5th Sunday of Lent
April 5, 1987
Ps 130: 1-8
Ezek 37: 12-14
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.
To my disappointment, I don’t get to preach this weekend, either—this time it’s the bishop’s fault! The diocese is launching the annual appeal. So, again, I offer a homily from the archives.
“My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchman wait for the dawn” (Ps 130: 6).
You’ve probably heard it said that we Christians are a pilgrim people, that we’re people “on the way.” The reading from Ezekiel and the psalm remind us that we’re exiles far from our true home.
In the 1st reading the Lord, through the prophet Ezekiel, seems to be promising resurrection. And that’s what the Church suggests to us by pairing this passage with the story of Lazarus.
But Ezekiel and the Lord are really talking about a people being brought back to life, pieced back together, re-inspirited, by a return from exile: “You shall live, and I will place you in your own land. I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezek 37:14,12-13)
Sculpture on exterior wall of the National
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,
Washington, D.C., celebrating psalmody.
This is also the tenor of the responsorial psalm: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” (130:1), i.e., out of the depths of exile and of despair of ever seeing again one’s homeland and the Lord’s temple. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (130:5), i.e., the exile trusts that God will hear his prayer and deliver him. “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8), i.e., the exiled people will be ransomed by the Lord their champion; their past sins will be wiped away, and they will be brought home.
A parish mission is about coming home, about returning from exile. It’s about longing for the Lord and seeking forgiveness. A parish mission is one way in which the Lord takes all our bones and brings them together again and puts a new life into us as individuals and especially as a community of believers.
During a parish mission we’re reminded that, as Christians, we are in the world but not of it. We’re pilgrims journeying through a land of exile, heading homeward to our Father’s house. “As you well know,” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “we have our citizenship in heaven” (3:20).
During a parish mission, our journey out of exile and back home is mapped out for us. The Church is sort of an AAA, and she gives us a set of maps, i.e., the sacred Scriptures, the Word of God. She gives us a compass to help us with our bearings, i.e., the teaching of the Church which comes to us through the apostles and their successors—the Pope and the bishops. And finally, the Church gives us the sacraments, the pit stops on our trip where we get orientation, nourishment, and repairs. All of these divine gifts—the sacraments, the teaching Church, and the Bible—enable us to master the possibilities on our journey. All of them are offered to us during a parish mission in a special way that God has chosen for us for this moment in our lives.
So this week a new community life, a new spirit, will be offered to us individually and communally. The Lord offers us redemption from our iniquities. He comes to us who have been eagerly waiting for him more than watchmen waiting for the dawn. The Lord Jesus comes to guide us in the way back to our Father’s home. “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, says the Lord” (Ezek 37:14).