5th Sunday of Lent [B] 2015 – Scrutanies

Ezekiel 37:12-24; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

Holy Mother Church has her seven sacraments… and Satan has his. The seven sacraments of Satan are doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, depression, defeat, despair and death. Note they all begin with the letter “d” as does the word devil. We are all aware of their effects within us.

In the opening prayer of today’s Mass, we heard the words: “Help us to embrace the world that you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter.”

In the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel we heard: 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…
Well, what does all of this mean for you and me, living out our lives as we do in 2015 America?

To answer that I would have you look at something which we all dislike seeing, namely the spirit of defeat which affects us, and which sometimes infects our own hearts and thoughts. Many people who surround us, some of whom are quoted in our newspapers, transmit a spirit of defeat to us. Perhaps some of our own sons and daughters, nieces or nephews, relatives or friends, constantly talk about how awful life is, or about how much they are life’s victims. They blame other people for being so mean to them, they blame their depression in the economy, they talk about their own lack of fulfillment, they tell us they’re getting nothing out of life, and so forth.

Doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, depression, and defeat hold many people in their bondage. And despair? We have only to note the number of suicides we hear about, even among our young people.

What are the causes of this defeatism? Well there are many of course, but here I would like to examine four of them, and then turn to what we can do about them.

The first source of defeat for so many people is what I call extremism. It’s the attitude that converts what is in reality happening only occasionally into something they claim is always happening. “I always goof,” they say. “I never do anything right.” “People always take advantage of me.” “Nobody cares for me.” These words and similar phrases are symptomatic of the spiritual condition such people are in. These thoughts come from a way of looking at life that is either extremely idealistic or else extremely pessimistic. Polar opposites with nothing in between. They see life as either one or the other. There’s no balance. Defeat is guaranteed them because they do not have a balanced view of what is really happening in life. Life isn’t “either-or,” “black or white,” “all or nothing.” In reality life is a mixture of many factors and forces… and the mixture is complicated.

The second source of defeat comes from an outlook that continually makes comparisons. This sort of outlook dooms one into never thinking that one has enough. This kind of person is forever comparing his or her lot in life with people who are better off. Someone else is better looking, has more money, lives in a better house, has a better job, and so on. Depression is guaranteed them; defeatism finally takes over. This is one of the major sources of defeat and frustration in our culture today. The entire advertising industry is built on the lucrative business of comparing so that you will buy their advertised products and then be wonderfully happy.

A third source of defeat that infests many souls is what is called “passive resignation.” It simply surrenders us to our feelings and then calls it “fate.” Phrases like the following are its telltale signs: “Well, that’s just my lot in life,” “I was never destined to do any better,” “That’s life, and I might just as well accept it,” “It’s God’s will that I suffer,” and so forth.

The final source of defeat, which I’d like to point out here, is too much reliance on self and the things of this world, and not enough reliance on faith in Christ and the things of God. The underlying problem is a lack of real belief that God can or will do anything to help me. Either we think we’re not worthy because we’re too evil, or else we think that God really doesn’t care because He never answers our prayers anyway. The result is that we make the hidden assumption that if we’re going to be happy and successful in life then we’ve got to achieve it ourselves because God won’t take care of us until we get to heaven… if in fact we do get there.

In the face of all this, God’s Word in today’s reading comes to us with a challenging question. The question hits each one of us. I want you to seriously listen now to God’s question and think about its answer. The question is this: “What is your heart wrapped around?” Put another way: “What is the thought that is constantly on your mind? What continually absorbs your attention?
For thus says the Lord: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new!” God wants us to see things afresh, not in our usual ways but rather in His ways.

You see, we must begin to think now of what can be in our future and stop thinking about what has been in our past. All of the Sacraments are the acts of God in Christ. The Sacraments are not merely symbols, nor are they merely pretty ceremonies invented by men. Sacraments are the acts of God Himself in Christ reaching out to make things fresh and new for us. Baptism is a Sacrament of beginning a new life for us. The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us a fresh start, a new beginning, and a new lease on life. Matrimony, Ordination, Anointing of the Sick… all are opportunities for us to pick-up on life where we left off, if only we will let God do His work in us, if only we will do things with Him in His ways. The Sacraments are future oriented.

Listen now again to what God was telling us in today’s first reading through His prophet Ezekiel: 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.

Really, then, what is defeat for us? When you get right down to it, nothing can defeat us except the spirit of defeatism. Recall that in the bottom of the Great Depression in the 1930′ s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt cried out: “We have nothing to fear except fear itself:” And we know President Roosevelt was right. Once our national self-confidence was restored and once we shook off the spirit of defeatism and isolationism, those two great works of the devil designed to make us weak and impotent, we then began to come out of our depression.

The same is true in our own personal and individual lives. For Easter is the religious and theological statement that, for the Christian, there is really no ultimate defeat. To be sure we shall suffer temporary setbacks. And to be sure we shall suffer them in the future. But defeat? We should see that because of Christ’s Easter Resurrection we can never be totally defeated. What is required is that we stop constantly feeling sorry for ourselves and then let our faith in God replace our own lack of faith in ourselves and receive God’s presence, power, and love into our hearts.

Am I preoccupied by my own failures and misfortunes? Is my heart wrapped up in the illusory comfort of feeling sorry for myself? Am I passively resigned to my fate in life? Well, now is the time to throw open the doors of that self-made prison. The stone has been rolled back from the tomb of poor Lazarus. Christ has commanded that he be released from all that wrapped him up in bondage and then set free.

The same is true for you. Christ has rolled back the imprisoning stones that entomb our hearts. It’s time to go free because God in Christ wants us, like poor Lazarus, to be free, to be happy, and to enjoy life.

Defeat is the sacrament of the devil, along with his other sacraments of doubt, depression, disillusionment¸ defeat and despair. For if we walk with Christ and join our passion and suffering into His, then we can walk away from all in life that’s cold, dead, dreary, depressing, and all else that leads us into the hell of our own defeatism.

Remember not,” your God proclaims to you now, “the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new:”

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.”