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There will be a Stench

We are coming into the home stretch of Lent, as this 5th Sunday is the last “normal” Sunday in the season.  Next weekend is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week.

And the Bible readings that will be proclaimed this weekend are all so clearly pointing us to the idea of resurrection.  God says through Ezekiel He will “open our graves and have us rise from them.”  St. Paul tells us in Romans that “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies also.”  And the Gospel is the amazing telling of the resurrection of Lazarus.  

Something from that story has always stood out to me: when Our Blessed Lord goes up to the tomb of His friend and demands that the stone be rolled away, Martha offers a very real objection: “Lord, by now there will be a stench.”

Death has a smell, and it’s among the most repugnant smells out there.  When the body stops functioning, bacteria and other microorganisms take over, and as they metabolize, they release the gaseous compounds that cause the horrid stench.

Sin does to the soul what death does to the body.

Our souls “stop working” when we sin.  Sin restricts (in the case of venial sins) or cuts off (in the case of mortal sin) the grace that nourishes our souls.  The soul, the intellect and will and affective core, grow weak.  And as the soul weakens, it will spiritually stink.  The odor of a sin-sick soul is resentment, bitterness, anger, jealousy, impatience, rudeness, and the like.  The soul was made for giving and receiving love, but the more of a hold sin has on it, the less it does what it was designed for, and the more it atrophies.

But here’s what’s always struck me about Lazarus and his stench: the Lord isn’t afraid or disgusted at all.  When he approaches Lazarus’ decaying body, He doesn’t even flinch, gag, or express any disdain for His friends’ stinky state.  He calls him out of death and back into life.

So He does with us and our frequently stinky souls.

The Lord is not ashamed, embarrassed, or repulsed by our sinfulness…He is drawn to it.  But not to leave us in it.  He is calling me and you and everyone out of the tombs of our ungodly self-reliance, out of our selfishness and pride.  Out of our comfort and pleasure seeking and into the adventure of a life lived in His grace.  When the Church calls us to repent and to confess, it’s not a call to self-condemnation, but a call back to life!  By the Lord’s mercy, we are washed clean and made new.  In the Lord Jesus Christ, sin and death – along with their decay and stench – are overwhelmed.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!
All you holy saints of God, pray for us!

Peace in Christ,
Fr. Michael