A delightful and edifying evening at St. John the Baptist in Manhattan with the friars: vespers for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, followed by a social hour and dinner.
Vespers is done beautifully at the church. The Capuchins do liturgy well, with reverence and taste, and always with the common touch. No element was out of place; no element was lacking. There was neither austerity nor ostentation. Everybody, from the cantor to the handbell ringer, as well as the people in the pews, chanted, prayed, and sang with feeling for the liturgical forms, in harmony with the Holy Spirit. A congregation that participates as fully and actively as its ministers is blessed indeed. The Capuchins deserve many merits for leading worship with excellence, an ability not to be undervalued in today's listing Church.
And I cannot say enough good things about the preacher, Fr. Jim Gavin, who gave a reflection on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, found in the eleventh chapter of John's Gospel. I could listen to Father Jim every day of the week and twice on Sundays. He is a fan of classical music, but he preaches like a jazz musician. He is a gifted improviser.
Here are some of the morsels from his reflection, melting smoothly into my soul.
In the middle of Lent, in the middle of our preparation for Easter, each of us must ask: Have I changed my vision of dying because of Jesus' Word? Or am I still just numb, and do I fear what is inevitable?
Does Jesus' Word make a difference and give us the strength and power to live despite the inevitability of death?
When you experience love, divine love, in your heart, you can do anything. When you feel the love that is eternal, you can do anything. You can even forgive your enemies.
Do we believe this?
Ask yourself: Do I know I am a disciple of Jesus and share his power, the power of God available to us in baptism and Eucharist? Will I stand with Jesus, and weep with Jesus, and die with Jesus?
Can we pray from our depths as Martha of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, prayed, or confess, as she did, faith in Jesus as the Son of God, the one who makes God present and gives God to us as pure gift?
Jesus is the incarnate Sophia/Wisdom of God, the power of God made human. Even he grows perturbed and deeply troubled at the weeping of Lazarus' sister Mary and all the people. Picture the scene. Even he groans and shudders at the tomb of Lazarus. And in his anger, in his distress, he weeps, too, for at the tomb of Lazarus he sees his own tomb. Jesus shudders. So do we at our own tombs.
Nevertheless, in faith Jesus confronted the tomb at Bethany that presaged his fate. Will we come back to Jesus and stand up, despite the specter of our own tombs? Will we choose to live in joy today, in the light, in motion, with hospitality, with generosity, with high expectations for ourselves, with beauty, with savor, with passion and gratitude and love?
Do not fear death, because Jesus Christ is the presence of God. This is our faith. Do we believe this?