5th. Sunday of Lent (B)
The whole purpose of Our Blessed Lord’s life and death upon earth can be summed up in the words of His prayer:
Father, glorify Your name!
In today’s Gospel account He was near the end of His life, He had performed many striking miracles, provoked much attention throughout the whole country, and healed countless sick and possessed persons (John 15: 24):
If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have so sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.
Nevertheless, because of the refusal of official Judaism and most of the people to repent He thirsted to do still more:
Father, glorify Your name!
And now, He realized that the opportunity for Him to finally slake His thirst was at hand, for the climax of His life as God-made-man for God’s glory and man’s salvation was imminent; moreover, He had come to appreciate that it’s fulfilment would not be attained by His doing, so much as by His suffering – allowing – His Father to bring to fulfilment in Him and through Him that for which He had originally sent Him. And to that end the devil himself would be permitted, in his overweening pride, to bring about his own downfall by doing to Jesus -- Who now appeared to be at His weakest -- what he had long desired to do since having being humiliated in their desert contest at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The renewal of that contest would be the decisive moment when the ignorance and hatred of sin would be cast out, and the beauty and truth of the Kingdom of God ushered in as the ruling power for the future formation, development, and fulfilment of a new People of God throughout the whole world; a people called to embrace a transformation of life, from that well-known earthly life inexorably enmeshed in sin, into the freedom of the children of God, a heavenly and eternal life to be bestowed upon all believers in Jesus as Son of God and only Saviour of mankind:
Now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from this earth, I shall draw all men to Myself.
When those around Jesus heard the voice from heaven proclaiming that the Father in heaven was about to be supremely glorified through the death of Jesus they were divided in their opinions, some were humbled by the mystery and said, ‘It was an angel speaking to Him’, while others -- probably the majority -- shrugged off what they could not immediately understand and said, ‘It was a clap of thunder!’ A like division still arises today, when Christian, even Catholic, people, are faced with personal suffering.
For there are certain truths in life, People of God, which can only be realized by living them. The intellect alone does not, in the case of such truths, give us a satisfactory understanding and most certainly cannot give us an adequate appreciation of them. For example, authorities in free societies try to carefully avoid making martyrs of opposing factions or individuals; somehow an ordinary course of punishment seems to strengthen, focus, such opposition, not destroy it. Now such truths are especially prominent in matters of religion. Our Blessed Lord Himself said earlier in St. John’s Gospel (7:17):
If any man’s will is to do God’s will, he shall know whether My teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on My own authority.
In other words, we can only truly recognize God’s will for us by our acting in conformity with His known and generally proclaimed will. That is, we can only understand, appreciate, Divine Truth by humbly accepting It and trying to live It; such Truth cannot be sectioned off from our daily living and then, so to speak, digested on a pick-and-choose basis by some pseudo-specialist course of intellectual studies. Divine truth, spiritual truth, can only be gradually assimilated into the whole of our self by being humbly received, deeply loved, and sincerely obeyed as an integral and indeed decisive aspect of our ongoing life.
Of all the Christian truths which can only be understood by living them, this is perhaps the supreme example: that the Father’s name is glorified, that Jesus Himself is glorified, by Jesus’ death on the Cross.
As a result of that truth, Jesus’ subsequent words:
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life, (John 12:25)
which seem apparently contradictory and meaningless, in reality, are spiritually logical and redolent with divine wisdom, because:
Whoever serves (Jesus) must follow (Him). (12:26)
Of course, the word ‘hate’ is not to be understood literally, we can’t hate our life in this world literally, any more than we can hate our father and mother, brother and sister as we read in one of Our Lord’s sayings; it is a figure of speech, a way of speaking current in Our Lord’s time in Palestine, meaning that, under certain conditions, we must be prepared to regard our life in this world, our love for father, mother, brothers and sisters, children and possessions, reputation and respect, as of secondary importance. When, that is, their consideration would conflict with the absolute demands of the Supreme Good: God and eternal life.
This doctrine that suffering, relatively understood, humbly accepted, and fully embraced in faith, can be the gateway to a higher and better life, is one of the great lights and blessings of Christianity, and I can well remember the sense of purpose and worthwhileness which it gave to much of my life when I myself became a convert to the Catholic faith as a young man of 22.
It is, however, a light and a blessing we must cherish by putting it into practice, making it rule our attitude to the ever-recurring difficulties, sorrows and problems we come across in our experience of daily living.
People of God, do not think you have done anything for God if you have not suffered for Him, with Jesus Who, having spent his whole lifer in continuous prayer and praise, obedience and preaching, general healings and striking miracles, nevertheless, still felt a most urgent need to glorify His Father yet more; and that, He now realized, could only come about by His suffering. For He had always used His earthly body to the full for His Father’s glory, and now He could only sate His burning thirst to glorify His Father still more by embracing bodily suffering, that is, by offering His Body as Israel’s ultimate sacrifice to God for the fulfilment of her covenant with God and for the salvation of all mankind, as was intended by God when He originally ‘covenanted’ Israel.
We Catholics need to be convinced of this, that God’s offer of suffering on earth to His servants can, in fact, be His loving offer of life, deeper, richer, yes, happier and more fulfilling life, if that suffering is embraced in faith.
Dear People of God, when grief, anxiety, pain, come your way, try to recall what our Faith teaches us: that in God alone is our fulness of life and being. Because He made us out of nothing He alone knows us entirely through and through, and because He made us for Himself, He alone loves us for what we most truly are. With such an awareness, in times of trial, short prayers – deeply intended -- are most fitting: ‘My God, You are my joy; You are my peace, my love, my hope, my strength, my trust.’
And when finished, don’t look for results from Him, but put your own words into practice, put yourself at peace and trust Him; and then, above all, THANK HIM.
That attitude well befits a true disciple of Jesus Who, when His own agony was beginning, took His suffering to His Father in prayer; and, indeed, it was by His persevering in such loving obedience and total trust, that what had long been lost by the old Adam in the Garden of Eden, was redeemed – as a treasure soon to be yet more gloriously embellished -- by the New Adam in the Garden of Gethsemane. As we heard in our second reading:
Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when He was made perfect He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.
Therefore, surely, we His disciples should endeavour to follow in His steps. The greatest opportunity that can come our way is the moment when suffering comes -- unasked for, unsought, unprovoked – into our lives; the moment when it is no longer we ourselves who are acting, devising, seeking, to directly promote God’s glory (as we see it), but rather when God Himself is, as it were, knocking at the door of our will for permission to Himself glorify His own name in us and through us by means of the suffering He offers to share with us.
Jesus did not ask to understand His Cross, but He prayed most earnestly that He might have strength to embrace it. We, for our part, cannot understand our crosses, but let us gratefully follow Our Blessed Lord’s example in His prayer, and in His YES to His Father and death to Himself.