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Bishop's Homily for Fifth Sunday of Lent

This homily was given at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia, on April 1, 2001, the Fifth Sunday of Lent. I would like for us to focus our attention on Martha because from observing her words and actions in today’s Gospel, we can learn something about prayer, faith and life. Prayer is not saying a lot of words to persuade God, or to control God, or to change God. Prayer, rather, is an expression of our relationship to God, an expression of loving trust and mature dependence upon the One we call "Father." Prayer, then, is conversation or dialogue with God. Martha teaches us something about prayer – she shows us that prayer flows from ordinary events in life, the nitty-gritty of life, and is expressed in our words and feelings. Her brother Lazarus is sick; along with Mary her sister, she sends a message to Jesus in simple words: "the one you love is ill." Then, when she meets Jesus, four days after Lazarus has died, her words again are direct and simple: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Notice there is nothing fancy, elaborate or elegant in her words, just the thoughts of her heart being expressed to one she knew would understand. What is our prayer like? Does it flow from our ordinary, everyday experiences? Is it expressed in simple words – ours? Through honest feelings – ours? Do we go to the Father through Jesus, as we are and share with Him the thoughts of our hearts, as we find them, whatever their shape and color? Do we make time for this conversation with the Father through Jesus everyday, at home or as we drive to work? Alone and also with others, like family and friends? Do we come earlier to Church? Do we value time after Communion? Prayer is loving dialogue with the Father and an expression of mature dependence only when understood in faith. Without faith, prayer is meaningless and useless. What is faith? Is it only the mind saying "yes" to doctrines? Or, rather, is it the total person – total you, total I – saying "yes" to God as He shows Himself to us in Christ? Faith is the loving obedient surrender of ourselves to the Father in whom we hope and trust. If prayer is an expression of our relationship to God, then prayer is also an expression of our faith. And Martha teaches us something about faith. She believed that the Lord would help her brother – so, she sent a simple message: "the one you love is ill." And, even after her brother died, she continued to believe and to trust: "even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." She understood that faith is a process of believing: "I have come to believe…." Another translation put this: "I have learned to believe…." And all this, before she had seen Jesus raise her brother to life again. Are we open to growing in faith? Do we see our doubts and questions as calls or invitations to grow in faith? Do we struggle to hang on in faith even in darkness and silence? Do we believe that the Spirit of God – invisible and intangible – does live within us? Do we try to grow in our understanding of the faith through reading and reflection? Do we try to grow in our living faith? Prayer and faith are realities that are lived in this life and that lead us to fullness of life. Life. Martha teaches us something about life. She understood what so many of us, centuries later, fail to understand: that life is not ended by human death – "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." She understood that somehow and in some way, Jesus was and is connected with life in all its fullness. Her intuition was confirmed by the words Jesus spoke to 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." How do we look upon life here and now in its complexity and uncertainty? Do we see our life now as the only place where we meet God and become holy, like Him? Are we convinced that everything we do – all the ordinary things – are part of a genuine spiritual life? Do we see through faith and understand through prayer that human death is not the end, but only a change, that though we die, we do not die eternally, that we are meant to live, body and soul, forever? Martha is the focus of our attention this morning because she teaches us – all of us – something about prayer, faith and life. These are not separate realities, but rather inter-connected and inter-related in our everyday experiences. In just a few moments we will begin the third scrutiny for those who will join the Church during the Easter Vigil. These men and women, like Martha, affirm, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." These men and women have recognized the truth of Christ, and have asked to be admitted to the communion of believers. How many conversations have they had with God in prayer about how they should follow Him? How many times have they, and each of us, spoken to God simply – as Martha did about the direction of our lives? As we have been journeying through Lent, they have journeyed toward the Church and toward the rivers of grace that flow from her through the sacraments. When we look at these good men and women eager to be united with us in Baptism, the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in the communion of believers – the Body of Christ - our faith is strengthened and we recall the moment when we too came to believe. Taking Martha as an example, let us continue on our pilgrimage of Lent in persevering prayer, striving to live our lives of faith more fully, and thereby live lives which daily exclaim: "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God."

Copyright ?2001 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001