Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sunday word, 09 Mar 2008

Lenten Sunday5 A (09Mar2008) Ez 37. 12-14; Ps 130; Rm 8. 8-11; Jn 11.1-45
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Aroma of God’s Spirit

Lent prepares people to be baptized and confirmed at Easter. The primary minister in that enterprise is the parish community, because Christian initiation “is the responsibility of all the baptsized.”/1/ To do that well we renew our own baptisms as well as the grace of our confirmations: to be conformed more to the image of our Messiah. Lent encourages us to live the life of our Messiah Jesus.

Lent challenges us to align with God’s desire: O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live. ...I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord. We tend to make our ways in the world as if that promise of the Lord were not real, or at least not as real as other things that claim us: sleeping and waking; eating and drinking; going to school, going to work.

We tend to consider them more real, more substantial, than the Lord’s promise. Some even mock the Lord’s promise and shake us as if to rouse us from our dream-world. If it doesn’t tire me or rest me; if it doesn’t satisfy my hunger or thirst; if it doesn’t teach me skills to succeed and put money in my pocket, then the Lord’s is no promise, it’s a ruse.

After we’ve slept, aren’t we still restless in ways hard to name? When we’re not hungry or thirsty, don’t we still long to be satisfied in ways food and drink can never satisfy? While we’re in school, don’t we long to inhabit our futures? When we earn paychecks from work, don’t we long for more lasting wealth? Perhaps the dream-world, as some call it, is our waking world, and what eludes our senses turns our certainties into conundrums and our facts into faith.

If we’re open to more than what we know and measure, then we may be reaching for our Lord’s promise. We may even count it more substantial and more real than our meager lives, which we exalt so highly.

The Lord’s promise is not abstract, and it’s certainly no delusion. It is the Lord’s Spirit, the very divine life and personality God. The Spirit registers differently than our needs for food, water, academic learning and salary. Jesus’ Spirit is not opposed to them or any other needs we have. Jesus’ Spirit vibrates on different frequencies which we name compassion, kindness, plenteous redemption, indwelling, immortal and glory of God--to list a few from the scriptures to which we have listened.

These frequencies of God’s Spirit register in us as humans. “How can that be?” one might ask after hearing St. Paul’s opening line given us in the second reading: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Flesh and spirit had particular meaning for him. St. Paul did not mean flesh as body. Flesh meant all the ways of living and measuring reality apart from God or even opposed to God. On the other hand, spirit offered humans a new experience of power by the one who raised Christ from the dead.

St. Paul’s flesh-spirit distinction isn’t easy to accept because it clashes with our experience: death does not appear to be vanquished; graves still get dug; the Lord does not seem to pay attention or to heed our cries. Again scripture summarized these and other clashes with experience. Its words are Martha’s reaction to Jesus’ command to “take away the stone” from her brother’s tomb four days after Jesus arrived: “Lord, by now there will be a stench.”

Jesus recognized the clash with experience and invited her to believe him. Jesus invites our belief. It’s not to have ideas of God. Belief takes in the aroma of God’s Spirit even though it may not seem logical. Martha overcame her resistance--“Lord, by now there will be a stench”--and gave herself to the aroma of God’s Spirit, who stood with her in the person of Jesus.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week become more aware that God is in you, around you, above you and beneath you, surrounding you with divine love. Ask Martha to help you let go of the ways you resist God’s creative love of you. Converse with Jesus about how you experience his presence in your life, and how you desire to experience his presence more powerfully. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which reminds us that God is the measure of all human existence, beckoning us to make the gifts of life, compassion and kindness the atmosphere in which we live and breathe.

/1/ Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 9.
Wiki-images of Ezekiel's vision and of Isakson's Jesus' raising Lazarus are in the public domain.

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