Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent 03/26/2023

This week’s homily was given by Fr. Chris Ford, Director of Vocations.
Note: Apologies, the video accidentally ends a few seconds before the end of the homily.

One of my favorite moments, spiritually, at least in the entire year, might seem a little bit strange. But for me, it’s the morning of Holy Saturday; the morning between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Remember, in the Seminary, where I was one of the Masters of Ceremonies, we would be preparing kind of all day for our Easter Vigil that night. There would be rehearsals and practices. But in between I would take these moments of silence and quiet and just sit in the chapel, sit in my assigned seat, which was towards the front. And I would just sit there staring at the Tabernacle, the empty Tabernacle.

And it was this profound moment for me – this moment, perhaps, of the richest and deepest silence, that I have ever experienced. Something that continues in me to this day. This (this) desire to enter into that moment, that the Office of Readings for that day, calls a strange happening, a strange silence and stillness.

It’s the same reality, if you will, that is played out by the Devotion, that we pray most frequently during this holy season of Lent, the Stations of the Cross. There are many different versions of them but I prefer the versions that kind of stick to what we tend to have in our churches. The fourteen stations, not the ones that add the 15th, not the ones that add the Resurrection, but the ones that end at fourteen, at the laying of Jesus in the Tomb. The ones that end, if you will, in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of the story. This moment, if you will, of already – but not yet.

Because our temptation in life, our temptation is to constantly be seeking consolation, to constantly skip over these moments of silence, these moments of patience, this suffering of solitude, to reach the consolation that comes on Easter Sunday. But to do that means that we miss, in a profound way, all of the ways in all of the moments where God is present to us. All of the ways all of the moments where God is trying to love us. Jesus knows what He’s going to do. He says it outright. He tells the disciples Lazarus has fallen asleep, and I am going to wake him up. And yet he remains where He is for two days.

And in fact, Jesus goes even a step further. Because He doesn’t just say that He knows what He’s going to do, He actually goes so far as to say that there’s a part of Him that’s glad that Lazarus has died. This friend whom He loved so much. Because Lazarus’ death, He tells the disciples, He hopes will be a moment where they can encounter the glory and the power of God, that they might come to a deeper level of faith and hope and trust in Him.

And when Jesus arrives in Bethany, when he arrives to see Martha and Mary and all of the Jews who have come from Jerusalem to gather around them, they and the Apostles do come to see the glory and the power and the Majesty of God. This awesome moment, this impressive moment, this moment that reveals perhaps better than any other just who God is. This powerful, awe-inspiring moment that is recounted to us so simply and so beautifully. And Jesus wept.

This powerful, tangible fact of Jesus is entering into the reality of Lazarus’s death, entering into the suffering of Martha and Mary, entering into the suffering of His own human heart, united always to the merciful love of the Father.

And notice how the people respond to Jesus’s weeping, see how He loved him. It’s not the resurrection of Lazarus. It’s not the miracles. It’s not the extraordinary moments that reveal God’s love for us. It’s the simple. It’s the ordinary. It’s His presence to us, even in suffering, that reveals the depths of His love, the depths of His closeness to us. The fact that God, who has this power to create and sustain the universe, the fact that God, who has this power even to raise people from the dead, is so invested in humanity, that He weeps for us. That He doesn’t skip over our moments of suffering but enters into them with us.

And this is not just a gift for the people of Bethany that afternoon. This is a gift that continues for us even today, most powerfully through the Sacraments of His church, the Sacraments that continue to affect His presence among us, His closeness to us. Perhaps above all in the Eucharist, in the sacrament of His very presence, His continued dwelling among us, where we can go to Him, where we can bring Him our struggles, we can bring Him our trials and our sufferings. And in return we can receive Him, His closeness, His Mercy, His love.

And of course, it is expressed also in the gift of the priesthood. This is what I think it means when Saint John Vianney says that the priesthood is the love of the heart of Christ, that the priesthood is the continuing of Jesus’s presence among us, to be with us in all of our moments of Joy, all of our moments of suffering, and even in just the ordinary moments in-between.

This then becomes the source and the foundation of our hope; that I don’t have to rush to Easter Sunday. I can be right here. I can be wherever I am and know that God is loving me here, right now, in the realities of my life. Even, and perhaps especially, in the moments where I feel most unworthy of it, where I feel furthest from Him, where I feel like He has nothing to offer, He is there. Knowing that Jesus weeps, knowing that Jesus is this invested in us, allows us to embrace the poverty of the cross. The poverty of the cross that abandons all trust and all hope in the things of this world, but is completely open to what the Father is doing, is completely open to His care and His merciful presence for us.

This great gift that allows us, even in our darkest most trying moments, for our hearts to echo the words of Jesus. Father, I thank You for hearing me. I know that You always hear me.