Sunday Sermon for March 29, 2020, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
Readings: Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
In the second reading St. Paul makes the distinction between those who are in the flesh and those who are in the Spirit. By this he is not speaking of those who are alive in the body as opposed to those who are in Purgatory or in Heaven. Rather, the distinction is between those whose focus is on the things of the flesh (worldliness, materialism, sensuality, etc.) and are, thereby, giving themselves over to occasions of sin as contrasted with those who are striving to live a deeper spiritual life and have sought to remove sin from their lives.
St. Paul says that if Christ is in us, meaning if we are in the state of grace, then the body is dead because of sin while the spirit is alive because of righteousness. Elsewhere St. Paul talks about putting to death the desires of the flesh, so when he speaks of the body being dead, he is talking about the fact that we put to death our sinful desires. This has been a struggle for human beings from the beginning, but with the internet and social media, it has become a far more difficult problem for many people in our day.
In order to put to death these sinful desires that rise up within us, we have to be aware of the way the devil works to tempt us. While some of the desires are natural and, of themselves not sinful, they can become sinful if they are sought for a purpose other than what God intended. In the desires that become temptations to sin, the devil’s usual strategy is to make us look only at the immediate gain. The pleasure or perceived good we think we can obtain is placed before us. Since most of us grew up in the “immediate gratification” culture, it can be very difficult to resist and reject these temptations.
The vile creature tries to tell us that this thing, whatever it is, will be good for us. For the moment, while a person is acting on the temptation, it may even appear to be good because it provides the gratification we were seeking. However, most of us have fallen enough times to these temptations to know that while we may obtain a momentary pleasure, it does not take long for the emptiness to set in. The fact that we know the action is wrong and, therefore, harmful to our souls, should be enough to keep us from giving into the temptation, especially if we remember the emptiness we know we will experience and that we have fallen into sin..
Learning to look beyond the immediate is critical, not only for overcoming sin and putting to death the desires of the flesh, but for living a truly spiritual life. Anyone who has waded deeply into the spiritual life knows it is definitely not about immediate gratification. In fact, because God is trying to help us put to death anything that is not of Himself, there is often dryness and struggle. The goal of the spiritual life is not to seek gratification for ourselves, but to learn to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength.
This love for God and the growing union with God that happens in prayer will bring about the righteousness by which our spirit is alive. Our spirit is alive because of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within and animates us with His divine life. Since this life is the life of God, or sanctifying grace, it moves us to conform our lives more perfectly to His. At the same time, as we die to our selfish desires, our sole desire is loving God and seeking to be with Him. This is the promise God made to the Jewish people through the Prophet Ezekiel when He revealed the resurrection. Our ultimate call and purpose is Heaven, not earth; it is supernatural life, not merely natural life.
When Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again. Martha professed her faith in the resurrection, but Jesus encouraged her faith by saying: “I am the resurrection and the life.” When He asked Martha if she believed this, she responded by making an act of faith in the divinity of Christ by saying: “I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is to come into the world.” If you and I can make this same act of faith in the Person of Jesus, then we need to choose Him Who is our life. This means coming out of the tomb of our sinfulness and living for Jesus now, believing in His promise that we will share in the glory of His resurrection and life forever.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.