5th Lent [A] 1999

Fr. Charles Irvin

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

Who among us doesn’t want the fullness of life? Who among us is not striving to live what is termed “the good life”? Of course we all want to have the fullness of life. The advertising business would collapse without that universal desire in us all. Consequently our lives are cluttered with time saving devices. The problem is, however, that the more time saving devices we have in our lives the less time we seem to have to enjoy life. The more televisions, computers, cell phones, FAX’s, and modems we have, the more our lives are cluttered with emptiness. The more we have, the more we realize what we don’t have.

And what don’t we have – we Americans who have everything? Well, many of us don’t have a sense of belonging; our lives seem to be going off in every direction and we don’t seem to know where we’re headed; our lives are filled with “stuff” and gadgets, and every imaginable thing to make them better, and we realize we are NOT living “the good life”, that we suffer from meaninglessness, purposelessness, direction and lack of quality. The more expensive stuff we acquire, the cheaper our lives become.

So what is this “fullness of life” that’s being presented to us? Is it “being number one”, whatever being number one means? Is it having lots of money? Having lots of money doesn’t appear to be very satisfying to those who have it – they feel trapped and possessed by their possessions. What, then, permits us to tell ourselves: “This is as good as it gets!”? One answer, it seems to me, is:

Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.

What am I doing with my life? The answer to this question is at the foundation of all that we’re about. Simply having a job isn’t a satisfying answer to the question. What I am doing needs to have purpose and direction. Furthermore, what I am doing needs to have some value not only to ourselves but to those around us. Doing, simply for the sake of doing, leaves us unsatisfied and adrift. The question is: Doing for what purpose? Toward what end? We need, all of us, to give ourselves over to something that’s greater than our selves. There are millionaires who have “done a lot”, as the phrase goes, but in the end wake up to find out that all they have done and all that they have accomplished is simply for their own sake, not for the sake of others. The question: “What am I doing with my life?” needs be answered in terms of “doing for whom?” or “doing for what?

Jesus calls us to devote our selves, or lives, our energies, and all that we’ve got, to accomplish His mission in life, namely to bring freedom to those who feel trapped, vision to those who are blinded by the flash and neon of all that’s superficial in our glittering world of make-believe, and to bring value to those whose lives are devoted to all that’s cheap.

Many people sell themselves short. Far too many regard their lives as shallow, without value… without meaning or purpose. For all of them, Jesus Christ offers a mission, a purpose and a value that liberates them from the captivity of worldliness and shallow materialism. This, Jesus gives us that we might be fully alive – just as He gave life to Lazarus.

There is nothing quite like having someone to love that can raise our hearts and souls up from the dead. Far too many people find their hearts and souls dead and entombed because they are loveless. Having no one to love except themselves, they might as well be dead – and they know it. When we have something to do with our lives that has meaning, value, and purpose… and when we can do that with someone to love and share it all with… when we can exert our energies and sacrifice ourselves in order to give all that we achieve to another whom we love, then our hearts and souls rise up from the dead and we find new life. This, Jesus gives us that we might be fully alive – just as He gave life to Lazarus.

All of which leads to something to hope for. There is nothing that is more life-giving than to devote one’s life in meaning and purpose, to devote one’s life in love, in order to pass it all on in hope for those who will follow us into an unknown future. The desire to pass on all that we have done, along with the desire to pass on all that we love, as well as our love for others, to pass it ALL on to those who will follow is nothing less and nothing other than the desire to live life itself. It is fundamental and basic to life… it is part of the “stuff” of life.

Three weekends ago the Gospel account was about the Samaritan woman at the well with whom Jesus engaged in conversation, asking her for a drink. She ended up asking Him for living water – the fountain of youth, so to speak, the fundamental element we need in order to have life. The waters of life Jesus spoke about came forth from His pierced side as He hung dying upon the Cross – a life He let drain out of Himself in order to give it over and into our lives. All of that begins with the life-giving waters of Baptism and continue to flow into us in His Precious Blood which we receive in Holy Communion.

Last weekend the Gospel account was about the man born blind to whom Jesus gave a vision of life, a vision that allows us all, born blind as we are, to see life and life’s meaningful purpose through the eyes of God, all of which is revealed (made visible) to us in the Light of the World. Seeing life as God sees it gives us freedom from the darkness and the blindness in which so many of our contemporaries stumble around, crashing into things, crashing into others, bringing pain and hurt to everyone because of their blindness.

Today’s Gospel account gives us life itself in Christ’s gift to Lazarus, foreshadowing as it does the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who has passed through all that we ourselves must traverse. Christ did it in order to be with us, to lead us, to strengthen, inspire and encourage us, that we, too, might rise from the various forms of death in which we find ourselves into a newer, a better, and a higher life.

Suffering, death and resurrection stamps all of life. Caterpillars pass through it to become butterflies. Nature passes through it in an endless cycle of spring, summer, fall and winter – only to rise again each spring into newness of life. And so it is we find ourselves living in a world stamped by that same pattern. Each one of us lives in an endless cycle of birth, growth, development, suffering, death and rebirth.

And so to paraphrase today’s Gospel for you — “And when He had said all these things, he stepped in front of your own personal tomb and in a loud voice cried: ‘Rise up, and come out!'”

And he says to me, your priest: “Unbind them. Let them go free!”

Which, out of love for you, is my own personal mission and purpose in life.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”