In our culture today, many are obsessed with postponing or even eliminating mortality. Movie stars and politicians spend thousands, even millions, annually on plastic surgery and make-up to keep themselves looking like they’re 20 years old. Scientists are actively looking for the “aging” gene, trying to find that element in our DNA which causes us to grow old and eventually die. Some more eccentric people with far more money than common sense are even having themselves cryogenically frozen at the moment of death so that they can be thawed out and resurrected at a future date. Great quantities of time and money are spent in the search to find the technological equivalent to Jesus’ miracle in today’s Gospel.
While we are concerned about our physical deaths, our culture is ignoring the far more serious death of sin. As physical illnesses can bring about the death of our bodies, sin can bring the spiritual death that comes when we allow our sins to cut ourselves off from God. Through our sins, we turn from God and push away from him. Much like one might stand outside on a sunny day with the sun on our backs and see our shadow before us, sin causes us to turn away from the light of Christ and be drawn into the darkness that is in the world.
Like the stench from Lazarus’ grave, this darkness of sin pervades our world today. Sins that were once avoided are now tolerated, even encouraged. Virtues, such as chastity and religious observance, are mocked and derided. Success is viewed as the achievement of wealth and power. Professional sports players, big-screen actors, and other public personalities are idolized, while those who live humbly and morally upright lives are denigrated and ridiculed. In many ways, the only true sin in the eyes of the world is daring to believe that there truly is right and wrong, virtue and vice.
The deeper that we are drawn into the world by sin, the tighter that sin ties us up. Like Lazarus in the tomb, sin binds our hands and feet, keeping us from the grace that God promises us. When we willingly choose a gravely immoral action that we know to be immoral, we commit a mortal sin, which can even cut ourselves off completely from God, ensnaring us from head to toe with sin. To die in this state would cut us off from God for all eternity, which is the definition of what it means to be condemned to Hell.
There is a bright side, however. We can get the bindings of sin removed. We can turn back to God and enjoy his grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we celebrate this powerful and beautiful sacrament, we admit our sins to God and ask for his forgiveness. Through the words of the priest, we hear that God gives us his forgiveness and exhorts us to “Go, and sin no more.” Our bindings are removed, we come out of the tomb of death and enter into glorious light of life. Our souls bask in the glory of God.
I will be the first to admit that confession of sins is painful. It’s difficult to closely examine how sin has affected us and to admit our failings. It’s also very difficult to go to another human being and lay bare our souls, especially if we know the priest well. The joy that comes from being truly in union with God more than makes up for the momentary pain of confessing our sins.
Through our sins, we are bound to death, but through God’s mercy and forgiveness, we are released to life.