Joining Body with Soul

(Homily for Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A)

We have just listened to the Gospel of the Resurrection of Lazarus. In order to understand what is at stake, we need a correct notion of the relation between body and soul. Fr. Frank Pavone, director of Priest for Life, tells about a conversation with an abortionist which illustrates the importance of getting this clear.

In the discussion with a man who performs abortions, Fr. Pavone asked this question, “Does abortion destroy a human life?” The abortionist replied, “I don’t know when a child receives a soul.” Fr. Pavone noted the irony: the priest wanted to focus on the scientific question while the abortionist wanted to jump to a question of faith.

The truth is that as Christians we do not make a radical distinction between body and soul. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the soul is the “form of the body.” Together they make a single entity or substance. The body is not something one uses, then discards when it breaks down – like a dishwasher that no longer works. No, in real sense, I am my body. When the soul is separated from the body in death, it is not complete until reunited with its material part. All of us have a sense of that incompleteness. A soul without a body we call a “ghost.” A body without a soul we call a “corpse.” The thought of either can make a person uneasy.

When I was a young priest, I was called to bless the body of man who had died. I agreed, but told the family that I had a number of things to do that afternoon and I would come when I finished. It was evening when I was finally free and I went to the funeral home. The family had left; the undertaker told me the body was down in the basement level. I asked if he was going with me. He said he had some paperwork to do, but the room was at the bottom of the stairs. I walked into a somewhat large room with a table in the middle. On it was a body covered by a white sheet. I said the prayers quickly, and then lifted the sheet in order to properly bless the head and to make sure I had gotten the right one. It was, as you can imagine, an eerie experience. Deep down we know that is not how we are finally meant to be.

In the Gospels Jesus reunites soul and body on three occasions. The first was the daughter of a man called Jairus. His daughter had just died and Jesus went into the room, took her hand and said, “Talitha kum,” that is, “Little girl arise.” And she did. This was perhaps like what sometimes happens in emergency room, where a person is clinically dead, but then revived. The second case was the son of the widow of Naim. Jesus came upon the funeral, probably a day after the young man’s death. Out of compassion for the widow, he restored her son to life. Today we hear about a third resurrection – a man who had been dead four days. Decomposition would be advanced. As his sister Martha noted, “There will be a stench.”

Jesus asked them to roll back the stone from the tomb and he said, “Lazarus, come up.” This was a miracle like Ezekiel prophesied, “You shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and have you come out, O my people.” Jesus does not focus on the people in general or humanity as whole, but on a specific person, a friend with who he had eaten, conversed and had received hospitality, staying at his home when he visited Jerusalem.

The resurrection of Lazarus foreshadows the day when we will restored, not with the kind of bodies we have now, but with a glorious body like Jesus’. You know, our bodies are meant to work together with our souls, but at present they don’t. I will speak for myself. I will set my alarm at a specific time, knowing there are things I should do in the early morning. But when the alarm goes off, my room is cold and my bed is so warm, I do not want to get up. Or last Christmas, someone gave me a box of See’s Chocolates. I thought I would eat one or two a day, sharing them with my friends. But once I started, I noticed that each was different – and I wound up eating almost the whole box in an afternoon. Our bodies and souls do not work together the way they were meant to: like a knight on his charger, everything coordinated. Or an even better image, a mahout with his elephant. He can give a signal and the enormous animal bows down so the mahout can mount behind the head. Together they do amazing things. Part of the reason for our present existence is to develop that self-mastery. But it is not something we can achieve by our power, but by submitting to Christ. When we do so, things start to work as they should.

This Sunday we have the third and final scrutiny before Holy Week. It is a pre-baptismal exorcism based on the Gospel of Lazarus, designed to prepare our elect for the Easter sacraments. The exorcism also applies to us. It compares the corruption of sin with that of bodily death. Jesus will overcome both – if we open ourselves to his power.


Earlier Version

Spanish Version

From Archives (Year A homilies for Fifth Sunday of Lent):

Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 5 (2014)
Revive (2011)
Overcoming Power of Death (2008)
Joining Body with Soul (2005)
He Was Buried (2002)
On Confession and Cremation (1999)

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies

Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Bulletin (One Million in Pledges, Parking Lot Patrols, Palm Sunday Procession, More Catholic Answers Tracts)

Good Friday Service for Life

Parish Picture Album

(April 2011)

40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)

Q&A about Planned Parenthood

Another sting by Live Action: Planned Parenthood: "We're Mostly a Surgical Facility"

An Audio Lenten Retreat by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain (thirteen talks, 10 to 15 minutes long, on topics such as temptation, grudges, surrender, mercy, etc. - well worth listening to)

Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastor. (For pdf format click here)

Background for presentation on "Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith": High School Course – World Civilization - Section on origins of Christianity. (For pdf format click here)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album


MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru