Wanting to be Cured, Fourth Tuesday of Lent, April 1, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
April 1, 2014
Ezek 47:1-9.12, Ps 46, Jn 5:1-16

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here: 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • As I been mentioning throughout this holy season, Lent is an annual catechumenate, preparing the elect for baptism and those who have already been baptized for the renewal of their baptismal promises and identity that are at the core of the Christian life. The readings for the third through fifth weeks of Lent are heavily concentrated on baptismal imagery. On the Third Sunday, we had the Samaritan woman thirsting for the Living Water welling up within her to eternal life, an image of what Jesus wants to do within us. This past Sunday we had the healing of the man born blind and how the Lord wants us to participate in our own Lenten healing: he doesn’t smudge us with muddy saliva and bid us to go wash in the pool of Siloam but with moistened ashes and instructs us to repent and believe the Good News, but we, like the man born blind, are set off on a journey. In today’s readings, we have a chance to ponder far more deeply what that journey is, how we’re supposed to desire it, and how it is supposed to be life-long.
  • Let’s begin with the desire. Today in the Gospel Jesus says to the man crippled for 38 years, “Do you want to be well?”  Jesus always wants to engage our will and our freedom. The problem with this man, as we’ll see a little later with the help of Pope Francis, was that he was embittered, complaining, defeated. His will had been crushed. In response to Jesus’ simple, straightforward question, he blurted out how crippled his spirit was. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” What should have been an immediate response, “Of course I want to be made well!” had morphed into a “woe am I” self-pitying violin solo. This Lent Jesus asks us, “Do you want to be well?” He doesn’t want us to reply with apathy, with a broken down “I’ve tried to live a great Lent before with prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but I’m never able to keep my resolutions to unite myself to you in your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and so while of course I want to be made fully well and holy, I really have lowered my expectations because I just don’t want to disappoint myself, you or others.” He wants us to respond, rather, with hunger, thirst, enthusiasm, “Yes, Jesus! I do want to be totally spiritually healed! Please help me!”
  • The second issue is how the Lord wants us to participate in our own healing. He wants us to set out on a journey of a life-time. This is pointed to by the very powerful imagery of the first reading. Ezekiel sees a vision of water trickling from the eastern side of the Temple down toward the Arabah, the sandy 20 mile desert that separates Jerusalem from the Dead Sea. The Angel takes Ezekiel another 1000 cubits (about 500 yards since a cubit is the distance between the elbow and the top of the middle finger, about 18 inches for those of us who aren’t in the NBA) and the water is now ankle deep; another 500 yards and it’s knee deep; yet another 500 and it’s up to his waist; a final 500 and it had become a river over his head so that he could only swim across it. And along it’s path, it brought all types of life to the desert as it flowed into the Dead Sea — where no marine life can survive because it’s 20 times the salinity of the ocean — and raised it literally from the Dead, making it fresh and allowing all types of fish to live in it again. This is an image of the Christian life of the baptized. On the day of our baptism we receive a trickle of the Living Water flowing from the true Temple’s — Jesus’ — pierced Eastern side, the font of sacramental life for the Church. But we’re to journey more deeply with that living water. By the time we’re able to communicate with others and with God and pray, this living water should be up to our ankles. By the time of we’re ready to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, it should be up to our knees. At the age of Confirmation, it should be up to our waist. By the time we’re adults, we should be submerging ourselves in it and allowing that river of Living Water to direct us to wherever he wants us to bring vitality even in the midst of the deserts of life. The Living Water who is Jesus wants to raise from the dead whatever Dead Seas we bear inside, converting what is salty and bitter into something fresh and alive. It behooves us, therefore, this Lent and every Lent to ask ourselves whether we are advancing in this Living Water, whether we’re allowing Jesus to raise within us whatever is dead. Jesus wants to cure us of our spiritual stagnation! But he wants us to want to be cured!
  • The third thing we learn today is of what type of stagnation Jesus wants to heal us. Pope Francis, in his homily this morning in the Vatican, talked about two types of spiritual infirmity.
  • The first, he said, was of acedia, which is exemplified by the crippled man in the Gospel. Pope Francis says that he was embittered and resigned to remain in his miserable state because he no longer had the energy to get up and try to immerse himself in the healing waters. The Holy Father says that this is the spiritual illness, the capital sin, of sloth, a type of spiritual sadness more formally called acedia, and he says it incapacitates many Christians. “I can think of so many Christians, so many Catholics who are Catholic but without enthusiasm because they’re embittered! … ‘I go to Mass every Sunday but it’s better not to immerse myself. I have faith for my own health but I don’t feel the need to share it with anyone else.’  When someone else does something, they reprove him, ‘No it’s better not to take any risks.’ This is the sickness of acedia, which is an attitude that paralyzes apostolic zeal and makes Christians closed in on themselves, tranquil but not in the proper sense of the term: leaving them unpreoccupied with going out to announce the Gospel! They are persons who are anesthetized.” Such anesthetized Christians, he continued, “are not luminous, but negative. … They do not serve or build up the Church. And how many Christians are like this, self-centered, focused just on themselves.” This is what we see in the crippled man in the Gospel, who was so caught up in his own self-pity, with himself, that even after Jesus had cured him, he didn’t even bother to get to know Jesus’ name. And after Jesus found him and identified himself to the man, the man went and divulged his name to those who were persecuting Jesus. This is the reason why Jesus said to him when he found him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” His acedia, his self-centeredness, was sinful. So is ours. And to the extent that we have succumbed to the same spiritual malaise, Jesus asks us today, “Do you wish to be made well?”
  • The second common stagnation is what Pope Francis called “formalism.” This is seen in those in the Gospel who turned to the healed man carrying his mat and castigated him for violating the Sabbath. They didn’t care about the fact that the man hadn’t walked for 38 years. They didn’t share in his joy. They were more concerned with the violation of their own exaggerated interpretation of the Sabbath. This was because they had made God into their own image, thinking that God’s greatest priority was not lovingly healing sons and daughters but straight-jacketing them in a multiplicity of rules and regulations with regard to what they can and cannot do on the Sabbath. They believed that God would never heal on the Sabbath and so anyone who did heal must be working for the devil. That’s one of the big reasons why they persecuted Jesus. Pope Francis said about this group of people today that they represent Christians “who do not leave any room for God’s grace.” Such Christians, he said, are “hypocrites. … They’re only interested in their formalities. [For them] it wasn’t possible to do miracles on the Sabbath. The grace of God can’t work on the Sabbath. They are closed to the grace of God. We have so many so many in the Church who are closed to God’s grace. It’s another type of sin. Those who have acedia are incapable of going forward to apostolic zeal because they’ve decided to remain close in on themselves, in their sadness and in their resentments. Those who are formalistic are not capable of bringing salvation to others because they close the door of salvation.” Pope Francis says we need to understand both of these temptations — to acedia and to formalism — in order to defend ourselves against them and to help others who are afflicted by them. Jesus draws near to those who are wounded by either malady in every age and says not only “Do you want to be made well?,” but also, “Go and do not sin any more.” He says them both with “tenderness and love.” Today he says them to us.
  • As we come forward today to receive Him from whose open side as he gave us his body and blood on the Cross flowed the Living Water that is the source of baptism and all the Sacraments of the Church, to meet him who asks us “Do you want to be made well?,” we respond with enthusiasm that “Yes, we do!,” and open ourselves up to the way by which he wants to raise from the dead whatever in us is stagnant, especially our acedia or rule-based formalism that restricts God’s grace. And we ask him for the grace today to advance 1000 cubits in faith and allow him who is the Living Water to pour out from this altar a great river flowing into Fall River leading us in the current to where he wants us to bring life and resurrection.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
EZ 47:1-9, 12

The angel brought me, Ezekiel,
back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the right side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the right side.
Then when he had walked off to the east
with a measuring cord in his hand,
he measured off a thousand cubits
and had me wade through the water,
which was ankle-deep.
He measured off another thousand
and once more had me wade through the water,
which was now knee-deep.
Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade;
the water was up to my waist.
Once more he measured off a thousand,
but there was now a river through which I could not wade;
for the water had risen so high it had become a river
that could not be crossed except by swimming.
He asked me, “Have you seen this, son of man?”
Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.
Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9

R. (8) The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things he has wrought on earth.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.

Gospel
JN 5:1-16

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.