Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Mar 29, 2020 Views 70 Listen 2 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of Ezekiel (37:12-14)

Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8)


(R) With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication. (R)

If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered. (R)

I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord. (R)

For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption; and He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (8:8-11)

Brothers and sisters: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit dwelling in you.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John (11:1-45)

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.

So the sisters sent word to Jesus saying, "Master, the one you love is ill." When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."

The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him."

So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved." But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha said to him, "I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord." I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you." As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him." But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said "Take away the stone," Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days" Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said: "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have 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. So Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go." Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

You may have heard many times the phrase, "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." There was a story several years ago, when computer translation programs were first being developed; the phrase, "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak", was fed into a program to be translated into Russian. What came out in Russian was, "The wine is good but the meat is rotten." Similarly there is every possibility of misunderstanding and misinterpreting Saint Paul's explanations of "being in the flesh" and "being in the spirit". I think if these words, "flesh and spirit" are not explained well to us in the context of our faith many of us could miss the point.

Friends, the Catholic Bible has seventy three books, forty six in the Old Testament, and twenty seven in the New Testament. Fourteen of the twenty seven books/letters in the New Testament are believed to have been written by Paul to individuals and communities. In each of these letters he expounds instructions on Christian living or virtues specific to Christians. I believe it is very necessary for both scholars and ordinary faithful to study in detail the writings of Paul for a deeper understanding of Christian faith. One of the texts worth reflecting is today's second reading from his letter to the Roman Christians.

The text begins with Paul revealing the purpose of Christian life and a sad truth. He says, "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God", (v. 8). First, Paul reminds the Roman Christians that the purpose of their Christian life is to please God. How can they please God? They can please God by living according to His revealed will. But sadly, Paul says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. What does he mean by being "in the flesh"? Flesh here does not refer to the body. Paul does not in any way despise the body. Being in the flesh refers to the nature of a person being dominated by self or self-desires which are destructive. Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh as opposed to those of the spirit. For instance, a person who is greedy for riches is most likely to spend all his time planning to take away or destroy what belongs to others. So, Paul says that those who are living "in the flesh," that is, those whose thoughts, attitudes, words, deeds and purposes are controlled by their flesh, are unable to please God. Even their best works will never be seen by God as works for God's glory, if they have been produced for selfish or self-centered reasons.

Then Paul says, "But, you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you." (v. 9a) What does he mean by being "in the spirit"? Spirit here refers to the soul. Being in the spirit refers to the nature of a person who is governed by the spirit which is life giving. Those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit as opposed to those of the flesh. For instance, a person who is yearning for peace, joy and love is most likely to direct all his attention and energy to obtaining true peace, joy and love. However, Paul believes that they are in the spirit if only they allow the Spirit of God to dwell in them.

And then Paul warns them that "Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." (v. 9b). Here the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ are the same. John in his gospel writes that the Spirit proceeds equally from the Father and from the Son. John (15:22) So Paul says that those who lose the Spirit of Christ can no longer belong to him. It means that it is possible for the Christians to lose the Spirit of Christ whom they have received in Baptism. How can they lose the Spirit of Christ? They can lose the Spirit of Christ by committing mortal sins.

What is mortal sin? Mortal sin is called mortal because it brings about the "spiritual" death of the soul or the separation from God. Mortal sin is a serious sin committed willfully and with full knowledge and consent of the sinner, for example, idolatry, adultery, murder, slander, stealing and defrauding. These are all things gravely contrary to the commandments of God.

Then he says, "But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness", (v. 10). What does he mean? Paul says that if the Spirit of God/Spirit of Christ is in them, even though their bodies are dead because of sin, the spirit, that is, the soul is alive because of the grace and righteousness of God.

Finally Paul says, "If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you", (v. 11).

Paul tells them that all those who have the Spirit of God in them do not only enjoy the life of grace and peace for their souls, but they shall also have their mortal bodies gloriously raised from the dead on the last day, because, the Resurrection of Jesus and that of all the dead is made possible by the power of God the Father.

Friends, Paul's message is very simple.

  • Paul wants us to continually discover and do what pleases God. Pleasing God is, or should be, our goal. How can we do this? The first step in pleasing God is to seek God by faith in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Second, we shall always walk in the spirit. Let our thoughts, words and actions be true, honorable, and right and pure. Third, we shall make ourselves worthy of our calling by obeying and submitting to the will of God. These things may seem impossible to carry out, but God wants us to please Him, and He makes it possible for us to please Him by the power of His Spirit who lives in our hearts.
  • Paul reminds us of the contrast between the life of the flesh and the life of the spirit. We can choose to live life dominated by our selfish desires and activities that lead us to fear, anxiety, restlessness, distress and death or to live life governed by the teachings of Christ that lead us to contentment, inner calm, peace and life.
  • We are to exercise self-control, not only in our physical appetites, what to eat and what not to eat to keep ourselves healthy but also in our thoughts, words and actions which cause us spiritual blindness. To lose the focus on the ways of God is to fall prey to the devil. There are always many evil people around us to defeat us spiritually. We must beware of those who try to take us away from the God centered life and lead us into a worldly and forbidden life of - selfishness, lust, hatred and rebellion against God.
  • The Spirit of God is the source of all that pleases God in man. Let us constantly renew our faith by humbly admitting our sins and asking the Lord to fill us with His Holy Spirit.
(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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