Looking Forward to the Resurrection
Sunday March 17, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I (Ezekiel 37:12-14) Reading II (Romans 8:8-11)
Gospel (St. John 11:1-45)
Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans, which we heard in the second reading today, tells us that if we are in the flesh we have no part of Christ. Now this is an odd saying because at the time that Saint Paul wrote this he obviously was in the flesh. And the people to whom he wrote it, the people of Rome, obviously were still in the flesh as well. So the question is why would he say such a thing? It is not a question of whether one is alive; but rather, it is a question of whether we are simply trying to live a natural life or a supernatural life. It is a question of whether our focus is on the body or on the soul. And that choice is entirely ours. Saint Paul tells us that if the Spirit of Christ is not in us, then we have no part of Christ; if the Spirit of Christ is in us, then we are living the life of Christ. And if we are living the life of Christ, then the body is dead because of sin, while the spirit lives.
And so each one of us can only look at our own self and ask ourselves: Am I living the life of Christ? Is Christ living in me? When I am living my life out in the world, do people see Christ in me? Do they hear Christ in my words? Do they recognize Christ in my actions? Do they realize that after they have had an encounter with me that they have really had an encounter with Jesus Christ? Can we say that? Or instead, would we have to say that what we have been doing is to indulge the flesh? The senses? To make sure that we are well entertained? That all of the things that are comforts for the body are number one? To see to it that we are surrounded with all of the things we like so that we have an easy way for the body, while paying little attention to the soul? If we just simply look at our own lives and ask how much time out of the day we spend in prayer and how much time out of the day we spend on the body, for most Americans, very little is spent in prayer, if any at all. But many, many hours out of the day are spent on the body – the body which Saint Francis of Assisi called "Brother Donkey" – not exactly where we ought to be putting so much emphasis. Certainly, because we are alive in this world, we need to eat and we need to sleep and we need to care for the body; we are the stewards of the body. But Saint Paul would say, "I pummel my body lest, after preaching to others, I myself might be lost." We need to discipline the flesh so the spirit will be able to live. But the American way is to give into the desires of the flesh and in turn to kill the spirit.
Now for all of us as Christian people, we know fully well that this life is only a passing reality. It is something which is exceedingly temporary. We can look at people who die when they are 80, 90, or even 100 years old, and we talk about how they lived a long life. But we know that we are called to eternity, life without end. One hundred years is as nothing, a tiny slice of the fullness of reality. And so when we look at trying to make sure that we have everything in this world in this life, it is a pagan way of living; it is to say that we are going to put all the emphasis here so we can make sure that we have it easy, that we are living the "good life" as they would say – not necessarily that we are living a good life, but that we are living the good life.
Instead, we need to look beyond. And that is what the Church provides for us in the first reading and in the Gospel today: God telling us through the prophet Ezekiel that He will open our graves and have us rise from them. There is life beyond death. That is not the American reality. "This is the only time. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" We, as Christian people, should be praying that tomorrow we would die so that we could rise from the dead and live for the spirit and not for the flesh, live for Christ and not for this world. But in this world, we need to learn already to live for Christ, not for the self. We have been purchased and at a price, the price which is the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we are to die to the flesh in order to live in the spirit.
This time of Lent is all about trying to put the flesh to death. Not to commit suicide, in that sense; but rather, to look at all the things of the senses and to learn how to deny the desires of the body in order to see what is most important - and that is the soul. Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Galatians that the spirit and the flesh are at war with one another. The body, the flesh, and the senses, war against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. So the question each one of us has to ask is where are we going to put the emphasis? Do we want to live in the life of the spirit? Do we want to live in Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ? Or do we want to live the life of the flesh, to live in and for this world, so we can make sure that we live only in the immediate, in the American way of immediate gratification, immediate fulfillment of whatever it is that we desire? That is not the way of Christ. The way of those who live in the spirit is to live in this world as only a passing reality because we are looking forward. We are looking, not to immediate gratification, but rather to a gratification that is going to come only after this life. It is trying to develop the spiritual life here in this world because we know what we are called to is the life of the spirit for all eternity. So we want to be able to develop that now, to live the life of the spirit now, so that we will be able to live that in its fullness in the world to come.
If we are at all concerned about the body, it needs to be in how much the body is going to share in the glory of God for all eternity, not how much the body is going to share in the pleasures of this world for a temporal bit. Jesus looked at Martha and said to her, "Your brother will rise." And Martha made the act of faith and said, "I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day." But Jesus looked at her and said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Then He looked at Martha again and said, "Do you believe this?" Jesus, today, looks each one of us right in the eye and asks the same question, "Do you believe this?"
Your body, the one right here in the pew, is going to rise from the dead. Do you believe this? It is not only the just who are going to rise from the dead; the unjust will [rise] as well. The prophet Daniel tells us that some will rise and they will be an everlasting horror and a disgrace, and the just will rise and they will shine like stars in the kingdom of God. Your body will rise from the dead and it will be reunited with your soul. It is not a different body; it is this one that is right here. And it is the soul, which animates our body right now, which is going to live forever with this body that we have right now.
Now the question is - Is our body going to rise and be glorified or is our body going to rise and be horrified? The choice is ours, and the choice is made now in this world, not in the next. We can live for the flesh and be horrified for eternity or we can live for the spirit and be glorified for eternity. Which do we choose? The ways of the world are very enticing. It is hard for us to resist all of the temptations that are placed before us. The people in the media are very adept at trying to convince us that we need all kinds of things we do not need. They are very adept at putting ideas into our heads so that the desires of the flesh are going to rise up and rebel against our soul. We have a choice to make. We can spend our time focused on the body and the desires of the flesh, making sure that we are filling ourselves up with all the world has to offer and driving ourselves directly into the grave. Or we can spend our time filling up the spirit, making sure that the desires of the soul are taken care of, and then we can spend our lives moving beyond the grave, looking toward eternity, and living in this world for the next.
That is the choice each one of us has to make: the spirit or the flesh. Those who live in this life in the flesh have no part of Christ. But those who are animated by the Spirit of Christ live the life of Christ. God will open the graves and we will rise from them. So do not simply look at this life and the flesh and move yourself to death. But rather, look to the spirit, to the soul, and move toward life - the fullness of life in this world and eternal life in the next - by living now a spiritual life, by being animated by the Spirit of Christ and allowing the life of Christ to be lived in you and through you so that by living that way in this world you will rise to be glorified, to shine like a star in the kingdom of God, and to be with Jesus Christ forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.