It is truly Lent. The step into the desert started with foreheads brushed with ash and solemn penitential posture happened a month ago. Now we kneel before the Lord, hearts and heads bowed for the mercy of God to alleviate mankind from this virus, a physical invasion fueling fear and welling angst because of illness and the unknown.  But always with God, there is hope, tremendous hope in the Lord. There is a silver-lining in this crisis. Clearly the way we do things has sparked an underlying reality: people are indeed prayerful and faithful to God.  Even though the CDC recommends socially distancing at least six feet apart, we have discovered a way to be close spiritually and offer prayer, support, comfort, reassurance, resources and peace.  

 On the surface, our new hand-washing routine is now specifically synced with an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. It is a new way to pray. In addition, most people are homebound, restricted from any activity that goes beyond the backyard. We have time for family and for prayer; to grow in love of neighbor and love of God; to be AWARE of others. The initial obstacle is a restlessness of change, most especially since we now, as one church, partake in an Act of Spiritual Communion until the doors of the church building reopen and we can physically receive the body and blood of Christ in the sacrifice of Mass in the fullness of the celebration. We lean on our faith in Jesus Christ, where hope secures, and love sustains. 

 Thanks be to God! Daily and Sunday Mass continues to be celebrated because of the ministry of the priesthood. It is through their vocation that the sacrifice at the altar continues without disruption and allows us to receive the graces which God so mercifully pours out. Thanks be to God for our incredible Bishop Michael G. Duca and priests! Mass can be seen and heard in many ways! Broadcast times for daily and Sunday Masses are listed on The Catholic Commentator website, thecatholiccommentator.org, in this publication and the Diocese of Baton Rouge website, diobr.org.   

 

So, let us continue as usual to prepare our hearts and minds for the Mass readings and meditate with what we will hear during the Fifth Sunday in Lent and Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Providentially what we are presently experiencing has parallel analogies with respect to faith and hope in the Lord in times of suffering. 

Hope in the raising of Lazarus 

(Fifth Sunday in Lent: Ezekiel 37:12-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:8-11, John 11:1-45)

The prophet Ezekiel tells of the day when God will open the graves of his people and return them home to the promised land. While Ezekiel is prophesying God’s promise, the Israelites were experiencing the Babylonian captivity. The Israelites deeply desired to return home, to worship in their temple and to have a normal life, united with family and community. The desolation of displacement resulted in a sense of despair. Yet, with God there is promise of return, a resettlement, an internment of the Spirit within each person for the purpose of new life. The Psalmist writes of mercy and fullness of redemption with the Lord. Herein, we place our hope in knowing God promises new life, our hope to trust in him and our love to place all of our worries into his fatherly care. 

 To prepare us for new life, Jesus, our Lord and Messiah, explicitly shows this promised hope in the resurrection, the movement from death to life by faith in Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John gives us the testimony of the raising of Lazarus. He would be the third person written about who was brought back to life after death while Jesus walked the earth. Of course, Jesus himself was raised from the dead. But we will talk about that in a couple of weeks. 

 Lazarus died. Jesus waited. Jesus went. Martha ran to him, fell at his feet and wept. Jesus wept. All went to the tomb. Many doubted. Martha BELIEVED. Jesus prayed. Jesus called forth Lazarus to come out! Lazarus did indeed come out of his tomb and walked out with new life in the Lord! Many began to believe. Meditate with this passage. It is powerful and real. Whether during a pandemic  or suffering of any kind, we are called to place our faith in new life promised by God and given by Jesus. Moreover, the resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith in Jesus Christ. This is our hope! This is our destiny! How do we know this? Jesus said this, and his words are transformative. “Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in him, even if he dies, will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).

Hope in the Passion of the Christ 

(Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 22, Philippians 2:6-11, Matthew 26:14 – 27:66) 

Palm Sunday is the dawn of Holy Week. This is paradox week. Just when we think all is well, life turns upside down. Lent ends, as the Triduum season begins at sundown on Holy Thursday. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is the total opposite of his journey out of Jerusalem. He rides in on a donkey, embraced as a victorious leader welcomed by cheering crowds waving palms with honor and joy. He is led out days later beaten, bloody, carrying a wooden cross, with jeers from onlookers filled with dishonor and contempt. Accepted then rejected.  

Life_Giving Faith.pdf

What just happened? He enters Jerusalem full of life. He leaves on the verge of death, to his death. Alive then dead. He had shared a powerful Passover meal with his closest friends. The very next day all but one abandons him. Where did they go? He holds the first Eucharist in his hands, hands that performed miracles, hands that offered love, comfort, reassurance, teachings, truth. The next day, those same hands are pierced by long iron nails which pinned him to the cross. He had washed the feet of the apostles, the showing of the humble path of sacrifice for others. The next day, his feet trod the path to the cross … the ultimate sacrifice.  He is placed on trial, judged by bribed testimony, trapped in a web of lies, falsely accused, the convicted, sentenced, crucified, pierced, died, buried. Life to death.  

This is a sudden interruption of life as we know it. Where did this come from? I cannot control this. Where is the light? Where is the joy? Where is the healing? Why am I afraid, nervous, anxious, on the verge of panic? Why do I thirst? Why do I think I am alone when all whom I love is nearby? I am in the Upper Room. How long, Lord, how long will I be in this tomb-like moment? What can calm my sense of helplessness? Where can I find comfort? What am I longing for? 

 The hope in the Passion of Christ is heard and seen in Jesus’ words and actions, transformative and live giving! We lean on our faith to believe. Our hope is in the Lord.  

“‘Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.’ And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth” (Jn 11:41-44). 

 “Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Phil 2:8-9). 

Act of Hope: O my God, relying on your almighty power and infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and redeemer. Amen. 

Dow is the director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.