The Fifth Sunday of Lent [C]
Isaiah 43:16-21 + Philippians 3:8-14 + John 8:1-11
March 13, 2016
“It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity….”
Lent focuses our attention on human sin, but always against the backdrop of divine mercy. Never think about your sins without reflecting on God’s merciful love for you. At the same time, never think of God’s love without remembering the depths to which Jesus sank to pour that love into your heart.
It’s in light of this two-fold perspective—human sin and divine mercy—that we listen to Saint Paul today. In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul preaches to the Philippians about several stark contrasts: loss and gain; suffering and power; death and resurrection.
In our ordinary lives, we tend only to think of morality in terms of good and evil. That is a foundational distinction: to do the good and to reject the evil. If we don’t accept in our minds this most basic moral distinction, and shape our choices accordingly, we have little hope of reaching Heaven. On the other hand, that most basic moral distinction between good and evil is a foundation. On top of that foundation we as Christians are meant to build. St. Paul gives us tools to build our moral lives towards Heaven, or as he puts it, “to continue [our] pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”
In his Letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul makes a sharp contrast when he explains to them: “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He continues with an even starker contrast: “For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things, and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…” “Rubbish” and “Christ”: that’s the contrast St. Paul sets down for your meditation.
Saint Paul’s challenge is to build on the foundation of doing good and rejecting evil. The challenge in rising to a higher level of moral growth is to be single-hearted in our pursuit of God. To be “single-hearted” is—in the words of Jesus’ beatitudes—to be “pure of heart”. Of course, some might assume that Jesus’ statement “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” [Mt 5:8] is referring to sexual purity. In fact, Jesus is saying not only that, but much more as well.
When gold is tried in fire, impurities are burned away. The gold becomes more pure, which is to say that it becomes more “gold-like”, which is to say that it becomes more itself. It’s the same with an individual human person, such as yourself. Or in the language of the First of the Ten Commandments, when you purify your heart of “strange gods” (in some translations, “alien gods”), your heart becomes more pure. Your heart becomes more “human-like”, which is to say that you become more who God created you to be. It’s as simple as Saint Augustine’s famous confession to God: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising You, because You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”
Father Hoisington is Chaplain for the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Wichita.