I have made promises I haven’t kept. Sometimes I forget, or just never get around to them. I don’t think I intentionally lie when I make those promises. People say I’m a responsible person. But still, there are those promises hanging up in the air, unfulfilled. I need to get to them!
It is a different case with God. God is a "Promise Keeper." We hear one of God’s promises today from the prophet Ezekiel. This wasn’t just any old promise, not like some of ours, "I promise, I’ll pick up ice cream on the way home." God is making a promise to people who are in desperate straits. With authority Ezekiel ends his prophecy in God’s voice, "I have promised and I will do it says the Lord." Why did the people need to hear a promise from God?
We usually associate a prophet with harsh, confronting language, directed to a resistant people who need to be shaken out of their lethargy, or downright indifference to God. The prophets tried to reconcile people with God, sometimes at great costs to themselves. Ezekiel started as a prophet in that strong, confrontational tradition. He preached against a sinful Judah. But the people ignored his warning and, as he had predicted, the Babylonians conquered the nation. The prophet was one of the first to be taken off into slavery.
Ezekiel’s name means "God is strong" or, "God strengthens." Because of the suffering of the enslaved people Ezekiel’s message changes to one of hope. He encourages the Jewish people to trust that God was with them; yes, even in their place of misery, where God felt most absent. Here comes the promise: God would intervene and come to their aid.
What a consoling message Ezekiel had for the people! Previously he had described the people as "dry bones" (37:1-14). They had ignored his warnings. Now he speaks to them as if they were dead; which they were, because of their past sins and refusal to hear God’s word. They are people in a "grave," as good as dead. But God would come to the dead people and raise them from their graves. "O my people, I will open your graves." Didn’t Jesus fulfill that promise when he shouted at the grave of Lazarus, "Come out!" – And Lazarus returned to life? See, God is a Promise Keeper.
As I write this we are approaching the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The news presents images of bombed Ukrainian cities, mass graves and people weeping over dead family and friends. Similar images come from Turkey and Syria, where over 41,000 people have died. People in such horrific tragedy are tempted to give up on God. It’s hard to blame them. "How could God let this happen to us?", they cry. Similarly, Ezekiel’s people had given up on God. There was nothing left for them in their destroyed homeland and worse, they were slaves in a foreign land under the cruel fists of their conquerors.
God breaks through the tears and grief and speaks to the mourners looking at their graves. "I will open your graves and have you rise from them and bring you back to the land of Israel." The people are surrounded by dirt and death. How is God going to pull this off?
The prophecy echoes the creation story in Genesis. There, God’s breath is life-giving. That is what Ezekiel evokes: the God of life will breathe into a people as good as dead, bring them to life, and return them to their promised land. What have the people done to deserve this?
Ezekiel hasn’t interrupted a prayer service to tell the people God is rewarding them for their fidelity. No, it’s a familiar biblical story, God takes the initiative to come to a people in slavery, either because of a conquering nation, or by their own sins. God offers them a free gift, without prerequisite merits of their own. What must they do? Accept God’s free offer and then live changed lives. Doesn’t that sound like Lent to you?
Lent is a time we are preparing for the free gift God has promised: "I will open your graves." That’s just what God did for Jesus and now does for us. It is a time to accept God’s offer of life; repent of our sins; embrace the resurrected Jesus and the new life he gives us.
"I have promised and I will do it, says the Lord."
Extra: Preaching Holy Week (Triduum)
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
And Jesus wept.
These are powerful words. We, as a society, often seem to view crying as not manly and, I often think it must be hard on our American men to not be able to express this very human emotion more openly. Yet, in these three words, we see today the compassion of God. Sometimes, we are the ones who need to express our own sorrow.
As part of our Beginning & End of Life Ministry, we have a grief ministry. In this ministry, we have a caring card program coordinated by Bettina Nolan for parishioners who are grieving the recent loss of a loved one and Sr. Colleen Braun leads a six-week seminar called, "Seasons of Hope." Grief never ends, it just moves along with you. There is no time limit to grief and you don’t have to be alone in it. "Seasons of Hope" offers the grieving person an opportunity to find healing and spiritual growth with the support of our faith community. The next session will begin April 27. Any parishioner who has lost a loved one is encouraged to attend and bring a guest. If interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Fr. Erik Reyes is striving to offer greater pastoral care to the bereaved by establishing a Funeral Ministry team. He is looking for individuals who will be instrumental in assisting grieving families plan the liturgy, to coordinate with parish staff and to act as liaison with the funeral home. If your charism calls you to serve in this ministry or to advise in the formation of it, please reach out to Fr. Erik: Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral | End of Life Resources (raleighcathedral.org)
Created in the image of God, we are to be compassion too. With today’s emphasis on action, achievement, and "doing," it is easy to forget the importance of being and feeling with the afflicted. Not only does compassion recognize and suffer with the sufferer, but it also works to free the one who is suffering from whatever causes the sorrow. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:17). As people of compassion, we cannot look the other way while our brothers and sisters live in misery. Consider taking compassionate action through advocacy for the causes that touch your heart.
And, it is okay to weep.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Ezekiel reading:
O my people! I will put my
spirit in you that you may
Throughout the world our Church has been seriously damaged by the clerical sexual abuse scandals. At this Eucharist we implore our Creator God to restore our dead and wounded parts to new life; to breathe the Spirit into us, as God promises to do today through the prophet Ezekiel
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
Many people say that we need the death penalty in order to have "justice for the victims."
But so many family members of murder victims say over and over that the death penalty is not what they want. It mirrors the evil. It extends the trauma. It does not provide closure. It creates new victims… it is revenge, not justice.
Killing is the problem, not the solution.
----Shane Claiborne, Death Penalty Action's Advisory Board Chairman,
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
"First Impressions"is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at email@example.com.
If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP:
St. Albert Priory
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
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You can order the CDs by going to our webpage:www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.
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4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
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St. Albert the Great Priory & Novitiate
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
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