Homily 1: “The Breath of God.”  5th Sun./Week of Lent.  March-29-2020  

Here are excerpts of the Scripture readings.
From Ezekiel 36
Thus says the Lord GOD:O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back …I am the LORD… I will put my spirit in you that you may live, I have promised (it), and I will do it.
From Psalm 130 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
From Romans 8 The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.
From the Gospel of John11 “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said: “This illness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God.” …Martha said: I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One….” Jesus went to the tomb, and shouted:) “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out.  ###  (Full texts of the Sunday Word>  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032920.cfm  )

Homily 2: “Thou Shall Not Steal.” [Coming in a couple of days, after you can read the above.]      

Comment: I give a special Sunday homily as related to the Covid19 pandemic, even while giving you a Ten Commandments homily, too, as we’re doing in Lent. 

We have dramatic readings for dramatic times! The hard times of Covid19 (i.e. Novel Coronavirus or Wuhan coronavirus) does give us some unique challenges to meet for Lent. Normally we pick out all our Lenten sacrifices and works—this 2020 one, though, much else has been heaped on us for our making the way to Easter and into its season of hope. It surely is a perplexing path in front of us, yet God will help us to find our humble conversions and our growth in fortitude, if we’ll but let Him. ‘Good pilgrim’s voyage to you, partners in faith!

Today’s Holy Word on the Holy Spirit as the Breath of God and as Power (over death) in us is quite a welcome message! We need it! Jesus, God’s Son, is saying to us: While the world is so intent on saving their breath from the virus, let me give support to you on it, all with a parallel message on how you are to breathe the breath of God. 

As for the world, it is pretty much freaking out over Covid19. As Kenny Rogers coincidentally died of regular causes, the music of his first hit song was playing again, with its lyrics spookily matching people’s day to day wonder of their condition of health, as the world numbers adds on with sick and dying people to the virus:  I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in…/ I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in/ I watched myself crawling out as I was a-crawling in /I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind/ I saw so much I broke my mind / I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in, what condition my condition was in.

Now in this Lenten time, with the Corona virus conditions having the world by the throat, and lungs, literally, we have had our lives turned upside down, much in loss of regular control of things. There’s the dramatic condition of our condition right now: 100,000 Corona cases at hand in the US right now, and 1,000 in the DMV, with many more hundreds-of-thousands cases out in the world going on. 24,000 global fatalities have resulted from the crown-looking virus, in attack to people’s ability to breathe. Who has died? Locally, mentioning two of them, it’s been a school counselor/basketball coach at Northwestern High in Hyattsville, by the name of Terrance Burke; over to a Catholic religious brother at the Franciscan Holy Land Monastery in DC, who died to the virus, by the name of Brother Lair-Hammond. The death of the brother swings close to us, as our parish Confirmation pilgrimage was originally scheduled to be there at his monastery yesterday. 

What with this sobering homily start, how might it turn to good from here?

All four Scriptures today speak of the Holy Spirit and power over death! These usual 5th Lenten Sunday “A” readings impact us in a more striking way this morning. The Franciscan brother assuredly lived a good Catholic faith, so then, what happens to him? This is the wonderful good news of this message. Brother Lair-Hammond already had eternal breath and life with the Holy Spirit living in him. Therefore, he lives on! He got the cure in the Spirit of Christ for overcoming any last gasp or last breath of his physical life. It already was in him. So, he wins ongoing life in Christ. Our Scripture in Romans 8 today shouts it out: “If the Spirit of Christ…dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to you.” So, our brother keeps breathing in the Spirit. Hurrah. 

Do you know what a Name for the Holy Spirit is? It is “Ruah,” which from Hebrew-to-English is translated as “Breath.” It’s from Genesis 2:7. It’s connected to what Jesus is said to be giving to His apostles at the Last Supper. “He breathed upon them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”(By the way, I also relate it to the “Breath of Heaven” blessing upon Mary, Mother of the Church.) 

While the world fears a virus to might take their breath away, we stand concerned and upset, too. Yet our faith has coverage for breathing issues, especially in stop- breathing-issues. It is what our lead-in to Easter is all about, right? It is how we place our great hope in God being true to His Word, indeed, in that His Holy Spirit does comes into believers to impart us new life and power. Death can’t hold us, and nothing, then, can overtake us. We have His Spirit even now in our lives, a power to trust in. (We could end the homily right there, the point is made!)

I go on! What a gospel we have today!! Have some joy in it! Even as Jesus brings Lazarus out of the tomb, to new breath—God in Christ and by the Spirit has a plan to cover yours and my issues of the human condition, in that we are broken, susceptible to disease, and sin, and death. Our Lord covers us by bringing the Holy Gift of God into us, the Breath of God, that we can carry on. “The Gift of God is Eternal Life,” proclaims Romans 6:23, and it leads to the Romans 8 message for us to then Come Alive in the Spirit. We have hold of eternal life in Jesus and by His Spirit as our Present Reality. Thus, that ultimate fear of a last breath is over, we are breathing in the kingdom of God now.  https://youtu.be/z0Gc6sFDIJc   

Relating the Gospel to our present situation in the world with the virus….In this Gospel, note how Jesus mourns, and even weeps for Lazarus, and He deeply does care for the village of Bethany’s people—especially for Martha and Mary. Its message is that God is in our story, too. Jesus cares for us, His friends, His love. The Incarnate Word, God-in-the-flesh is come! In John 11, it shows how Jesus also is greatly determined in the story as to take decisive action in the proper moment. Yet first, He experiences the human brokenness and fallen, worldly state-of-things that we all go through, as God walks among us in Christ. This sickness and death going on in the world, in Jesus’ time (but in every age, too,) is seen in the Son of Man’s eyes as an affront to God and as something that bucks the original plan for humankind of health and everlasting life. Thus, it is a hard moment for Jesus to know how His friend Lazarus is sick, and how He is to obey the Father and the Spirit’s lead, as to go on to more ministry, resulting in His leaving of Bethany. Now, in the text, Jesus hears that “the one He loved (meaning Lazarus)” has died back in Bethany. So then, Jesus and His company head back to Bethany, saying “let us go to him.” Thomas thinks it’s pretty dangerous to go, with all the many death threats at Jesus up there in Judea, but he consents while commenting to the other disciples: “Let us also go to die with Him.” Yet, interestingly, soon ahead, we will learn a lesson in this gospel which Jesus tells to Martha: Do you believe that “I am the resurrection and the life; in that whoever believes in Me, even if he/she dies, will live?” Martha says “Yes, Lord…You are the Christ, the Son of God…come into the world.” Notably, she says it before seeing Jesus raise Lazarus. The disciples were witness to this exchange of Jesus and a strong woman of faith. 

In the human drama of this gospel, one thing we truly see is how Jesus, God’s Son, is in the midst of the suffering it. Do not dismiss how so difficult it would have for Jesus, as like in these gospel moments of John 11’s telling, to be in Bethany, watching Lazarus go down in health, and then for Him to go and leave town, with “the one He loved” as so ill. Think of the difficulty of Jesus in His coming back to Bethany, then, on the 4th day, after Lazarus had passed and was entombed. While Jesus still knows and feels that Father God is in control, via His divine nature and communion in the Holy Spirit, He likewise is feeling everything of the pain and loss and human helplessness and unanswered questions of the situation. He is truly human with us. Know that this scene is meant for you to realize that Jesus remains with us, in connection to the world’s ongoing drama, like what we are facing in the Wuhan virus scare. The Lord in the gospel story is the same One within this crisis going on in 2020. He is here in it, like He was in Israel seeing sickness and misery go on, even to some of his best friends and family and fellow Jews. The short verse in John 11 is graphic: “Jesus wept.” Indeed it is true in John 11’s time of how Jesus mourned, Jesus cared, and Jesus acted. Put it into modern March 29th context: Jesus mourns with us, for us, among us, and by us. Jesus cares. Jesus acts. 

Jesus sees things going on as so much fuller and deeper than what others are experiencing all around Him. As townspeople have given into anger that the healer had left town seemingly as uncaring to Lazarus’ illness (as in: why couldn’t he cure his friend?), and now they show scorn on their faces to Him…and as Mary and Martha are in hurt, loss, and dismay for their brother’s demise to his death…and as Jesus’band walks back into danger to where the opposition to Him is plotting to stop and kill Him, and throw Him in a grave…let us realize of so much more going on in the situation, then, in Bethany, or of here in the world today. But Jesus knows totally about the situation. Trust that!! We can wonder where God is in all of this Corona goings-on, but try to listen and catch on to what Jesus says to His disciples on the road back to Bethany: ‘I was not to heal Lazarus, and then I was not physically there, and then Lazarus did die, so that you may believe. It’s a lesson of trust and faith. You need to learn more of how to walk in the Day (in God’s light)…now I am going back to awaken Lazarus… as you know will get to see “the works of God” that will bring on great revelation to you about Me. As I said of Lazarus’ situation, “the illness was not to end in death (as in dead-end death), but to reveal the glory of God, and the glory of God on His blessed Son.” 

There is always the deeper story going on in life, and Jesus asks us to trust God. He keeps giving lesson after lesson for us to trust God. He even gives us the Holy Spirit to help us into “a holy trust.” Jesus did live this way—in trust—and He held to the human condition in many things (Phil.2:6), so that He did not act in miracles to save Joseph’s natural death, nor prevent John the Baptist’s beheading, nor crusade for the Jews to run off the Roman enemies, nor ever act on His own (though He could have been tempted to—), yet He lived and worked as one of us in the world, with its problems. A key teaching to remind you homily followers that pairs with this Gospel is of John 5 of Jesus in Jerusalem, after a healing at the pool of Bethesda, which Jesus believed that the Spirit inspired and the Father directed, so He said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on His own, but only what He sees His Father doing; for what He does, His Son will do also. For the Father loves His Son and shows Him everything that He Himself does, and He will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever He wishes. I think that it is tough and deep to really get what Jesus is saying here, but the main lesson is of how so much in life is still about trust in God, even amid a world of contradictions going on. 

How is it that the glory of God can come in sickness and death, and by the Son’s saving hand of glory seem to be delayed? How does that help? What are the works, and greater works, even to amaze us, and to build our faith, that Jesus is teaching us? These are the challenges: Can we trust that the work of God is going on, and know the Presence of God, even via trying experiences (as like of this pandemic, as with all the pain, separation, loss and trial it does bring, paired with devastating side-effects? 

The answer is in the Word for today: We are called to have the Breath of God in us: A holy trust!        ###

Ok—the homily could also stop here—but can we take it just a little further? Or, you can stop here!

This weekend’s readings are meant to address your fears and mine, about our ultimate concerns, and of how much we trust God. He has an answer for us in this Corona virus scare, of the dreaded air-born contagion and attacker of the lungs. His four words crying out to us in the Word are to believe in The Breath of God.”

We are to think about the Gift of the Spirit given to our spiritual lungs. We have been given breath from Heaven, and we keep getting the Air support (Ruah) about becoming alive again to God, of being people receiving new breath and Spirit. The Scripture theme is of one’s joyful coming forth from the grave, out of death, with the breath the Spirit of Jesus gives us. Ezekiel’s prophecy told ahead of this plan of God giving us His Spirit to come inside of us, as the key to unlock us from death’s hold, but also as to our becoming alive to God, even while on earth. Ezekiel knew the outpouring of the Spirit, and He proclaimed it as something that could come forth to many on the earth ahead. It is a Spirit of Life to have power over death, it is a Spirit given for us to walk in all the way past our grave and beyond. Psalm 130 is the Hebrew prayer of hope for deliverance, as the petitioner prays: “Out of the depths I cry to You, O God.” Yes–Out of the grave, or the pit of problems, I cry to You, for help, my God!” Jesus prayed that Psalm, and He can pray it with us, in our current crisis. 

Finally, with the Covid19  being a present threat to physical breath, the Gospel shows Jesus as demonstrating His power over death with Lazarus coming out of the tomb, but not only that, but in His giving breath to Lazarus to keep living some years more, now as a deeper man of faith. Lazarus likely is in the palm procession from Bethany to Jerusalem, and there through the Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost times, and in the life of the First Church, the beginnings of our Catholic Faith. He lived as a new man, for sure, and so we are to live as a new person, as we have been set free out of the tomb. Jesus said: “You who believe in Me shall not die, but live on… anyone who eats This Bread (Me) and drinks this Blood (Me) will never die, but live!” (We are like a Lazarus man revisited.) 

We know there is a physical time granted for all to die, and to have their last breath on earth, as it so happened later to Lazarus, but the Spirit put into us is so vital to everything, that we need to proclaim it better to the world. We don’t have to die in sin and distance from God (but as so many do in the world), the Church must say There is a cure for loss of breath and one’s dying as a separated man or woman—it is the Spirit of Jesus. The Gift of God, “The Breath of God,” is given to Jesus’ followers as eternal life. The Church holds this key and treasure in her Lord Jesus, her founder. He lives. He lives in us. The Lord has lavishes on us His Spirit, for us to live in power, with Him, with not even having to fear the grave no more.  “I shall open your graves and have you rise from them… O my people. I will put My Spirit in you that you might live on…knowing that The I Am fulfills His promise…I Am The Lord, I will do it.” 

It’s all about “the Breath of God,” right in the face of the Corona virus. 

As a parting thought, this Mass and its homily is given to a very small circle of staff, in an otherwise empty church. In regard with the present Covid19 threat, which is keeping people inside their homes, and away from here, we do long for a good turn away from the virus and a cure, so that we can all gather again. As we tell the Lord, “it would be good to get out and be safe again,” He would remind us of His highest plans, “And it would be good to fully get you out of slavery of sin and fear of death, and your secular living, and for you to lead an exodus of people from their Egypt of slavery as being led into My kingdom living and Home promise. Tell them the Church is their home with God, and be that home to them. Amen, Amen, ‘I will bring you forth, and I will have things open up again that you may come out, as fully into the Light (and everlasting Day) of God.’ 



One thought on “Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

  1. Thank you Father Barry, I love reading your homily posts. Your writings bring so much clarity and a better understanding of the scripture readings. God bless you.

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