Fifth Week of Lent

Let us Go and Die With Him

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A)
(Note: This Gospel is also optional for Years B & C with Scrutinies) 

So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”  John 11:16

What a great line!  The context is important to understand.  Thomas said this after Jesus told His Apostles that He was going up to Jerusalem because Lazarus, His friend, was ill and close to death.  In fact, as the story unfolds, Lazarus actually did die before Jesus arrived at his house.  Of course, we know the end of the story that Lazarus was raised up by Jesus.  But the Apostles tried to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem because they knew there were many who had been quite hostile toward Him and wanted to kill Him.  But Jesus decided to go anyway.  It was in this context that St. Thomas said to the others, “Let us also go and die with him.”  Again, what a great line!

It’s a great line because Thomas appeared to say this with a certain resolve to accept whatever was waiting for them in Jerusalem.  He appeared to know that Jesus was going to be met with resistance and persecution.  And he also appeared to be ready to face that persecution and death with Jesus.  

Of course Thomas is well known to be the doubter.  After Jesus’ death and Resurrection he refused to accept that the other Apostles actually saw Jesus.  But even though he is well known for his act of doubting, we should not miss the courage and resolve he had in that moment.  At that moment, he was willing to go with Jesus to face His persecution and death.  And he was even willing to face death himself.  Even though he ultimately fled when Jesus was arrested, it’s believed that he eventually went as a missionary to India where he did ultimately suffer martyrdom.

This passage should help us to reflect upon our own willingness to go forth with Jesus to face any persecution that may await us.  Being a Christian requires courage.  We will be different than others.  We will not fit in with the culture around us.  And when we refuse to conform to the day and age we live in, we will most likely suffer some form of persecution as a result.  Are you ready for that?  Are you willing to endure this?

We also must learn from St. Thomas that, even if we do fail, we can start again.  Thomas was willing, but then he fled at the sight of persecution.  He ended up doubting, but in the end he courageously lived out his conviction to go and die with Jesus.  It’s not so much how many times we fail; rather, it’s how we finish the race.  

Reflect, today, upon the resolve in the heart of St. Thomas and use it as a meditation upon your own resolve.  Do not worry if you fail in this resolve, you can always get up and try again.  Reflect also upon the final resolution St. Thomas made when he did die a martyr.  Make the choice to follow his example and you, too, will be counted among the saints in Heaven.

My resolute Lord, I desire to follow You wherever You lead.  Give me a firm resolve to walk in Your ways and to imitate the courage of St. Thomas.  When I fail, help me to get back up and resolve again.  I love You, dear Lord, help me to love You with my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Call to Die

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

“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.”  John 12:24

Death does not necessarily sound all that inviting to most people.  So, how should we look at death?

First of all, death, literally speaking, is a passing from this world to the next.  When our time comes in accord with the will of God, we should welcome it and anticipate our full immersion into the life of God.  

But this Scripture passage speaks of death on another level.  We should see ourselves represented by the grain of wheat that achieves its potential only by falling to the ground and dying.  In that natural act, it is planted in the fertile soil and grows, producing an abundance of good fruit.

How should we see ourselves represented in this natural action?  We do so by embracing death to self so that we can be planted in the fertile soil of the grace of God and produce an abundance of good fruit.

Dying to oneself means that we let go of all selfishness in life.  First, all intentional acts of selfishness must be let go, but then even unintended selfishness must be let go.  What is “unintended selfishness?”

Unintended selfishness is a way of referring to everything in life that you hold on to and cling to simply because you want it for yourself.  This could include even good things such as a loving relationship.  It’s not that we should do away with good things in life, such as loving relationships; rather, we must not cling to anything, even good things, for selfish motives.  Love, when it is authentic love inspired by God, always is detached and selfless, looking only toward the good of the other.  This is the most pure death to self that we can live.  When this level of love is lived, that of complete selfless detachment, God enters into our lives and into each particular situation of our lives bringing forth an abundance of good fruit.  This is a gift that is more powerful than anything we can do on our own, because it is the fruit of a total death to self, transformed by God into new life.

Reflect, today, upon your calling to die.  First, reflect upon the literal death from this world that you will one day experience.  Do not fear that moment; rather, see it as a glorious transition into the fullness of life.  Second, look for ways that you can die to yourself, here and now.  Identify practical and concrete ways that God is calling you to this form of death.  Know that, in this act, glorious gifts of new life await.

My sacrificial Lord, I give myself to You and Your holy will in a total and sacrificial way.  I choose to die to self so that You can bring forth new life from this act of selfless surrender.  Take me, dear Lord, and do with me as You will.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Wisdom that Comes with Age

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year C)
(Note: When the readings from Year A are used for this Sunday, the following Gospel may be used on Monday)

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.  John 8:7–9

This passage comes from the story of the woman caught in adultery when she is dragged before Jesus to see if He would support her stoning.  His response is perfect and, in the end, she is left alone to encounter the tender mercy of Jesus.

But there is a line in this passage that is easily overlooked.  It is the line that states, “…beginning with the elders.”  This reveals an interesting dynamic within human communities.  Generally speaking, those who are younger tend to lack the wisdom and experience that comes with age.  Though the young may find it hard to admit, those who have lived a long life have a unique and broad picture of life.  This enables them to be far more prudent in their decisions and judgments, especially when it comes to the more intense situations in life.

In this story, the woman is brought before Jesus with a harsh judgment.  Emotions are high and these emotions clearly cloud the rational thinking of those who are ready to stone her.  Jesus cuts through this irrationality by a profound statement.  “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Perhaps, at first, those who were younger or more emotional did not allow the words of Jesus to sink in.  They probably stood there with stones in hand waiting to start throwing.  But then the elders began to walk away.  This is age and wisdom at work.  They were less controlled by the emotion of the situation and were immediately aware of the wisdom of the words spoken by our Lord.  As a result, the others followed.

Reflect, today, upon the wisdom that comes with age.  If you are older, reflect upon your responsibility to help guide the younger generation with clarity, firmness and love.  If you are younger, do not neglect to rely upon the wisdom of the older generation.  Though age is not a perfect guarantee of wisdom, it may be a far more significant factor than you realize.  Be open to your elders, show them respect, and learn from the experiences they have had in life.

Prayer for the young: Lord, give me a true respect for my elders.  I thank you for their wisdom stemming from the many experiences they have had in life.  May I be open to their counsel and be guided by their gentle hand.

Prayer for the elder: Lord, I thank You for my life and for the many experiences I have had.  I thank You for teaching me through my hardships and struggles, and I thank You for the joys and loves that I have encountered in life.  Continue to pour forth Your wisdom upon me so that I may help guide Your children.  May I always seek to set a good example and lead them according to Your Heart.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The “Hour” of Jesus

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.  John 8:20

This short line comes at the end of today’s Gospel after Jesus, once again, directly confronted the Pharisees.  He confronts them, in this situation, by speaking the truth of His union with the Father and the power and authority He had on account of this union.  The Pharisees attempt to confront and challenge Him but He speaks the truth right back to them in clear language.  Their response to Jesus’ words is not recorded but it’s clear that they do not know what to say and it’s clear that they remain skeptical and desirous of trapping Jesus.

This passage quoted above reveals to us the profound truth that neither the malice of the Pharisees nor that of anyone else could ultimately triumph since Jesus’ “hour had not yet come.”  What does this mean?  Here are two truths we should take from this line.

First, malice cannot overpower the will of God.  Since God the Father did not permit Jesus’ arrest at that time, those with evil intentions were powerless to do so.  Jesus was able to speak clearly and openly, challenging the Pharisees with the truth, and they could do nothing to stop it.  Though His words stung them to the heart, they could do no more than listen and grow in anger and obstinacy toward our Lord.  But they could not harm Him.  This shows that God is ultimately in control of even the malice of others and will only allow malice to appear to triumph when He sees some greater purpose for allowing such a thing to happen.  

Secondly, it reveals that there is a coming “hour” when Jesus will be handed over to sinful men.  But in John’s Gospel, this hour is not an hour of shame and disgrace for Jesus; rather, it is an hour of total triumph over sin and death.  From a worldly perspective we know that His hour of arrest, persecution and Crucifixion takes on the public appearance of horror and disgrace for Jesus.  It appears as if He lost and the Pharisees won.  But from the perspective of God, which is the only true perspective, Jesus triumphs gloriously.  In fact, the Father ultimately permits the malice of the Pharisees to be the instrument of Jesus’ glorification through the sufferings He endured in this hour.  From the divine perspective, His hour does not become one of defeat; rather, it becomes one of ultimate victory.

Reflect, today, upon the coming hour of Jesus.  Soon we will enter into the glories of Holy Week and ponder, once again, that the Father did permit Jesus to enter into the most cruel suffering and death imaginable.  We will be confronted with the apparent scandal of His arrest and the illusion of the victory of the malicious leaders of the day.  But their victory is only an illusion since the permissive will of the Father had other intentions.  Begin preparing for this annual celebration of the hour of Jesus and enter into it with the utmost confidence and faith.

My glorious Lord, I glorify You for Your wisdom and power and rejoice in the perfect will of the Father in Heaven.  The Father sent You on a mission of redemption and salvation and permitted You to ultimately suffer and die.  But through this suffering He brought final victory over death and all evil.  Give me faith to know and believe this truth with my whole heart.  Bless this coming Holy Week, dear Lord, and permit me to rejoice in Your glorious victory.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Abiding Presence of God

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

“The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.”  John 8:29

Most young children, if left at home all alone, would react with fear. They need to know that their parents are around. The idea of being somewhere all by themselves is frightening. It would be just as frightening for a child to get lost in a store or another public place. They need the security that comes with a parent being near.

The same is true in the spiritual life. Interiorly, if we sense we are all alone we may react with fear. To feel as though there is an interior abandonment from God is a frightening thought. But on the contrary, when we sense that God is very present and alive within us, we are greatly strengthened to face life with courage and joy.

This was Jesus’ experience in the passage above in which He speaks much about His relationship with the Father. The Father is the One who sent Jesus into the world for His mission and Jesus acknowledges that the Father will not leave Him alone.  Jesus says this, knows it and experiences the blessing of that relationship in His human and divine Heart. 

The same can be said of each one of us. First, we must come to realize that the Father has sent us. We each have a mission in life. Do you realize that? Do you realize that you have a very specific mission and calling from God? Yes, it may entail very ordinary parts of life such as chores around the house, the daily grind of work, the building up of your family relationships, etc. Our daily lives are filled with ordinary activities that make up the will of God.

It may be possible that you are already fully immersed in the will of God for your life.  But it is also possible that God wants more from you.  He has a plan for you and it’s a mission that He has not entrusted to another. It may require that you step out in faith, be courageous, move out of your comfort zone, or face some fear. But whatever the case may be, God has a mission for you.

The comforting news is that God does not just send us, He also remains with us. He has not left us alone to fulfill the mission He has entrusted to us. He has promised His continued help in a very central way.

Reflect, today, about the mission that Jesus was given: the mission to give His life in a sacrificial way. Also reflect upon how God wants you to live out this same mission with Christ of sacrificial love and self-giving. You may already be living it wholeheartedly, or you may need some new direction.  Say “Yes” to it with courage and confidence and God will walk with you every step of the way.

My sacrificial Lord, I say “Yes” to the perfect plan you have for my life. Whatever it may be I accept without hesitation, dear Lord.  I know that You are always with me and that I am never alone. Jesus, I trust in You.

Freedom From Sin

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains.  So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.”  John 8:34–36

Jesus wants to set you free, but do you want to be set free?  On an intellectual level this should be an easy question to answer.  Of course you want your freedom!  Who wouldn’t?  But on a practical level this question is harder to answer.  Practically speaking, many people are very comfortable living in sin.  Sin offers a deceptive satisfaction that can be hard to turn away from.  Sin can make you “feel” good in the moment, even though the long-term effects are that it strips your freedom and joy.  But so often that momentary “satisfaction” is enough for many people to keep coming back.

So what about you?  Do you want to be free so as to live as a son or daughter of the Most High God?  If you answer “Yes” then be prepared for this to be painful, but in a delightful way.  Overcoming sin requires purification.  The process of “letting go” of sin requires true sacrifice and commitment.  It requires you to turn to the Lord in absolute trust and abandon.  In doing so, you experience a sort of death to yourself, to your passions and to your own selfish will.  This hurts, at least on the level of your fallen human nature.  But it’s like a surgery that has the goal of removing cancer or some infection.  The surgery itself may hurt, but it’s the only way to be freed of the malady you have.  The Son is the Divine Surgeon and the way He sets you free is through His own suffering and death.  Jesus’ Crucifixion and death brought life into the world.  His death destroyed the disease of sin, and our willing acceptance of the remedy of His death means we must let Him destroy the disease of sin within us through His death.  It must be “cut out” so to speak and removed by our Lord.  

Lent is a time, more than any, in which you must honestly focus on your sin for the reason of identifying those things that keep you bound, so that you can invite the Divine Physician to enter your wounds and heal you.  Do not let Lent go by without honestly examining your conscience thoroughly, and repenting of your sins with all your heart.  The Lord wants you to be free!  Desire it yourself and enter the process of purification so that you will be relieved of your heavy burdens.

Reflect, today, upon your attitude toward your own personal sins.  First, can you humbly admit to your sin?  Don’t rationalize them away or blame another.  Face them and accept them as your own.  Second, confess your sins.  Reflect upon your attitude toward the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This is the Sacrament of freedom.  It is so very easy.  Just go in, admit all your sins, express sorrow and be set free.  If you find this difficult then you are trusting your own feelings of fear rather than the truth.  Third, rejoice in the freedom that the Son of God offers you.  It’s a gift beyond anything we deserve.  Reflect on these three things today and for the rest of Lent, and your Easter will be one of true thanksgiving!

Lord, I do desire to be set free from all sin so that I may live in the freedom of being Your child.  Help me, dear Lord, to face my sin with honesty and openness.  Give me the courage I need to admit my sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that I may rejoice in all that You have bestowed upon me through Your suffering and death.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Power of Destructive Speech

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Jesus said to the Jews: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” So the Jews said to him, “Now we are sure that you are possessed.”  John 8:51–52

It’s hard to imagine anything worse that could be said about Jesus.  Did they really think He was possessed by the evil one?  It appears so.  What a sad and bizarre thing to say about the Son of God.  Here is God Himself, in the person of Jesus, offering a promise of eternal life.  He reveals the sacred Truth that obedience to His Word is the pathway to eternal happiness and that everyone needs to know this Truth and live it.  Jesus speaks this freely and openly, but the response from some hearing this message is deeply disappointing, slanderous and malicious.

It’s hard to know what was going on in their minds to cause them to say such a thing.  Perhaps they were jealous of Jesus, or perhaps they were just seriously confused.  Whatever the case may be, they spoke something that was seriously damaging.  

The damage of such a statement was not so much toward Jesus; rather, it was damaging to themselves as well as to those around Him.  Jesus could personally handle whatever was spoken about Him, but others could not.  It is important to understand that our own words can do great damage to ourselves and to others.

First of all, their words did damage to themselves.  By speaking such an erroneous statement publicly, they start down the path of obstinacy.  It takes great humility to retract such a statement in the future.  So it is with us.  When we verbalize something that is damaging toward another, it’s hard to retract it.  It’s hard to later apologize and mend the wound we have caused.  The damage is primarily done to our own heart in that it’s hard to let go of our error and humbly move forward.  But this must be done if we want to undo the damage.  

Secondly, this comment also did damage to those who were listening.  Some may have rejected this malicious statement but others may have pondered it and started to wonder if in fact Jesus was possessed.  Thus, seeds of doubt were sown.  We must all realize that our words affect others and we must strive to speak them with the utmost care and charity.

Reflect, today, upon your own speech.  Are there things you have spoken to others that you now realize were erroneous or misleading?  If so, have you sought to undo the damage by retracting your words and apologizing?  Reflect, also, upon the fact that it’s easy to be drawn into the malicious conversation of others.  Have you allowed yourself to be influenced by such conversations?  If so, resolve to silence your ears to such errors and look for ways to speak the truth.

Lord of all Truth, give me the grace of speaking holy words that always give You glory and reflect the eternal Truths alive in Your Heart.  Help me to also be aware of the lies all around me in this world of sin.  May Your Heart filter out the errors and allow only the seeds of Truth to be planted in my own mind and heart.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Crucifixion Draws Near

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?”  John 10:31–32

As we draw closer to Holy Week, and to Good Friday, we begin to see that hatred was growing toward Jesus.  Just as we saw in yesterday’s reflection, this makes no sense.  To hate Jesus and to desire to stone Him to death is an act of the greatest irrationality.  But this is what happened.  Little by little, those who were against Jesus grew in boldness until that ultimate day came when He laid down His life for us and willingly embraced His death.

Over the next two weeks it’s good to face this irrationality and persecution head on.  It’s good to see the hatred of so many and to name it for what it is.  No, it’s not a pleasant thought, but it is reality.  It’s the world we live in.  And it’s a reality we will all face in our lives.

When confronting evil and persecution, we should do so as Jesus did.  He faced it without fear.  He faced it with the truth and never accepted the lies and calumny that so many threw at Him.  

The fact of the matter is that the closer we grow toward God, the greater the persecution and hatred we will encounter.  Again, this may not make sense to us.  It’s easy to think that if we are close to God and strive for holiness everyone will love and praise us.  But it wasn’t that way for Jesus and it will not be that way for us either. 

One key to holiness is that in the midst of persecution, suffering, hardship and sorrow, we stand firm in the truth.  It’s always tempting to think that we must be doing something wrong when things do not go our way.  It’s easy to be confused by the lies and calumny that the world throws at us when we try to stand for goodness and the truth.  One thing God wants of us, in the midst of our own crosses, is to purify our faith and resolve to stand firm in His Word and Truth.  

When we face some cross or some persecution it can be like getting hit in the head.  We may feel like we are in a daze and can give into panic and fear.  But these are the times, more than any other, when we need to stand strong.  We need to remain humble but deeply convicted about all that God has said and revealed to us.  This deepens our ability to trust God in all things.  It’s easy to say we trust God when life is easy, it’s hard to trust Him when the cross we face is quite heavy.  

Reflect, today, upon the fact that no matter what your cross may be, it is a gift from God in that He is desiring to strengthen you for some greater purpose.  As Saint John Paul the Great said over and over during his pontificate, “Do not be afraid!”  Face your fears and let God transform you in the midst of them.  If you do so, you will discover that your greatest struggles in life actually turn out to be your greatest blessings.

My courageous Lord, as we draw near to the commemoration of Your own suffering and death, help me to unite my crosses to Yours.  Help me to see in my daily struggle Your presence and strength.  Help me to see the purpose you have for me in the midst of these challenges.  Jesus, I trust in You.

One Man Should Die

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”  John 11:49–50

As in the previous day’s reflection, it’s important for us to start putting our focus on the suffering and death of Jesus.  Holy Week begins this Sunday, so this is the time of year when God wants us to look intently at His Cross.  It’s important to look at it from all angles,  to try to understand what was going on, what Jesus was experiencing, what the disciples were experiencing and even what the Pharisees and high priests were experiencing.

In today’s Gospel quoted above, we see the thinking of Caiaphas, the high priest.  His words are interesting in that they are both sad and prophetic at the same time.  He, along with the other chief priests and the Pharisees, were beginning to plan and plot Jesus’ death.  But what’s insightful is the apparent motivation of Caiaphas and the others. 

Jesus was gaining popularity and they were afraid that this popularity would stir things up with the Romans.  They were also jealous that Jesus had attracted so many.  So Caiaphas offers the twisted logic that it’s better that one man die rather than all of the people.  In other words, he appeared to think that because Jesus was becoming so popular, and the people were listening to Jesus more than they were to the chief priests and Pharisees, that it was better to eliminate the “problem” so that things could return to the way they were.  

This reveals the fact that the Pharisees were more concerned about themselves and their status than they were about the Truth.  It’s amazing that one of their criticisms of Jesus was that He was doing too many signs and wonders.  How strange.  If the chief priests and Pharisees were interested in the Truth, they would have also seen the glory and divine authority of Jesus and come to believe in Him and follow Him.  But they couldn’t swallow their pride and accept the call to follow someone other than themselves.  They couldn’t let go of their position of authority.

We often see this same experience in our daily lives.  We want to be the center of attention.  And so often when we see someone else do well or receive praise we can get jealous.  And our jealousy can often turn into a form of envy.  Envy means we are angered and saddened by the goodness of another.  We can brew over it and want to see them fail.

The ideal is to be one of those faithful followers of Jesus.  This is especially important to ponder this coming week as you witness the hostility grow toward our Lord.  What would you do if you were there?  Would you continue to stand with Jesus despite the attacks of others?  As the hostility toward Jesus grew, would you back away from Him or grow closer to Him in love and commitment?

Reflect, today, upon the coming commemoration of the persecution of our Lord.  Let your mind begin to ponder the many reactions and experiences people had that first Holy Week.  Put yourself in their shoes and try to live it with Jesus.  The goal is to find ourselves there at the foot of the Cross with Him on Good Friday with love and courage, standing by Him and loving Him every step of the way.

My persecuted Lord, may I follow You this coming Holy Week.  May I have the love I need to love You even in Your rejection and pain.  Help me to shed all envy and selfishness and to see You especially in the sufferings of others and in their goodness.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Holy Week

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