The Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]

The Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]
Jer 31:31-34  +  Heb 5:7-9  +  Jn 12:20-33
March 18, 2018

“But it was for this purpose that I came to this Hour.”

Today’s Gospel passage immediately follows St. John the Evangelist’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, just days before His Passion and Death.  Recall that even among His closest disciples, very few had any idea of what Jesus would soon suffer.  So when some Greeks ask to see Jesus, it’s telling that He answers that the “Hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” 

The Greeks might have been impressed, thinking that they’d found this Jesus at just the right time:  the hour of His glory!  If Peter, James and John were there to hear Jesus’ answer, they might have thought that Jesus was referring to the fulfillment of the transfiguration that they’d seen on the mountain.  However, on the mount of Calvary another type of glorification was to occur.  Although all but one of the apostles fled from this glory, in this hour Jesus established God’s new and everlasting covenant, fulfilling “all the law and the prophets.”  This covenant is at the heart of Holy Week.

The glory of the Cross is the glory of the grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying.  Its glory lies not in spectacle, in the way that our day measures glory.  Its glory lies in loss of self for the sake of an abundance for others, as Jesus explains of His hour:  “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  A covenant is never between God and an individual, nor for an individual.  A covenant is between God and a people, and is for the people.  God offers the new and everlasting covenant established by Jesus’ self-sacrifice to all peoples of the earth, that all of them might form one people as the Mystical Body of Christ.  In Christ, each member of His Body has God’s Law written in his heart, in order to mediate that love to others through his own vocation within that Body.

The hour has come for each of us to turn away from the glory of our day, and to enter instead into Jesus’ glory.  The glory of Jesus’ Cross lies in loss of self not for oneself, nor even only for God, but also for all those whom God loves, which is all peoples.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 11:18-20  +  John 7:40-53
March 17, 2018

“…let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more.”

Of the four major Old Testament prophets, Isaiah tends to be associated with the Season of Advent, and Jeremiah with Lent.  The life of a prophet is never easy, but were we to define the prophet by hardships leveled against him, Jeremiah would be the prophet par excellence.

By contrast, worldly honor is an earthly good that many go to great lengths to protect.  St. Thomas Aquinas cites honor as one of the goods in which fallen man falsely seeks happiness.  The Angelic Doctor notes that this is putting the cart before the horse:  authentic “honor is given to a man on account of some excellence in him…. Now a man’s excellence is in proportion, especially to his happiness, which is man’s perfect good….  And therefore honor can result from happiness, but happiness cannot principally consist therein.” [Summa Theologica, II-I,2,2 sed contra].

Therefore, when the good of one’s honor is placed above God, a disorder is created.  Jeremiah willingly suffered calumny and many other attacks against his name (which symbolically represents one’s honor) because of his fidelity to God’s prophetic message.  Recall the last of Jesus’ Beatitudes as recorded by St. Luke, and pray for such blessedness in your own spiritual life:  “Blessed are you when people hate you….  Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.  For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.”

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Wisdom 2:1,12-22  +  John 7:1-2,10,25-30
March 16, 2018

…but no one laid a hand upon Him, because His Hour had not yet come.

Today’s First Reading, from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, sounds as if it could have been written by one of the four evangelists, recording his Passion narrative.  The First Reading seems exactly what those who plotted Jesus’ death would have said as they explained to themselves their rationale for His crucifixion.

One way, then, to reflect on today’s First Reading is to apply it as a salve against any persecution that you yourself may have faced (or face today) because of standing for the Truth who is Christ.  Especially comforting is the final sentence, in which the biblical author offers commentary against the thoughts of the wicked.

However, during Lent it would be more fitting to take a different tack to this First Reading.  Read through the words of the wicked as a sort of Examination of Conscience.  Gossip, calumny and slander are sins that most Christians participate in either directly or indirectly.  These three sins, and others related to them, are common enough to cause great harm to the Body of Christ, especially to families and to fellow parishioners.  Reflecting on the First Reading, ask whether your any of your relationships with others, or even your opinions of them, demand purification.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Exodus 32:7-14  +  John 5:31-47
March 15, 2018

“But I have testimony greater than John’s.”

Jesus mentions a number of “witnesses” that He has:  John the Baptist; the works that the Father gave Him; “the Father who sent me”; and the Scriptures.  But what do these witness to about Jesus:  that He ran a red light?  that’s He’s a nice guy?  that He’s the son of Mary?  Jesus explains, in speaking about the witness of His works:  “these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

If you were to ask the average Christian, “Why did Jesus die on the Cross?”, you might hear, “To wash away our sins.”  This is true.  But Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection accomplish more than this only.  The Cross and Resurrection are the foundation of one’s Christian life.

The phrase “one’s Christian life” sounds a little abstract, but at the foundation of the Christian life is the truth that through Jesus Christ, we are sons and daughters of God the Father.  There is nothing abstract about this relationship.  The glory of the Resurrection is a glory that is promised to us as God’s sons and daughters.  But what is most moving about this truth is that we already share in this glory, if but dimly, to the extent that we live our Christian life now as witnesses to Jesus Christ, the Father’s only-begotten Son.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Isaiah 49:8-15  +  John 5:17-30
March 14, 2018

“My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”

It’s common for Jesus, following a miracle/sign, to teach at length.  Following the miracle that we yesterday heard Jesus perform, today’s Gospel passage is the beginning of a larger teaching discourse which makes us the remainder of John 5.  What is Jesus teaching us here?  The first two verses set up further conflict between Jesus and the Jewish officials.  Through the rest of the passage, Jesus explores his claims.

In the first two verses of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus compounds the conflict between Himself and the Jewish officials not only by breaking the sabbath, but also by calling God His Father, “making Himself equal to God.”

Here is one of the most important themes of John’s Gospel account:  the divinity of Jesus Christ.  The prologue of John [John 1:1-18] illustrates this theme poetically, and today’s Gospel passage illustrates the same theme prosaically through Jesus’ own words.

One way of describing your spiritual life as a Christian is to say that the journey of your spiritual life is a journey into the relationship of God the Father and God the Son.  This may seem like an abstract claim.  In fact, it is profoundly personal.  You grow as a Christian—and indeed, as a person—inasmuch as you grow into this relationship of the Father and the Son with each other.  Re-read today’s Gospel passage with this in mind:  that it has something to reveal to you about the depths of your inner spiritual life.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 47:1-9,12  +  John 5:1-16
March 13, 2018

Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.

Today’s Gospel passage narrates the “third sign” of John’s account.  Each of these seven signs from John 2-12 bring us closer to Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.

This third sign is like the second in that Jesus demonstrates the immediacy of His divine power.  The ill man explains that he has not been cured because he cannot reach the healing waters.  But Jesus does not help the man into the waters.  He does not even explain that the waters are unnecessary for the man’s healing.  Jesus simply says, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”

This third sign is a turning point in John’s Gospel account.  The last sentence of the passage ominously tells us that it was because of this sign that “the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.”

The First Reading today, from Ezekiel, foreshadows the power of Christ on Calvary.  The Jewish Temple often foreshadows Christ Himself (“in Him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” [Col 2:9]), or the Church as the Body of Christ, or Heaven.  But in Ezekiel 47 the focus is not so much the Temple itself as it is the water that flows abundantly from the Temple.  In these words the Church prepares us for Good Friday and the water pouring from Christ’s side, that water in turn symbolizing the healing waters of Baptism.

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Isaiah 65:17-21  +  John 4:43-54
March 12, 2018

Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth….

In the First Reading, Isaiah reminds us that what we are getting ready for is something unprecedented.  Lent is a preparation for the final days of Holy Week, called the “Sacred Triduum”.  The Latin word “triduum” simply means “three days”.  Within these three days, the Lord creates a new heavens and a new earth.

Today’s Gospel passage takes us one step closer to the Sacred Triduum.  The passage hints at what Jesus is preparing to do for us, and why He would do so.  The last verse of the Gospel passage tells us that this event was the “second sign”.  There are seven signs that John relates to us in the first half of his Gospel account [John 2-12].  Each of these seven prepares us for the Sacred Triduum.

To reflect on today’s “second sign”, listen closely to the royal official’s request:  what exactly does he ask for?  He asks Jesus to “come down and heal his son.”  Does Jesus grant his request?  No and yes.  Jesus does not go down, and the official repeats his request:  “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  Jesus again does not go down, nor does He need to:  He simply says, “You may go; your son will live.”  This sign teaches us something about our expectations of Jesus, and the truth that Jesus does not need our expectations.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent [B]

The Fourth Sunday of Lent [B]
II Chr 36:14-16,19-23  +  Eph 2:4-10  +  Jn 3:14-21
March 11, 2018

But whoever lives the truth comes to the light….

Light is one of the most obvious “facts” of the natural universe.  Without the sun our planet couldn’t support life.  During periods of the year with little sunlight, rates of depression go up.  At the current time of year we “spring forward” and begin enjoying an extra hour of light each evening.  Isn’t that one of the best things about summer, when we still have light outdoors after 9:00 p.m.?  It’s not just the warmth of summer that we enjoy, but also the light.  Light allows us to engage in outdoor activity.  Light allows us to be active rather than dormant.

St. John the Evangelist in today’s Gospel passage comments at length upon something similar, but in a different sphere of life.  In fact, today’s Gospel passage begins with only one sentence spoken by Jesus, while the remainder is the evangelist’s commentary.  St. John describes moral activity in terms of light or its avoidance:  “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light”.  These words describe every Christian who is a sinner.  During the Season of Lent, we need to be brutally honest about how often and in how many ways these words apply to us.

In the moral life, light symbolizes truth.  In common English, when we say that someone fears his actions “coming to light”, we mean that someone fears the truth of his actions becoming known.  Along this line, St. John explains that the sinner “does not come toward the light” so that his actions will not become known.

Yet we need to be mindful here of a distinction.  Jesus distinguishes between “the light” and one’s “works” (that is, one’s actions or choices).  We might be tempted to blur this distinction by remembering Jesus’ words during His Sermon on the Mount:  “You are the light of the world. … Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven” [Mt 5:14:16].

Here Jesus is speaking about good works:  works done in accord with the will of God the Father, who is “the Father of lights” [James 1:17].  St. John the Evangelist speaks in this vein in the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage, when He notes that “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”  These words give us hope for the goal of becoming saintly persons.  Yet to reach that goal, we have to confront the contrary reality:  those works of ours that do not reflect the will of “the Father of lights”.  A thorough Examination of Conscience can help us do so.  More importantly, we need to reflect on our moral failings in a broader light:  that of the spiritual life as a whole.

How does what St. John has to say about morality shed light on the whole of the spiritual life?  Consider that, to the Romans, Jesus’ crucifixion was punishment for threatening their rule.  To the Jews, Jesus’ crucifixion was ironic justice for a man who claimed to be their Messiah.  But the Beloved Disciple saw infinitely more.  He saw light in the darkness of Calvary.  Jesus’ crucifixion was a two-fold icon.  Just as Jesus is truly human and truly divine, so for St. John, Jesus’ crucifixion is the icon of God’s love for him, and the icon of St. John’s own vocation as a beloved disciple.

The icon of the crucifixion reveals the measure of God’s love for man, and in this, reveals God’s measure for man’s love for God.  The two are one in Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary.  He calls us to enter that sacrifice at Holy Mass, so that we might make daily sacrifices through the strength of Jesus’ Eucharistic Sacrifice.

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Hosea 6:1-6  +  Luke 18:9-14
March 10, 2018

Then shall you be pleased with due sacrifices, burnt offerings and holocausts.

Psalm 51 is sometimes referred to as the “Miserere”, which is the first word of the psalm in Latin.  Psalm 51 is one of seven psalms known as the “Penitential Psalms”.  Not surprisingly, these seven psalms are especially interwoven through the Sacred Liturgy during the Season of Lent.  Some would consider Psalm 51 to be the best known of the seven.  Throughout the year, this psalm is prayed almost every Friday in the Church’s Lauds (Morning Prayer).

In Psalm 51, there are contrasts made between the exterior sacrifices of animals, and interior subjective sacrifice.  In verse 18, the Psalmist declares to God:  “you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.”  Some take these words—and similar ones elsewhere in Scripture—to mean that exterior sacrifices, such as those that Catholics practice during Lent or on Fridays throughout the year, are un-biblical.

But by the last verse of the psalm, the Psalmist sings to God that “Then shall you be pleased with due sacrifices, burnt offerings and holocausts.”  What accounts for the change in God’s consideration of exterior sacrifices?  The change which is the focus of Psalm 51 is the active purification of the individual, including the purification of the desires which motivate his sacrifices.  It’s only through grace that the Psalmist’s—and our—entreaty may come true:  “Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.”  When this comes true, we may and must offer fitting sacrifices of praise to God.

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Hosea 14:2-10  +  Mark 12:28-34
March 9, 2018

“There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The scribe’s insight, that “to love [the Lord] with all our heart, with all our thoughts and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves” are “worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice”… is worth a closer look, because this insight helps us understand what Jesus did for us on Mount Calvary.

First:  the idea that we are to love God completely had been memorialized centuries before Jesus, in the Shema.  But who is God?  This is the question that shook the Jews’ faith when Jesus declared “I AM”.  His words were blasphemy.  But revenge was had by nailing Jesus to the Cross, for they proved Jesus wrong, since God—as we all know—cannot die.

That we are to love our neighbor as ourselves was no new insight.  But who is our neighbor?  This is the question that shook the Jews’ faith when Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan.  But by crucifying Jesus, they made fairy tales of Jesus’ parables, since Jesus could not even save himself from death.

However, that these two insights together are “worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice” is a new insight.  Every member of the human race—except Jesus and Mary—is radically estranged from God not only by our sharing in the sin of Adam, but by our personal sins as well.  In the person of Jesus these two commandments become one, and in the Cross of Jesus Christ, we see the perfect Sacrifice.