[There are several options for which readings you will hear this weekend. This homily uses the Year B Gospel, but you may have heard the Year A Gospel of Lazarus.]
This particular Lent I’ve spent a lot of time with our school students and our PSR students. There’s the usual things like trying to be out to greet them when they get here, the school masses like for Ash Wednesday or the feast of St. Joseph, and interviews with the eighth graders to see if they are prepared for Confirmation, then the Confirmation Masses which had to be split across several days because our seating is limited. But this particular Lent I’ve also gotten to spend time with almost all of them in the sacrament of reconciliation, since with the pandemic I can’t invite the ten or so other priests I would usually have to come and help me with those. In all of these things, really, my mind keeps returning to a very simple message that I have been saying to them: our life as Christians means that we are supposed to imitate Christ. That’s been the message. For the little ones it’s simply, “be like Jesus”. For the older ones it’s “try to live the way that Christ models for us”. For the Confirmation Masses it was a whole homily about Christ promising us his Spirit, giving us his Spirit, and why – so that we could witness the Gospel by living his life in our life. So this has been the theme lately… imitate Christ.
At first glance the readings today probably make imitating Christ unattractive, or at least you are bracing yourself for a challenging homily. That’s because the readings today focus on Christ as obedient and suffering. We know as we draw close to the end of Lent and to the most sacred days of Holy Week that our reflections and our prayers are going to focus on the Cross. And we know that in his suffering and obedience there is something comforting and beautiful that touches our hearts and draws us into greater love for him and a greater understanding of how indescribable God’s love for us really is. That being said… while we look at that Cross with love and gratitude, we usually don’t want to imitate the obedience and suffering that it represents. We will if we have to and it’s clear that it’s needed and we don’t have other options… but generally we don’t look at that Cross and that crucifixion and excitedly say, “Yes! That is what I want my life to be!”
These words – obedience and suffering – on their own they are not good things. Evil men of power have often corrupted obedience to extend their control and unjust actions. If nothing else we have all experienced the helplessness of having to be obedient when we know that the person or institution with authority is flawed. And suffering is not something we ever really want, and in fact was not something that God wanted for us when he created us to live in a garden paradise.
To be good things, obedience and suffering need the right context. In the first reading the Lord said, “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be there God, and they shall be my people”. That type of obedience excites the heart with joy, because it is an obedience to the law that is already deep within our hearts and it draws us close to our Creator. It’s the excited joy of following someone you trust, someone who wants what is best for you and knows more than you. It is not always easy to distinguish what is truly God’s will versus what is the selfish will of a heart affected by the weakness of sin… but when we live out true obedience it gives us lasting joy and profound peace. And as much as we don’t want to suffer, we would all suffer for someone we love… for our children to have a better life or to prevent more suffering by others. Suffering in that sense becomes heroic, something that we would do even if not one single other person knew about the sacrifices we make.
My hope today is that over these next few weeks as you look at the Cross and as you meditate with the obedience and suffering of Christ that brings us salvation, that you see the context that makes those two things so loving and so wonderful. A non-believer would be confused by the Cross and find it horrible to look at, but we see with the eyes of faith. And hopefully, in the fullness of faith, we can imitate Christ even in his obedience and his suffering.
[Also, my blog website was giving me some difficulties again. Let’s hope the duct tape holds together until after Easter, when I’ll have time to switch to a new platform maybe. But don’t be startled if you eventually see some cosmetic changes.]
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.