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Bishop's Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

April 1, 2017

[St. Catherine Church, Kapaa]

The Pyramids of Egypt. The Taj Mahal of India. People flock to them from all over the world to marvel at their architectural genius and their grandeur. Do you realize, however, that these and some of the most monumental structures in the world were built as tombs? Many cultures pay great honor to the dead by building them beautiful places of rest. But as we reflect today on the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and as we prepare for the great celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from his tomb on Easter, I think it is important that we ask ourselves whether many of the structures we build become, in reality, tombs to house the dead or at least the dying.

I think of this beautiful parish, for example. I have to say that I always enjoy coming here, because it is so friendly and welcoming. So many people are involved as good stewards of the Gospel, giving of their time, talent, and treasure to celebrate their faith and to strengthen it in so many diverse programs designed to reach so many different kinds of people. But forgive me if I might be so bold as to ask whether even this beautiful parish can be a sort of tomb. I ask this because I think we Catholics – and I am not just talking about Catholics in this parish, but all of us Catholics -- rejoice in the beauty of our liturgy and our community, but sometimes we lock it in as if a stone had been rolled across its entrance and the wonderful things that happen here hardly see the light of day outside of here. We have a great school, religious education program, youth ministry, liturgical ministries, and outreach program. Many people enjoy them, IF they come here. But if they do not come here, they are hardly affected by these wonderful things we do. I think Jesus is calling us out of this beautiful tomb, so that others can glorify God through the witness we give them.

Is there bullying in our schools or in cyberspace? Does not the Lord want us to be engaged in changing this death-dealing reality into making sure that these special places of learning are places that can shine light into people’s lives and not darkness? Are our families just like any other families in our secularized culture, where divorce is rampant, where couples living together without the benefit of marriage are totally acceptable, and where children are considered as commodities or burdens rather than as the most precious gifts that are entrusted to us? Is our respect for life in all its stages, from the moment of conception until natural death, any stronger than in the rest of society? Or in all of these things do we simply accept living in a tomb, because it seems so beautiful, rather than obey the call of Jesus to come out and live in the light?

One has to wonder if Lazarus thought it was so great to be called back to life. He was no longer suffering from the illness that took his life. He was not involved in any more of life’s controversies. He did not have to go to work to earn a living. He, presumably, was resting in peace. Then Jesus called him out of his tomb, back into the fray of life, with all its uncertainties and challenges. We see later in the Gospel of John that people were so furious with Jesus for calling Lazarus out of the tomb that they even plotted to kill Lazarus. How dare Jesus call him back from his rest into such danger! Yet he did come out and lived in the light to proclaim in his unique way the glory of God.

In the same way we can become comfortable in our current situations. We might say, “My parish is such a wonderful place; who could need anything more?” Or, “There is so much love in my family, so why should I be concerned about families who are struggling with financial issues or with conflicts?” We might say, “I have found such comfort and love in my faith,” then simply wish that others could experience such love as well, without doing much to take it to them where they are. In that way we might very well be in beautiful, magnificent tombs, without realizing that our faith will eventually rot away in isolation as surely as a body placed in a tomb. But Jesus, as he did then, calls us out of our tombs into the light. He calls us out of comfort into toil, conflicts, and controversies, so that we can share his life and the glories of his Name with all who otherwise would never see the light of his love. Sometimes the tombs out of which he calls us are putrid and dank, and we are happy to be set free by him from them. But sometimes our tombs can be so magnificent that we fail to recognize them for what they really are and eventually suffocate from their lack of light and life. Jesus, who is truly risen, calls every one of us, just as he did Lazarus so long ago, to come out, so that we can unravel the world from the elegant bands that bind it and set it free to live fully our life in the glory of God.