Saturday, March 12, 2016

Homily – Fifth Sunday in Lent Year C Readings (2016)

When I preached last month, I shared that our mission as Catholics is two-fold: 1) to be in relationship with God (now and eternally); and 2) to share with others the great joy, peace, and freedom of being in relationship with God. A parishioner shared me after one of the Masses that he understands this mission and even buys into it, but that he does not really understand what it means to BE in relationship with God. I suspect that some, maybe many, Catholics, if they are honest, might say the same thing. Truth be told, I find myself struggling with that question at times, too. One way to answer the question of: what it means to BE in relationship with God is by explaining how we might experience God in relationship. Just as we might say that to be in a relationship with our spouse or another loved one, we would list certain, specific things that we do together that define our relationship. The same is true for our relationship with God. We experience God – we are in relationship with God – in the Sacraments, in the liturgy, whenever two or more are gathered in his name, in nature and all things created by God, in Sacred Scripture, and certainly in prayer – when we talk and listen to God. This is true and wonderful, but the risk is that we might go through the motions of these actions, but still not BE in relationship with God, right? We can go to Mass, say a Rosary, kneel before the Lord in Adoration, whatever it is and still not BE in relationship with God. So how then do we be in relationship with God? Another way to answer the question of: what it means to BE in relationship with God is by explaining who we are in relationship with – or at least with whom we desire to be in relationship. This is our Creed. This is the statement of what we believe, really in WHOM we believe: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the statement of faith that we will profess in a couple of minutes. It is also the gift we will give this weekend to our catechumen – those adults to be Baptized at the Easter Vigil – as they conclude their preparation efforts to be initiated in the Catholic Church. Just as I might describe my wife – and all her wonderful qualities and all that I know to be true about her, we do the same about our God when we profess our faith – when we recite the Creed. This certainly works on one level, but again the risk is that it can be formulaic and possibly even disconnected from relationship – as if I were simply reading a recipe or an instruction manual. Apart from the flavorful dish, the recipe has no meaning; apart from the incredible model toy we want to build, the instructions have no value or significance; the same is true of our relationship with God: apart from being IN relationship with God, these words have no value, meaning or significance. So how then do we be in relationship with God? I think/I believe that we grow IN relationship with God by understanding what is happening in this relationship with God and responding to that. It is God who is taking the initiative: creating us, drawing us into relationship, and giving us the gifts, the tools, the help to be in relationship with Him. And then it is our response that brings us ever closer to what God is doing in and for us and in our lives and leads us to the joy, peace, and freedom of being in relationship. So it is important then to understand what God is doing. In a beautiful way, today’s readings show us in what ways God is acting in us and in our lives. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us, even when we have physically, emotionally and spiritually exiled ourselves from God, he opens our graves – he opens the hole we have dug for ourselves by our sin, by our rejection of God’s love, by our rejection of his will for us, and the emptiness and darkness we experience as a result - and he will have us rise from our graves…he will put his spirit in us that we may live! This is God’s promise to you and me. And, as we just sung, truly With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption. To BE in relationship with God means to be in relationship with someone who loves us despite our offenses, despite our pride, despite our arrogance; someone who loves us with such great mercy – treating us better (far better) than we deserve; someone who wants nothing more than to be back in relationship with us. Jesus in today’s Gospel gives us further insight into what our God gives us, what he brings to this relationship, what he offers us in being in relationship with him. Jesus is in control and fully present, he is full of emotion and love for others and is not afraid to share it – he is not some passive, distant or unattached God – he wants to be in relationship with us. He encounters us where ever we are emotionally, spiritually, physically – just as he did with Martha and Mary. Jesus also affirms that our God is a God of life – not death. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is not only a sign of his great power, but also that life has meaning, significance, value and dignity – all life AND especially a life lived fully in relationship with God! Such an out pouring of love and mercy by God should invoke, really demand, a response from us. This is the good news of today’s second reading: while we are still bound by our human bodies and all the weakness and desires and failings of being human that cause us to struggle in our relationship with God, we are not without hope. The Holy Spirit can still reside in us to help us respond to God’s great love and mercy. The challenge is to make room for the Holy Spirit. We can make more room for the Holy Spirit by freeing ourselves - emptying ourselves from those things that keep us from being in relationship fully with God. We can make room by surrendering to God’s will (not our own), to God’s love (not to those things that may bring as instant gratification, but quickly fade), and to God’s mercy (by acknowledging our faults and seeking forgiveness). We know this from our own experiences. We can’t be in a marriage or be a parent or a priest or religious or really any state of life, unless we are willing to die to self for another – to let go of our own wants (even needs) for the sake of another. This is what God has done for us and what we are called to do in return. This is what it means to be IN relationship with God! We can start now by making a great confession to God. Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Own your faults and failings, seek forgiveness, be filled by the Holy Spirit, receive the grace to be able to move on and be open and free to live in the relationship God desires for you. I invite you to our Parish’s Penance service on Monday and bring a friend or family member. Before you arrive – make a good examination of conscience – and if you need any help doing so, go online to St. Gabriel Radio and listen to Fr. Larry Richard’s talk from this year’s Men’s Conference. Be honest with yourself and remember – God already knows you and your sins, he just wants to be reconciled with you and be restored in relationship with you. My friends, make room for God - make room in your heart and in your mind, in every encounter you have, in every thought, in every desire, and in every word you speak so that you may be filled with the joy, freedom, peace, mercy, life that awaits you when you are IN relationship with God and then…go and share this Good News with others.