‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A


The Raising of Lazarus
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

There is a very good commentary on this painting in the March 2020 issue of the liturgical monthly Magnificat.

A Comment on the Covid-19 Pandemic


A diocesan priest in Canada, officially retired but very active pastorally in his diocese and who is a good friend, sent me the following, which I have slightly edited, a few days ago.

I can see how this trial can make for a great Easter. Only our relationship with Christ cannot be destroyed by the horrors of the world. The prayer on the opening Sunday of Lent reads: Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observance of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effectsThrough our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who ives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. The Season of Lent will deliver us into the riches hidden in Christ [emphasis added].

I find that these days have for us priests the grace to be more prayerful; to remember better who we really are in our parishes and in the heart of the universal Church. I am befriending a very depressed Catholic man helping him to ask Jesus to assist him and most of all to be something of Jesus for him. He said that after many years of regularity in the Church he has never really connected with Jesus.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel John11:1-45 [11:3-7,17, 20-27, 33b-45]  (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)

For the shorter form of the Gospel omit the passages [in square brackets].

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. [His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’] When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ [But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’]
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
[The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.]
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. [Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.]


John 11:1-45 in Filipino Sign Language

I think it was back in the 1980s when I was at home in Ireland on a visit that I heard a young diocesan priest being interviewed on national radio about his work as a prison chaplain. He spoke about an occasion when he spent an hour in a cell with one prisoner who was there for stealing on a large scale. The priest got no response whatever - until he was about to leave. He then looked at the young man, put his arms around him and said, 'I love you', adding the man's name.

The prisoner broke down and began to open up to the priest. Over a period of time they became friends. After he was released the young man set up a successful security agency, no doubt drawing on his 'professional skills'.

In Worldwide Marriage Encounter we say 'Love is a decision'. At times it may be accompanied by warm feelings, at other times the very opposite. It is easy for a young man and a young woman who find each other attractive to feel 'love'. This may lead to 'until death do us part', a very solemn decision to love one another.


In his general audience on Wednesday, 2 April 2014, Pope Francis reminded married couples of this, gently, humorously and clearly. The secret is that love is stronger than an argument. And therefore I always advise married couples, 'Don't end your day without making peace.

Here the Pope was saying 'Love is a decision'. He added humorously: It's not necessary to call the United Nations and have them come to your house to broker the peace. A little gesture will do, a caress, a 'Goodnight, see you tomorrow'. And tomorrow you start over. This is life, carry on! Go forward with the courage to want to live together. This is great, it's beautiful. What Pope Francis is saying here is that love is a decision, a major decision made on one's wedding day that demands many daily 'minor' decisions. The same applies to anyone called to a commitment.

The young priest visiting the prisoner in Ireland wasn't experiencing any feelings of love for the prisoner and the latter probably felt deep anger towards him, maybe even hatred. But the priest made a decision to love that man, no matter how difficult it was, no matter what he was feeling at the time.

The Raising of Lazarus
Carel Fabritius [Web Gallery of Art]

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) was a pupil of Rembrandt (1606-1669).

In the gospel we find Jesus making a number of decisions, all expressions of love:

·       He decided not to go immediately to visit the gravely ill Lazarus when he got news of this: Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

·       He then decided to go back to Judea despite the fears of his disciples that harm would come to him.
·       He accepted the reproaches of both Martha and Mary: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. He made no attempt to 'explain' why he hadn't come.
·       He told the people: Take away the stone.

The purpose of Jesus in all these decisions was to lead the disciples and Martha and Mary into a deeper faith:

·       To the disciples and later to Martha: Lazarus is dead.  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.
·       To the Father: Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me

It is clear from the gospels that Jesus had a special, though not exclusive, affection for Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Maybe he felt free to drop into their home at any time and not be 'on duty'. (As an aside, in more than 40 years in the Philippines I have rarely seen a bishop invited to any kind of occasion except to 'do something', to be 'on duty'.) The friendship Jesus had with the three gave them the freedom to be open with him and to be true to themselves.  Luke 10:38-42 shows us Martha scolding Mary in front of Jesus in a way that happens with someone considered part of the family. The Lord, if you had been here . . . of both Martha and Mary can be read as a reproach mingled with hope to someone deeply trusted. 

Jesus invites each of us into that kind of warm, trusting relationship that is expressed in the story about St Teresa of AvilaOnce, when she was travelling to one of her convents, St Teresa of Ávila was knocked off her donkey and fell into the mud, injuring her leg. 'Lord', she said, 'you couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen. Why would you let this happen?' And the response in prayer that she heard was, 'That is how I treat my friends'. Teresa answered, 'And that is why you have so few of them!'


But above all in the raising of Lazarus, which points towards the death and Resurrection of Jesus himself, we see the resurrection and the life who was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved confronting death and conquering it. The death he was conquering wasn't only physical death but the sickness and death brought about by sin. Jesus calls us to faith and hope in him and to make decisions to love based on that faith and hope.

It was such faith that gave that young priest in the prison cell the courage to express his love, rooted in the love of Jesus for both, for the prisoner in deed and then in word. And it was that expression of love, in deed and in word, rooted in the love of the resurrection and the life for both, that enabled the man to walk out of the prison cell he had created for himself in his own heart.


The decision of the priest to stay with the prisoner despite the lack of response and the eventual decision of the prisoner to believe in God's love for him were both examples of love being a decision, decisions based on trust in God's love for them, the kind of trust that Martha and Mary had in Jesus.



A postscript in the context of Covid-19

Every reader of this blog, and the writer, is now living in restricted circumstances, some more than others. We can live out the Little Way of St Thérèse of Lisieux in this situation. Every decision to wash our hands, every decision to keep two metres from others, every decision to follow temporary restrictions, every decision to contact a relative, a friend, a neighbour by phone, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp or whatever is a decision to love. Every such decision will reduce the chances of others getting sick or of dying and will give heart to others.

Like my priest-friend in Canada, each of us is called to be something of Jesus to others at this critical time.



Antiphona ad Introitum Entrance Antiphon  Cf Ps 42 [43] 1-2

Iudica me, Deus

Give me justice, O God,
et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta,
and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless.
ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me,
From the deceitful and cunning rescue me,
qui tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea.
for you, O God, are my strength.

Emitte lucem tuam, et veritatem tuam: ipsa deduxerunt,
O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me;
et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum,
let them bring me to your holy hill
et in tabernacula tua.
and to your dwelling.

Iudica me, Deus
Give me justice, O God,
et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta,
and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless.
ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me,
From the deceitful and cunning rescue me,
qui tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea.
for you, O God, are my strength.

The text in bold is used in the Mass in the Ordinary Form (the 'New Mass') while the full text is used in the Extraordinary Form {the 'Old Mass' or 'Traditional Latin Mass'). However, the full text may be sung in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. This Sunday is known as ‘Passion Sunday’ where the Traditional Latin Mass is used.

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