5 LENT A - 2018

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FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (A) - March18, 2018

Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Romans 8: 8-11; John 11: 1-45

By Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:








The context for our first reading from the prophet Ezekiel is important and knowing its setting will help us hear and apply his message to our current situation. Just prior to today’s passage Ezekiel has the vision of the valley of dry bones. He is speaking to the Jews in Babylonian exile. Their plight is miserable; in their captivity they are like a valley of dry bones, their flesh picked clean by vultures and birds of prey. They don’t even have a respectable grave, just scattered bones left to be bleached by the sun. Their condition is summed up in the verse that precedes today’s selection, "Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost and we are cut off" (37:11).

Ezekiel isn’t just addressing the misery of individuals; he speaking about the nation’s desolation in exile. Not only are they enslaved, but they interpret their condition as a punishment from God for their past infidelities. They can make no argument for their defense; no excuse to God to warrant God’s coming to their rescue.

But God will save them, not because of their merit or eloquently-voiced defense, but because God is merciful. The bones will once again have flesh on them and the people will again be animated by God’s breath. Ezekiel describes it in terms of a new creation. God will first give them physical life and then, "I will put my spirit in you that you may live."

The imagery then shifts to Exodus language. It’s reminiscent of God’s leading the people out of Egyptian slavery, across the desert and planting them in the promised land. "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." It is clear that God is intent on saving the people; not just pulling them out of their physical confinement, but restoring the divine life in them, "I will put my spirit in you that you may live."

While today’s Ezekiel passage and then the gospel reading of the raising of Lazarus, with their promise of forgiveness and new life, bring comfort to us in the midst of Lent, we shouldn’t jump too quickly to personalizing their message. We need to remember that Ezekiel addressed the broken-down and enslaved community, not just specific individuals. Perhaps, with that in mind, we might also see the Lazarus story as more than the raising of one dead man from the grave and a promise of our future resurrection. Both these readings speak to a battered community.

In a recent preaching a priest applied a weekday Mass scripture reading to the sexual scandals in the church. He used the scandal as the prime example for his preaching. Afterward people came to him and said, "No one ever speaks publicly about the scandal to our parish community. It’s the elephant in the room that we pretend isn’t there."

Ezekiel is looking over a valley of dead bones and God asks him, "Can these bones live?" (Verse 3) Our church has been shattered by the scandals. About ten years ago Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley went as a Vatican visitator to the Irish church, following a series of highly critical judicial reports that revealed abuse by priests and a widespread cover-up by church leaders. He promised the Association of Catholic Priests and lay people there that he would, "deliver a frank assessment to the Pope in a confidential report to be submitted later this year." The Cardinal’s assessment to Pope Benedict was, "that the Catholic Church in Ireland is on the edge of collapse due to the fallout from clerical scandals." (Michael Kelly, in "The Tablet," the Brooklyn diocesan newspaper.) Knowing the long and great tradition of the Irish Catholic church, did you ever think you would hear such an evaluation of it! For an update on the Irish Catholic Church, cf. "America" magazine, March 5, 2018.

There are a lot of lifeless, dry bones strewn in the valley of our Church these days. At this Eucharist we implore our Creator God to restore our dead and wounded parts to new life; to breathe the Spirit into us, as God promises to do today through the prophet Ezekiel, "O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live…." We ask God to raise us from our graves of discouragement and hopelessness with a breath of new life.

Ezekiel sets a tone for us as we turn to the Lazarus story. Lazarus may be one individual, but he is a symbol of our Christian community. Those who hear the Word of God are called from their graves to new life. Lazarus is also a symbol of the Church’s current crisis, with dead bones scattered around us, almost everywhere we look. We hope what Jesus tells his disciples about Lazarus will also be true for us in the Church, "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." Or, that God will do what God promised to Ezekiel, "O my people I will open your graves and have you rise from them…." That’s what the Church desperately needs and waits for this Easter: that through Christ and the power of his resurrection, we will rise from the grave of scandal to a new life of service and the proclamation of the gospel.

Throughout his gospel John has been pointing to the "signs" Jesus performed – "signs" that will reveal who he is to us. The Lazarus story is another Johannine "sign." Perhaps we envision a new and resurrected life as something that will only happen after we die. But when we read John we realize whatever the promise Jesus holds for us is available now. Let’s take the dialogue with Martha as an example of the "present tense" possibilities of Jesus for us.

At first Martha criticizes Jesus for delaying his coming to the distressed family. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Who hasn’t, at one time or another, implored the Lord’s help in a desperate situation and gotten no quick response? At those times it feels like we were put on hold! As happens in other Johannine narratives, Jesus engages Martha in conversation. As we have seen in previous dialogues in John this Lent, once an earnest conversation with Jesus begins it leads to deeper faith. (E.g. the dialogue with the Samaritan woman, the man born blind and now with Martha.)

Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again. She thinks he means the resurrection "on the last day." But the message throughout John is that Jesus is offering us life now, not just at the end time. Jesus refers to himself today with another "I am" statement ("I am the resurrection and the life.") Jesus, in John’s gospel, is very present tense. He isn’t, "I was," – or just, "I will be." He is "I am!"

It seems that Lazarus’ rising is secondary today. What the discussion with Martha and then Lazarus’ rising from the dead underlines and substantiates, is Jesus’ description of himself, "I am the resurrection and the life." In our church and in our personal lives we need what Jesus is promising now. We need him to be our resurrection–that he speak his word and call us out of our current graves and dead spots.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:


Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of (people) willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

---Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter from a Birmingham Jail".


And Jesus wept.
--John 11:35

These are powerful words. We, as a society, still seem to view crying as not manly and, I often think it must be hard on our American men to not be able to express this very human emotion more openly. Yet, in these three words, we see today the compassion of God. Created in the image of God, we are to be compassion too. With today’s emphasis on action, achievement, and "doing," it is easy to forget the importance of being and feeling with the afflicted.

Compassion is two-pronged. Not only does compassion recognize and suffer with the sufferer, but it also works to free the one who is suffering from whatever causes the sorrow. Pope Paul VI in his statement On the Development of Peoples (Populorum Progressio) in 1967 referenced the scripture that asks "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 John 3:17). As people of compassion, we cannot look the other way while our brothers and sisters live in misery. Sometimes, though, it is just overwhelming as to what to do.

Along with many Civil Society organizations, the US Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services launched a campaign in 2005. A Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty advocates for U.S. policies that foster economic and social development for people living in poverty throughout the world. The goal is to reduce global poverty significantly by 2015.The campaign focuses on three areas of U.S. economic policy:

Trade: Shaping U.S. trade policies to overcome poverty and promote human development are central priorities.

Aid: Supporting effective aid programs that foster long-term development and empowerment of the poor.

Debt: Canceling debts of the poorest countries in ways that reduce poverty and promote dignity

Take Compassionate Action through Advocacy – Join:

Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty

End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign

ONE Campaign: The Campaign to Make Poverty History

And, it is okay to weep.


Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Ezekiel reading:

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.


Throughout the world our Church has been seriously damaged by the clerical sexual abuse scandals. At this Eucharist we implore our Creator God to restore our dead and wounded parts to new life; to breathe the Spirit into us, as God promises to do today through the prophet Ezekiel

So we ask ourselves:

  • Have I prayed for the healing of the victims of sexual abuse in the Church?
  • Have I intensified my prayers this Lent for the healing of the Church from this scandal?


"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Randy Atkins #001231 (On death row since 12/8/93)
  • Frank Chambers #0071799 (3/10/94)
  • William Barnes #0020590 (3/10/94)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:


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Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

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