throw his arms into the air. He simply dropped to his knees, crossed himself, bowed his head, and prayed. When the camera zoomed in on his face, millions of viewers saw the torrent of tears pouring down Blatnik’s cheeks. Blatnik had every right to cry. But it wasn’t because he had taken the gold. There was a bigger reason. Two years before, Jeff Blatnik had contracted cancer. Eighteen months before the games, he had undergone surgery. And now in the face of great odds, he had won the second biggest battle of his life. The next day all major newspapers carried Blatnik’s story. Referring to Blatnik’s tears, sportswriter Bill Lyons wrote: “One of the most worthwhile things about the Olympics is that they remind us of the cleansing, therapeutic value of a good cry. You watch the gold medalists mount the victory platform and listen to their national anthems, and in almost every instance their eyes begin to mist….”And that’s what happened in Blatnik’s case. Jeff Blatnik became an instant hero, not because of his victory over Johansson, nor because of his victory over cancer, but because he shared his humanity with us. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

22) “He would have sent a goat.” Early in his career, young Clarence Darrow was defending a client against an older, more experienced attorney, who sarcastically dismissed Darrow as “that beardless youth”. Darrow rebutted, “My worthy adversary seems to downgrade me for not having a beard. Let me reply with a story: The King of Spain once dispatched a youthful nobleman to the court of a neighboring monarch, who sneered, “Does the King of Spain lack men that he sends me a beardless boy? To which the young ambassador replied, “Sire, if my King had supposed that you equated wisdom with a beard, he would have sent a goat.” Clarence Darrow won the case. The older attorney and neighboring king were both blind by prejudice as were the Pharisees who confronted Jesus when he healed the blind man. (Bennet Cerf; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

23) Spiritual blindness: A sixty-year-old woman living in a mid-western town was finally prevailed upon by her family to see the eye doctor. She had never worn glasses in her life. The doctor gave her a thorough test and asked her to return in three days when he would have her glasses ready. He fitted the glasses and asked her to look out of the window. Almost breathless, she exclaimed, “Why, I can see the steeple of our church, and it is three blocks away.” “You mean you have never been able to see that steeple at that short a distance?” asked the doctor. “Gracious no”, she declared, “I never knew I was supposed to see that far.” “Madam”, said the eye expert, “You’ve been going around for years, half blind!” Similarly, many cannot see the truth which God has made known to us….(Msgr. Arthur Tonne; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

24) Getting back your sight! “During World War II, John Howard was blinded in an aeroplane explosion and could not see a thing for the next twelve years. But one day as he was walking down a street near his parents’ home in Texas, he suddenly began to see “red sand’ in front of his eyes. Without warning his sight had returned again. According to an eye specialist, a block keeping blood out of the optic nerve, caused by the explosion, had opened. Commenting on his experience John said, “You don’t know what it is like for a father to see his children for the first time”. But according to the Gospel something more spectacular happened to the man born blind, for Christ conferred on him, not only his physical sight but also spiritual insight; Jesus opened the eyes of Faith for the man born blind, so that the man believed in Jesus as one believes in the sun.” (Vima Dasan; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

25) Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: The story of the man born blind in today’s Gospel reminds us of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” an allegory used to illustrate “our want of education.” There we find all humanity chained in a darkened cave throughout life. These captives can see nothing but flickering images on a wall…shadows, appearances, illusions, which they take for reality. One prisoner, liberated from the chains, makes the arduous crawl upwards to the world of the shining sun. When he returns to the cave with his tales of the new-found source of light and life and warmth it gives, the prisoners think him crazy. They simply deny his experience. It just can’t be. The chains and the amusing images on the wall are reality. Thus, his conversion is ridiculed; his invitation is resisted. Clearly there are parallels between the Platonic myth of the cave and the story of the man born blind. Each figure is given new sight. Each is rejected by the inhabitants of the old world. And even the so-called wise authorities would rather cling to their chains and discuss the shadows than embark on the journey of Faith. (John Pichappilly in The Table of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 
26) ‘Death Be Not Proud’John Gunther’s book, Death Be Not Proud, tells the story of his son’s last year of life. At sixteen, when most young people are dreaming about their future, John Gunther’s son was dying from a brain tumor. The boy’s quiet courage in his encounter with death prompted critic Judith Crist to write: “His story is a glowing affirmation of the nobility of even the shortest of lives.” Book reviewer Walter Duranty of the New York Herald-Tribune said: “To read Death Be Not Proud is to grasp the meaning of man’s power to defy Death’s hurt; to be filled with confidence and emptied of despair.” (Albert Cylwicki in The Word Resounds) Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

27) Keep the Fork! There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, and what Scriptures she would like read. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “This is very important; I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand. That surprises you, doesn’t it?” The young woman explained. “My grandmother once told me this story and, from there on, I have always tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement. In all my years of attending Church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’ It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder ‘What’s with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork … the best is yet to come.’” The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye. He knew that the young woman had a better grasp of Heaven than he did. She knew that something better was coming. At the funeral people were walking by the young woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the pastor heard the question “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled. During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come. (Quoted by Fr. Botelho).

28) Old Rattle Bones: Prophet Ezekiel’s haunting vision of the valley of dry bones described by Ezekiel (37: 1-11), forms the background for today’s first reading. Many years ago, there was a man, crippled and poor, who was cruelly named “Old Rattle Bones” by a group of boys in the neighborhood. The leader of the group, Freddie, was worried one day when he saw the crippled man heading right towards his home. Because his friends were with him, the boy attempted to hide his anxiety by taunting. “Go on, Old Rattle Bones,” he shouted, “see if I care if you talk to my mother.” The man looked at Freddie sadly as he passed the group of boys and said, “You would not be calling me such names if you knew what caused my crippled condition.” He continued along the street arriving at Freddie’s home, whereupon he was warmly welcomed by Freddie’s mother. She called for her son to come in also. While the mother brought out a pot of tea, the man turned to the boy and told him a story. “Years ago, on the first day of spring, a young mother took a baby outdoors for a carriage ride along the river. Stooping to pick a flower, she briefly let go of the handle; suddenly the carriage lurched forward, careening down the hill. Before she could catch up with the carriage, it had plunged into the river. I was sitting on a nearby bench and heard her scream. I ran after the buggy and jumped into the river. After a difficult struggle, I managed to get the baby safely back to shore. I left before anyone could ask my name. But you see the river water was very cold, and it aggravated my rheumatism. Now ten years later, I can scarcely hobble along. For you see Freddie, that baby was you.” Freddie hung his head in shame and began to cry. “Thank you for saving me,” he wept. “Can you ever forgive me for calling you ‘Old Rattle Bones’? I didn’t know who you were!” (Brian Cavanaugh in Sowers Seeds of Christian Family Values; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

29) Giving up hope until: A pastor tells of the experience of a young woman at a local children’s hospital. She was asked by a teacher from the Church to tutor a boy with some schoolwork while he was in hospital. The woman didn’t realize until she got to the hospital that the boy was in a burn’s unit, in considerable pain and barely able to respond. She tried to tutor him, stumbling through the English lesson, ashamed of putting him through such a senseless exercise. The next day when she returned to the hospital, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to the boy?” Before she could finish apologizing, the nurse interrupted her: “You don’t understand. His entire attitude has changed. It’s as though he has decided to live!” A few weeks later, the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until this young woman arrived. With joyful tears he explained, “They wouldn’t send a tutor to work on nouns and verbs with a dying boy, would they?” –Sometimes we are invited into people’s lives and into places and events that, on the surface, have no meaning or purpose to us. We ask ourselves, what are we doing here? What purpose do we have here? Often, we define ourselves only by what we can see or understand; we forget that we are part of something larger than ourselves. (Anonymous; quoted by Fr. Botelho). L/20 Fr. Tony (frtonyshomilies.com/) 

FIVE FINGER PRAYER FOR LENT
1.     Your thumb is nearest you. So, begin your prayers by praying for those closest to you. They are the easiest to remember. To pray for our loved ones is, as C. S. Lewis once said, a ‘sweet duty.’
2.     The next finger is the pointing finger. Pray for those who teach, instruct and heal. This includes teachers, doctors, and ministers. They need support and wisdom in pointing others in the right direction. Keep them in your prayers.
3.     The next finger is the tallest finger. It reminds us of our leaders. Pray for the president, leaders in business and industry, and administrators. These people shape our nation and guide public opinion. They need God’s guidance.
4.     The fourth finger is our ring finger. Surprising to many is the fact that this is our weakest finger, as any piano teacher will testify. It should remind us to pray for those who are weak, in trouble or in pain. They need your prayers day and night. You cannot pray too much for them.
5.     And lastly comes our little finger, the smallest finger of all, which is where we should place ourselves in relation to God and others. As the Bible says, ‘The least shall be the greatest among you.’ Your pinkie should remind you to pray for yourself. By the time you have prayed for the other four groups, your own needs will be put into proper perspective and you will be able to pray for yourself more effectively. 


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From Sermons.com:

Good News all around us and I have good news for you: God has a resurrection for you! He wants to bring you out into the light again. He wants to bring you out of that tomb of oppression and give you a new start. And listen! He has the power to do it. He can bring you back to life.

This powerful story in John 11 speaks to this. Remember it with me. Mary and Martha who live in Bethany are some of Jesus' closest friends... They send word to him that their brother, whose name is Lazarus, is desperately ill. "Please come. We need your help. Hurry. He is sinking fast." But by the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus has died... and has been in his grave for four days. Mary and Martha come out to meet Jesus and they express their grief: "He's gone. We've lost him. O Lord, if only you have been here, our brother would not have died." 

The family and friends have gathered and in their deep sorrow, they begin to weep over the loss of their loved one, Lazarus. The heart of Jesus goes out to them... and Jesus weeps with them. He loved Lazarus, too... and he loves them... and he shares their pain. Jesus goes out to the cave-like tomb and he says to them: "Roll back the stone!" Martha, always the realist and ever ready to speak out, protests: "But Lord, we can't do that. He has been in the grave for 4 days. By now there will be a terrible odor." Jesus says to her: "Martha, only believe and you will see the power of God." 

So they roll the stone away... and Jesus cries out in a loud voice: "Lazarus, come forth!" And incredibly, miraculously, amazingly, before their very eyes... Lazarus is resurrected! He comes out of the tomb. He still has on his grave clothes. His head and feet are still wrapped with mummy-like bandages. Jesus then turns to the friends and family and says to them, "Unbind him and let him go. Unwrap him and set him free." 

In this graphic and dramatic story, three awesome lessons jump out at us. Three great truths emerge which can be so helpful to us today. Let me list them for us: Jesus wept with those he loved and he still does. Jesus raised people up and he still does. Jesus included others in the healing process... and he still does...
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Springtime is the season of uncontained optimism.  

As the days grow longer, and the sun grows stronger, it feels time to do something outrageous. We dig into the earth, carefully plow and pulverize hard clods into fine loam. We remove the weeds and grasses. We add extra nutrients to enrich the prepared soil. Then into that lush, fertile mixture we gently deposit . . . dried up, shriveled, little (sometimes downright tiny), seemingly completely dead bits of matter. We call them "seeds." 

Nothing looks less "lively" than a seed. The tiniest ones--lettuces, carrots, radishes--are so minuscule that planting them is like putting into the soil grains of coarse black pepper. Corn and beans "look" like corn kernels and soup beans. Well, they look like corn kernels and beans that have been lost on the floor of your pantry for six months or so, rejected even by the mice. Definitely NOT "good eats." And yet we joyfully plunge these desiccated crumbs into the soil we have sweated over, completely confident that something will come out of our efforts.  

Springtime is the season of belief. Every spring we believe in the power of the life that lives within those apparently dead seed husks. We believe that just a few handfuls of seeds can produce a glorious new crop to nourish our lives and feed our families.

Of course, bringing that potential crop to full fruition takes a lot more than simply dropping seeds into the ground and walking away. As every backyard gardener or full-time farmer knows, once you put those babies into the soil you are in a relationship with that garden, with those fields, with the weather. Seeds require constant nurturing - watering, weeding, protection from predators, large and small. New life comes from within the seed. But ensuring the continuation of that potential new life comes from an ongoing relationship with that life, our commitment to doing all we can to ensure that every single seed becomes part of yet another new harvest. 

This week's epistle text is Paul's springtime seed catalog... 
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Giving Thanks for Our Trouble 

Ours is a God who does not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted and does not hide his face from them." There is always a sense in which great living is found in the midst of suffering and tears. 

An old Yiddish folk story tells of a well-to-do gentleman of leisured much interested in the Hebrew Scriptures. He visited a wise rabbi to ask a question. He said: "I think I grasp the sense and meaning of these writings except for one thing. I cannot understand how we can be expected to give God thanks for our troubles." The rabbi knew instantly that he could not explain this with mere words. He said to the gentleman: "If you want to understand this, you will have to visit Isaac the water-carrier." The gentleman was mystified by this, but knowing the rabbi to be wise, crossed to a poor section of the settlement and came upon Isaac the water-carrier, an old man who had been engaged in mean, lowly, backbreaking labor for some fifty years. 

The gentleman explained the reason for his visit. Isaac paused from his labors. Finally, after several minutes of silence, looking baffled, he spoke: "I know that the rabbi is the wisest of men. But I cannot understand why he would send you to me with that question. I can't answer it because I've had nothing but wonderful things happen to me. I thank God every morning and night for all his many blessings on me and my family." 

It is true, is it not? The pure in heart see God. The humble in spirit know Christ's joy and enter into God's glory. "For I consider," writes Paul, "that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
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 Joy Unbounded, Glory Fulfilled

 Pastor/Bishop Kenneth Ulmer (Inglewood, California) envisions the animating, life-fulfilling power of the Holy Spirit as like the transformation that comes over the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon figures as they're inflated. Without any air these huge balloons lay flat on the floor, limp, and featureless figures. But when the wind starts whipping up inside those balloons, they begin to rise, stand up, and stand tall. They become individuals, people and creatures that we recognize and love. Once on the parade route, these balloons take on even more life, for they are animated not just by the air within them, but by the winds that buffet and bolster them down the street. 

In today's gospel text, Jesus doesn't appear before Martha and Mary - who are in agony over the death of their brother Lazarus - just to bring them a casserole. Jesus doesn't cluck his tongue and concede that Lazarus' death is a tragedy. 

Jesus goes to his best friend's tomb and calls out, "Lazarus, come forth!" As experienced by Ezekiel and the psalmist, once again the animating spirit of God moves with power and precision, and brings a dead man walking right out of his tomb! This is what God settles for. Miracle, rebirth, deliverance from the pit, and eternal redemption. God doesn't define winning as not losing. God doesn't settle for anything less than joy unbounded, and glory filled dreams fulfilled. 

Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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The Way Out 

Most everyone has worked one of those mazes where you follow the right path to find your way out. As you move your pencil through the maze you keep running into dead ends until you find the one path that sets you free.

Life is a lot like living in a maze. We continue to take wrong turns which lead nowhere and often retrace our steps until we can find our way. It can be very frustrating. Sometimes we never do find our way out. Those are the times we are stuck and feel like a prisoner with no escape.

Today I want to help set you free. I believe that no matter how difficult the maze you live in may seem, there is always a way out. Not even death can stand in the way of your life's journey.
 

Keith Wagner, Only One Way Out
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 The Third Day 

It was a popular belief that soul and body were finally separated after 3 days -- with no hope of resuscitation. Lazarus' resurrection thus points to Jesus' resurrection. The event forces decision on belief or disbelief in Jesus; his enemies understand that the die is cast. It is this decisiveness for faith, in a miracle that surpasses any possibility of rational explanation, that gives the incident its primary dramatic tension.  

Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary: John, p. 720
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Sunday's A Comin' 

Tony Campolo tells the story of a black Baptist preacher in the inner city of Philadelphia who preached a sermon Tony says he'll never forget. Tony preached first. He was "hot," so "hot" he says, that he even stopped and listened to himself. He sat down and said to his pastor: "Now see if you can top that one!" 

"Son," said the black pastor, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." For an hour and a half the pastor repeated these words over and over again: "It's Friday, but Sunday's a comin'."

"I've never heard anything like it," Tony said. "He just kept saying it. The congregation was spellbound by the power of it." 

"It's Friday. Mary, Jesus' mother is crying her eyes out. That's her son up there on the cross. He's dying the agonizing death of crucifixion as a criminal. But it's only Friday," the preacher said. "Sunday's a comin'.

"The apostles were really down and out. Jesus, their leader, was being killed by evil men. But it was only Friday. Sunday is a comin'.

"The Devil thought he had won. 'You thought you could outwit me,' he said, 'but I've got you now.' But it was only Friday. Sunday is a comin'."

"He went on like that for 30 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour. Each time he said, 'It's Friday,' the crowd began to respond, 'but Sunday's comin'. An hour and 15 minutes.

"It's Friday and evil has triumphed over good. Jesus is dying up there on the cross. The world is turned upside down. This shouldn't happen. But it's only Friday. Sunday's a comin'.

"It's Friday. But Sunday is comin'. Mary Magdalene was out of her mind with grief. Her Lord was being killed. Jesus had turned her life from sin to grace. Now he was dead. But it's only Friday. Sunday is a comin'."

The place was rocking. For an hour and a half. "Friday! But Sunday is a comin'. Friday. But Sunday is a comin'. 

"The sisters and the brothers are suffering. It just isn't fair...all they have to go through, but it's only Friday. Sunday is comin'."

"I was exhausted," Tony said. "It was the best sermon I've ever heard. The old preacher was saying it and the people were with him. 'It's Friday, but Sunday is a comin'. It was powerful," Tony said. "It was personal."

Ronald J. Lavin, I Am the Resurrection and the Life, www.Sermons.com
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I Will Be More Alive

 One of my favorite quotations, one I have used over and over again at funerals, comes from that great evangelist of the last century, Dwight L. Moody. Moody said, "One day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Well, don't believe a word of it. I will have gone up higher, that's all. Out of this old clay tenement into a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And at that moment, I will be more alive than I have ever been."

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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Run the Film in Reverse

When I was a child I used to love walking into Miss Hammond's 4th grade classroom to discover the shades drawn and a 16 mm projector set up facing the pull-down screen. This was more than the joy of knowing I wouldn't be asked to answer questions, read aloud, or work out problems on the black-board. For when there was time following the movie, rather than rewind the film, Miss Hammond would show the picture in reverse. We laughed hysterically at the antics produced on the screen: things which had disintegrated suddenly were reconstituted, buildings shaken to pieces by earthquakes took previous shape before our eyes, people who had been knocked to the ground suddenly sprang back to life. That is what these lessons are about today -- God's power to run the film in reverse, to reverse the initiatives of infinitude, to overcome the gravity of life, to address a problem in life which you and I cannot solve.
Fred Anderson, A Problem You Cannot Solve