When we started Lent it would have seemed a longish season to many of us. Yet, here we are beginning the fifth Sunday and in one week we will celebrate Palm Sunday. Let us take stock. Now would be a good opportunity to ask ourselves have we made the effort, taken the season of Lent seriously and are determined to make important and necessary personal improvements as believers and as fellow human beings? Lent, for me, has a double incentive and both reward the person with a very special joy: satisfaction. First, it will lead to a better me, a holier me, a more peaceful and hopeful me. Second, I will be better able to serve God with a life less cluttered or even less fettered by extraneous elements which confuse me and slow me down spiritually. All this can come from a good Lent.
To be effective and help me to make necessary changes and adjustments, Lent requires honesty, discernment, openness to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, and the necessary courage and determination to make positive change happen. Even at this late stage, we can make positive forward movement. Like the Good Thief beside Jesus at the Crucifixion, if we mean what we say and display sincere sorrow and want to change, the Lord will gladly give us the grace of mercy and life. The important thing is that we change or at least begin the process. Even if all the season of Lent produces in us is a greater awareness of the personal spiritual areas that need sorting, it has been a good Lent and God will be pleased. In due course we can ask the grace of God to secure the changes discernment in this season has shown us.
The danger, of course, is that we will float though this season feeling we are in pretty good shape, if it isn’t broken why fix it? This is a sign we have lost a little sight of who were are. We must remember that we are baptised people. We are the Body of Christ, Temples of the Holy Spirit, beneficiaries of the Paschal Mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are adopted into the Life of the Trinity and God is our loving, eternal Father Who sustains our life every moment of the day. If the impossible happened and God no longer loved us, we would lose everything, we would no longer be. We are privileged people with a responsibility to lead others to God and to Heaven. This means a life constantly examined in order to better do our task from God.
Jesus wanted all people to have the opportunity of knowing God loves them. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the Cross to secure the opportunity of life to be offered by His Church indiscriminately to all who may stop to listen. The Lord relies on us to extend His invitation of love to all we meet. The holier and grace consistent we are the more credible our witness will be. Remember the sign outside an American Church: A Christian who isn’t a witness is an imposter. Authenticity will ring true; it may strike a chord in another person’s life at the stage they are at. If people see our faith has not affected us and leaves us indistinguishable from others formed by secular, material values, why should they change? We must live holy, caring, compassionate and merciful lives to flag up God’s love and the existence of His Kingdom. We get no advertising space in the billboards of the world, we are often ignored and seen as irrelevant by sections of the media. The Lord wants us to get His message across. This is a call to being the person/voice God wants you to be. We must be modelled on the Person of Jesus. He is our ideal expression of life. We know the Lord is pure love lived out as selfless inclusive service. We know the more like Jesus we become the more effective the service in His Kingdom we will render. We also know that the love of God is freely given and is lived out by us in compassion, sacrifice, concern, good example and witness. That which underpins all of these things is of course faith. Faith is more effective where there is a singular commitment to please God. What have our readings to say to us about this?
Our first and second readings teach about God’s covenant with us. A covenant is an agreement between two unequal parties: one is greater than the other. If the lesser party keeps the promises, that party will benefit/be blessed and protected by the greater party. If the weaker party is unfaithful to the agreement, then the greater party can withdraw the benefits/blessing and also the promised protection leaving the weaker party vulnerable. In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah explains how God will replace the old covenant of judgement with a covenant of forgiveness – progress indeed! This new and renewed covenant foretold by Jeremiah was fulfilled through Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection. In the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we are taught that it is by Jesus’ suffering and death, in obedience to His Father’s will, that Jesus established the New Covenant. We hear this in the words of consecration at Mass: Jesus is the “the new and everlasting Covenant”. In John’s Gospel today, we hear the metaphors: “sown wheat grain” and the “spent life”. John’s Gospel does not give us Jesus in emotional agony in the garden of Gethsemane like the other Gospels. Our passage today communicates the Lord’s pain at the prospect of leaving His friends and the imminent process of passion and death. The Gospel hints at the inner struggle of Jesus accepting the cup of suffering to inaugurate the new and everlasting Covenant. Yet, Jesus moves through this moment of deep distress to affirm His acceptance of the Father’s will accompanied by His desire to save us. Jesus accepts the cross as His ‘hour’ meaning the stepping stone to His passion, death, Resurrection and exaltation. Jesus also sees His ‘hour’ with a double effect: as the way of glorifying the Father and being glorified by the Father. In this way all people will be drawn into the saving action of God. Finally, the ‘lifting up’ of Jesus on the cross also embraces the lifting up of Jesus into Heavenly glory by His Resurrection and Ascension. This fills us with joy and hope as it is the assurance of our own exaltation and glorification if we accept our ‘hour’, our crosses in life.
This Gospel reminds us that, in order to be our Saviour, Jesus had to accept His passion and death. This decision was supported by the voice of His Father who had glorified and would continue to glorify, support and care for His Son as He will for us as we accept His Will. We know, as did Jesus, this is not the easy option. But we also know it is the best use of our life as we shall see when we get to Heaven. We will see how God’s will, though hard to see at the time, was the best way forward. If we don’t let go, we cling to the known, our comfort zone, our known pattern of faith and the limits we place on how far we are willing to go in prayer, service sacrifice and generosity. We must pray for the grace to allow ourselves to die gradually to what has become set, stale or ossified in our lives and allow the Holy Spirit in to shake things up a bit. The old self like the seed in the Gospel needs to give way. It has played its part. We must make possible new growth, building on the best that has gone before. When the seed lets go it releases its potential. Each of us may possess a particular talent that we do not use as much as we should. Maybe you are a good listener. All you need do is give a little of your precious time for someone who just needs to be acknowledged and heard. It costs so little but can mean so much.
As I review my Lent I find that the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the second Sunday has helped to hold things together. Jesus looks beyond His passion and death and is reassured by the glory and the victory that is beyond the pain and the reward for His life lived in service and love. It states powerfully to me it is all worth it. I feel assured: don’t worry, it will all turn out well in God’s hands. Our lives, like the Lord’s, will lead to joy in glory. As a little child, if I was in a strange place I would grasp my father or mother’s hand ever more tightly. Thankfully, I muddle through. Is it because I find myself grasping the Lord’s hand evermore firmly as the difficulties and periodic sadness of life press upon me; or is the Lord grasping me? I am sure it is both, thank God the Lord’s is the tighter and more secure grasp. As Jesus moves from today’s episode having passed through the fear and dread of His Passion and Death; maybe He is holding His Father’s reassuring hand a little more tightly.
Fr. Gerard X