Fifth Sunday in Lent

Homilies are never the creative act of one person.  Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.

God bless you.

Father Shawn

When the Greek-speaking visitors mentioned in today’s gospel hear about Jesus, they give us one of the most beautiful, most powerful yet simplest prayers in the whole Bible. They say to Philip; “We wish to see Jesus.”  It is the deepest desire of all believing hearts.

However, when Jesus hears this, he responds with a long explanation of his hour.  It seems that he denies their request.  But his last statement shows that he will grant it:  “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  It is in his crucifixion that all will “see him.”  It is in his crucifixion that he reveals himself to everyone.  On the cross we see the heart of God.  On the cross we see a heart blazing with so much love that it is willing to die for our sake, to suffer unspeakable pain and humiliation in order to reopen for us the gates of heaven.

The crucifixion is the revelation of the heart of God.

If we want to “see Christ,” to see and know God, we have only to behold him dying on the cross in order to give us true life.

We are so fortunate here in our wonderful cathedral to have such a beautiful depiction of the Crucifixion with Our Lady, St. Mary Magdalene and St. John at the foot of the Cross.  As we begin Holy Week next Sunday take some time to go there and contemplate the depiction of our God’s love for us.

There, on the Cross, paradoxically, Christ is most attractive to us – and we should always remember that we are no less attractive to him when we bend under the weight of our own crosses and weaknesses.

As we have been praying the Stations of the Cross throughout Lent each time I am deeply moved by Clarence Enzler’s meditation at the sixth station where Veronica wipes the faith of Jesus.  In that meditation, first Christ speaks to us saying:  Can you be brave enough, my other self, to wipe my bloody face?  Where is my face, you ask?  At home whenever eyes fill up with tears, at work when tensions rise, on playgrounds, in the slums, the courts, the hospitals, the jails – wherever suffering exists — my face is there.  And there I look for you to wipe away my blood and tears.

And we reply:  Lord, what you ask is hard.  It calls for courage and self-sacrifice, and I am weak.  Please, give me strength.  Don’t let me run away because of fear.  Lord, live in me and act in me and love in me.  And not in me alone – in all of us – so that we may reveal no more your bloody but your glorious face on earth.”  (Everyone’s way of the cross by Clarence Enzler, Ave Maria Press, 1970)

To be a Christian is to be where Christ is. Christ is amidst those in need.   Holy Week begins next Sunday with Palm Sunday.  Throughout Holy week we contemplate Christ pouring out his life for others on the cross, giving himself for the good of others through self-forgetful love.  On the cross we see Love.  Christian Love is self-giving:  “No greater love can man have than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  And Jesus calls us to love: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)   Christian lives must bear the sign of the cross – of self-giving, of self-sacrifice.  Followers of Christ should expect crosses, expect difficulties, and expect persecution.  Jesus himself said “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too.” (John 15:20)  Similarly, from the cross, it is as though he says to us, “if they crucified me they will crucify you.”

In response to the Greeks desire to see Jesus he speaks the parable: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)  Then he goes on to state what Pope Benedict called “the fundamental law of existence”: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25)  Pope Benedict,  in the Palm Sunday homily in 2009 explains that “the one who wants to have his life for himself, living only for himself, keeping everything to himself and exploiting all its possibilities – is actually the one who loses his life.  Life becomes boring and empty.”  Pope Benedict went on:  “Only by self-abandonment, only by the disinterested gift of the “I” in favour of the “you”, only in the “yes” to the greater life, the life of God, does our life also become great. Thus this fundamental principle established by the Lord is ultimately identical to the principle of love. Love, in fact, means letting go of oneself, giving oneself, not wanting to possess oneself, but becoming free from oneself.  This principle of love, which defines man’s path, is identical to the mystery of the cross, to the mystery of death and resurrection that we encounter in Christ.”  Pope Benedict said this great “yes” to self-sacrifice must be renewed every day in the situations of daily life when we have to abandon our “I” over and over again in the constant re-giving of self.  He concluded “There is no such thing as a successful life without sacrifice.” (Pope Benedict: Palm Sunday, April 05, 2009)

Last weekend I was on the Cursillo retreat with several men of the parish and others around the Archdiocese… It was a very profound, some described as a life changing experience.  The leader of the retreat told a story that profoundly resonates with our readings tonight.

There was a group of young skiers who flew out to Whistler for Reading Week.  Late one afternoon, still close to the top of the mountain making their final descent, a storm came up very quickly and they had to take shelter part way down the hill.  As the last of their group arrived one young fellow noticed that his girlfriend was not among them and as it was getting dark he bravely struck out to search for her.  After some time in the now blizzard he found she had gone of the trail, fallen, struck her head and was unconscious.  Not knowing how he could get the two of them safely back he  managed to lift  and with great difficulty bring her back to the cabin the rest had taken shelter in.  When he arrived he told the others the difficulty and the risk of his own life he had taken.

They had similar reactions to the characters who populate the biblical stories…A) some applauded him admiring his courage.  B) some jeered him for being so full of himself and bragging.  The young lady who was slowly regaining consciousness, hearing all of this marvelled:  “All this for me?”

“All this for me?” was my immediate thought the first time I saw that great movie The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson. As the scourging of Christ at the pillar took place, in its brutal reality, I couldn’t help but think “All this for me?”

Imagine those standing at the foot of the Cross that first Good Friday…..hearing the jeers of the non-believers…imagine them standing there and thinking seeing the revelation of God’s heart unfolding before them in Jesus crucified…and thinking… All this for me?  Is my soul really worth this much?  Not only does a resounding  yes come from the cross,..Yes,  All this for you and yes, each of our souls is worth that much…but as His Disciples we are called, in imitation of him,  to give all for others.  Christian Discipleship is costly.  It always involves the Cross.  It always involves self-sacrificial love for the sake of the other.

In Holy Week we stand at the foot of the Cross dwelling in the mystery of that question: “All this for me?” “Is my soul really worth this much?”  In Holy Week we stand in the mystery of the self-sacrificial response the Cross demands in each of our own lives.