March 19, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

We are invited to follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Whoever serves me must follow me and where I am, there also will my servant be” (Jn 12:26).

This weekend, we will observe the Fifth Sunday of Lent, which means that Lent 2021 is nearly over. In a little more than one week, we will begin the Easter Triduum, walking with Jesus on the Way of the Cross.

How can we assess our progress to date in this Lenten journey? Have we renewed ourselves spiritually through the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving? Have we grown closer to Christ through our reflections on the Word of God? Are we becoming more faithful in our missionary discipleship?

The Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent provide us with an opportunity to examine our progress as followers of Jesus. The examination of conscience that we are invited to make now that we are well into the season of Lent concerns the purity of our hearts.

As the prophet Jeremiah reports in the first reading (Jer 31:31-34), God has made a new covenant with Israel. “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts,” says the Lord. “All, from least to greatest, shall know me … for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:33, 34).

We acknowledge that God’s law is written on our hearts when we follow the promptings of an informed conscience, and when “doing the next right thing” has become second nature to us. This is when we recognize God’s will for us without hesitation or doubt, even (or especially) when what is being asked of us is painful or difficult to do.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (Jn 12:20-33) tells us that Jesus struggled with the demands placed on him by his Father. “I am troubled now,” Jesus says. “Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour”

(Jn 12:27). Clearly God’s law was written in Jesus’ heart. Regardless of the sacrifices it required, Jesus was committed to fulfilling his mission.

In the second reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Heb 5:7-9), we learn that when Jesus says, “I am troubled now,” he means that he is experiencing intense anguish. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “When Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb 5:7). Because Jesus was fully human, the prospect of enduring unimaginable humiliation, torture and death on a cross occasioned “loud cries and tears” (Heb 5:7). But he accepted his Father’s will because he recognized that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn 12:23). As a result, “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” (Heb 5:8-9).

All who obey God’s law, as Jesus did, receive the gift of eternal salvation. But the demands placed on Jesus’ followers are serious. “Whoever serves me must follow me,” Jesus says, “and where I am, there also will my servant be” (Jn 12:26).

Are we ready? Has our Lenten observance prepared us to walk with Jesus on the Way of the Cross? Or are we still hesitant to let go of our comfortable existence?

As if in response to our hesitation, St. John’s Gospel forcefully reminds us of one of the greatest truths of our Christian faith:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (Jn 12:24-25).

Unless we surrender as Jesus did, and unless we are willing to lose our egos, our possessions and our need to control our lives, we cannot inherit eternal life. We cannot know true freedom or joy as long as we cling to our own will. Unless our hearts are pure and our actions are truly selfless, we cannot follow Jesus.

During these remaining days of Lent, let us pray:

“A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me … Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me” (Ps 51: 12, 14).

May our Lenten observance prepare our hearts for the suffering, and the joy, that is promised us as faithful missionary disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. †

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