The Call to Die
The 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 purest 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.
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.
Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
This is a powerful line spoken by Jesus. The judgmental and condemning Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had apparently been caught “in the very act of committing adultery.” Was she a sinner? Yes, indeed she was. But this story is not so much about whether or not she was a sinner. It was about the attitude Jesus had toward sinners as compared to that held by the self-righteous, judgmental and condemning Pharisees.
First of all, let’s look at this woman. She was humiliated. She had committed sin, was caught, and was publicly presented to all as a sinner. How did she react? She didn’t resist. She didn’t remain in denial. She didn’t get angry. She didn’t fight back. Instead, she stood there humiliated, awaiting her punishment with a sorrowful heart.
Humiliation over one’s sins is a powerful experience that has the potential to bring forth true repentance. When we encounter someone who has sinned in a manifest way and is humiliated over their sin, we must treat them with compassion. Why? Because the dignity of the person always supersedes their sin. Every person is made in the image and likeness of God, and every person deserves our compassion. If one is obstinate and refuses to see their sin (such as in the case of the Pharisees), then an act of holy rebuke is necessary to help them repent. But when one experiences sorrow and, in this case, the added experience of humiliation, then they are ready for compassion.
By stating “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus is not justifying her sin. Rather, He’s making it clear that no one holds the right of condemnation. No one. Not even the religious leaders. This is a hard teaching to live for many in our world today. It is commonplace for the headlines in the media to almost compulsively present us with the most sensational sins of others. We are constantly being tempted to be outraged at what this or that person has done. We easily shake our heads, condemn them and treat them as if they were dirt. In fact, it seems that many people today see it as their duty to act as the “watchdogs” against every sin they can dig up on others.
Reflect, today, upon whether you are more like the Pharisees or Jesus. Would you have stood there in the crowd wanting this humiliated woman to be stoned? How about today? When you hear about the manifest sins of others, do you find yourself to be condemning of them? Or do you hope that mercy is shown to them? Seek to imitate the compassionate heart of our divine Lord; and when your time of judgment comes, you also will be shown an abundance of compassion.
My merciful Lord, You see past our sin and look to the heart. Your love is infinite and awe-inspiring. I thank You for the compassion You have shown to me, and I pray that I may always imitate that same compassion to every sinner all around me. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Language of Jesus
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him. John 8:30
Jesus had been teaching in veiled but deeply profound ways about Who He was. In prior passages, He referred to Himself as the “bread of life,” the “living water,” the “light of the world,” and He even took upon Himself the ancient title of God “I AM.” Furthermore, He continually identified Himself with the Father in Heaven as His Father with Whom He was perfectly united and by Whom He was sent into the world to do His will. For example, just prior to the line above, Jesus states clearly, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me” (John 8:28). And it was because of this that many came to believe in Him. But why?
As John’s Gospel continues, Jesus’ teaching remains mysterious, deep and veiled. After Jesus speaks profound truths about Who He is, some listeners come to believe in Him, while others become hostile to Him. What is the difference between those who come to believe and those who ultimately kill Jesus? The simple answer is faith. Both those who came to believe in Jesus and those who orchestrated and supported His murder heard the same teaching of Jesus. Yet their reactions were so very different.
The same is true for us today. Just like those who heard these teachings for the first time from Jesus’ own lips, we also are presented with the same teaching. We are given the same opportunity to listen to His words and either receive them with faith or reject them or be indifferent. Are you one of the many who came to believe in Jesus because of these words?
Reading these veiled, mysterious and deep teachings of Jesus as they are presented in the Gospel of John requires a special gift from God if these words will have any impact upon our lives whatsoever. Faith is a gift. It’s not just a blind choice to believe. It’s a choice based on seeing. But it’s a seeing made possible only by an interior revelation from God to which we give our assent. Thus, Jesus as the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the great I AM, the Light of the World, and the Son of the Father will only make sense to us and will only have an effect upon us when we are open to and receive the interior light of the gift of faith. Without that openness and reception, we will remain either hostile or indifferent.
Reflect, today, upon the deep, veiled and mysterious language of God. When you read this language, especially in the Gospel of John, what is your reaction? Ponder your reaction carefully; and, if you find you are any less than one who has come to understand and believe, then seek the grace of faith this day so that our Lord’s words will powerfully transform your life.
My mysterious Lord, Your teaching about Who You are is beyond human reason alone. It is deep, mysterious and glorious beyond all understanding. Please give me the gift of faith so that I may come to know Who You are as I ponder the richness of Your holy Word. I believe in You, dear Lord. Help my unbelief. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31–32
These words have the potential to make a transforming difference in our lives. Note that Jesus spoke these words “to those Jews who believed in him.” That is, those who had accepted His word and were, therefore, His true disciples. We who also believe in Jesus should consider these words carefully. The heart of this teaching is twofold: you must come to “know the truth” so that the truth you come to know “will set you free.”
This teaching of Jesus is exceptionally helpful on both a psychological and spiritual level. First of all, on a purely psychological level, one of the greatest helps to good mental health is the truth. Most often when one struggles with various forms of depression, it’s because they are seeing aspects of their life with confusion. “Why did this person do this to me?” Or “How will I ever get through this?” Or “My life is a mess and there is no way out.” These and other similar thoughts will inevitably lead to depression for one simple reason: they are based on erroneous thinking.
One of the best forms of psychological counselling is what could be called “truth therapy.” Every despairing question that we have and every depressing conclusion that we have come to in life must be reexamined in the light of the mind of God. What does God think? What is in the mind of God in this regard? Those truths that are waiting to be discovered are the truth that “will set you free.” Depression is more easily overcome when we look at our life in the way that God looks at our life. This produces hope, and hope brings freedom to the chains of depression and confusion.
On a spiritual level, these principles apply all the more. The truth about sin, forgiveness, salvation and Heaven must be known deeply and embraced fully. When we deny the truth of sin or forgiveness, then we live within a lie and we remain bound by that lie. True spiritual freedom that leads to salvation and eternity in Heaven is obtained only when we wholeheartedly embrace the holy and perfect spiritual truth given to us by God. We must clearly know our sin, repent of it, seek the forgiveness of God, amend our lives and live the new life of grace to which we are called.
Reflect, today, upon this powerfully transforming teaching of Jesus: “know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What psychological and spiritual truths do you need to more deeply know? What confusion or blindness remains? Seek the remedy of the Truth as it is in the mind of God and know that freedom awaits.
God of all Truth, Your Word is liberating, transforming and fills us with hope. May I turn my mind to You and to Your holy Word so that I may know the Truth as You speak it and allow that transforming Truth to set me free. Jesus, I trust in You.
Let it Be
Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:26–28
Imagine if the Angel Gabriel, the glorious Archangel who stands before the Most Holy Trinity, were to come to you and announce to you that you were “full of grace” and that “The Lord is with you.” What an indescribable and awe-inspiring experience that would be! And yet this is exactly what happened to this young teenager, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We celebrate today this amazing event that took place, marking the moment when God took on human flesh within her blessed womb. Note that today is nine months before Christmas. The Church gives us this Solemnity today to invite us to walk with Mary over these coming nine months so as to join her in her rejoicing over the birth of her divine Son.
Much could be said about this glorious Solemnity. We could ponder Mother Mary and her Immaculate Conception. We could ponder the very words spoken by the Archangel. We could ponder the mystery surrounding her pregnancy and the way in which God chose to set this gift into motion. And we could ponder so much more. Though all of these aspects are worth fully pondering and praying over, let’s focus upon the reaction of this young woman to the angelic announcement.
First, we read that Mary was “greatly troubled” and “pondered” these words spoken by the Archangel. Being troubled reveals that Mary did not have full knowledge of what the Archangel was revealing. But the fact that she pondered the words also reveals her openness to a fuller understanding. She then seeks a deeper gift of knowledge by asking, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” This response is first an assent of belief in faith followed by a request for a deeper understanding of this revelation. Faith is the ability to assent to that which we do not fully understand, but true faith always seeks a deeper understanding—and this is what Mary did.
After being given some further revelation by the Archangel, Mary fully accepts what was revealed and trusts that what she was told was all she needed to know at that time. And then she offers what has come to be known as her “fiat.” She says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” This fiat of Mary is her perfect prayer of surrender to the will of God, and it is also the perfect model for how we all must respond to the will of God. We must see ourselves as true servants of His will, and we must fully embrace whatsoever God asks of us, completely uniting our wills to His.
Reflect, today, upon these words of our Blessed Mother: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” How is God asking you to make this your prayer also? How is God calling you to serve His most holy will? Are you willing to fully assent to anything and everything God asks of you? As you prayerfully reflect upon this fiat of our Blessed Mother, seek to unite her response to yours so that you, too, will be a servant of the most high God.
Father in Heaven, You sent Your Son to become incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Your glorious Archangel Gabriel brought forth this Good News. May I always be attentive to the messages You send forth to me as You invite me to join in Your divine mission of bringing Your Son into the world. I say “Yes” this day, dear Lord, to serve Your most holy will. Jesus, I trust in You.
Entering the Desert
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
“If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” John 10:37–39
These words spoken by Jesus took place during the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem. Jesus had been preaching clearly about His relationship with the Father in Heaven, and this was causing some to become outraged to the point of them trying to arrest Him right then and there. But He escaped and went back into the wilderness where He had been baptized by John. As Jesus remained there in the desert, many people came to Him to be with Him and to listen to His words. As they listened, they began to believe.
It’s interesting to note the contrast of reactions. In Jerusalem within the Temple area, among large crowds gathered for the feast of Dedication, Jesus was increasingly rejected and persecuted. But when He returned to the desert and people had to come to see Him, they listened and believed. This contrast presents us with one way in which we will more easily grow in our faith and help others grow in their faith. Specifically, we are invited to go into the “desert” to encounter our Lord, away from the busyness of life, and we must also invite others to join us in such a journey.
It’s true that, while in Jerusalem, there were people who happened to stumble upon Jesus as He was teaching and were moved by His word and came to believe. But it’s also clear that, when people had to commit to the effort of seeking Him out in a deserted place, His words were even more transformative.
In our own lives, within the ordinary activities of life, such as regular attendance at Mass, we will be given the opportunity to hear the Gospel and deepen our life of faith. But all of us need to take time to seek Jesus out “in the wilderness,” so to speak, so as to be even more disposed to hear Him and believe. These “desert experiences” come in many forms. Perhaps it’s an experience as simple as going into your room alone to pray and ponder the Word of God. Or perhaps it’s a participation in a Bible study, an online devotional program, or parish catechesis event. Or perhaps it’s the choice to go away for a weekend or longer for a guided retreat where all you do for some time is pray and listen to our Lord.
Throughout history, saint after saint has shown us the value of going off to pray to be with our Lord, in a place where the many other distractions of life and the many voices of the world are silenced, so that God can speak to the heart and so that we can more fully respond.
Reflect, today, upon the invitation Jesus is giving you to go out to meet Him in the wilderness. Where is that place? How can you accomplish this short journey while keeping up with the important duties of life? Do not hesitate to seek out the desert to which our Lord is calling you, so that you will be able to meet Him there, listen to His voice, and respond with complete generosity.
My Lord Jesus, You are calling me to enter deeper into a relationship of love with You, my divine Lord. Give me the grace I need to say “Yes” to You and to enter into the desert of silence and prayer I need so as to hear Your voice. Draw me to You, my Lord, and help me to more fully believe all that You wish to say. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Effects of Jesus’ Ministry
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” John 11:47–48
Jesus’ public ministry had two primary effects upon the people. For many, they were coming to believe in Him and were hanging on His every word. They sought Him out and began to understand that He was the promised Messiah. This was the response of faith. But the reaction of the chief priests and the Pharisees was far more worldly. In the passage above, we see a group of religious leaders who are completely consumed with worldly concerns to the point that these concerns drown out all matters of faith.
As the Sanhedrin convened and discussed what they should do, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, spoke up and gave advice that perfectly depicts this worldly vision. He said, “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.” Caiaphas and many other religious leaders at the time appeared to be far more concerned with their worldly status and power than they were with matters of true faith and eternal salvation. If they were men who deeply loved God and sought only His holy will, then they would have rejoiced that Jesus’ ministry was so fruitful in the lives of the people. They would have offered thanks to God, day and night, for the privilege of seeing the prophecies of old about the Messiah come to fruition before their own eyes. They should have had joy and gratitude, and they should have allowed those spiritual blessings to grow within them and give them the courage they needed to go forth and die with our Lord if necessary. But instead, they chose their comfortable lives and worldly status above the truth, and they decided that Jesus needed to die.
One beautiful truth to reflect upon within this context is that God uses all things for His glory and for the salvation of those who believe. With this meeting of the Sanhedrin, these men began to plot the death of Jesus. Eventually they used deceit, manipulation, intimidation and fear to accomplish their goal. But even though from a worldly perspective these misguided religious leaders “won,” from a divine perspective, God used their evil to bring about the greatest good the world had ever known. Through their malice, Jesus’ passion and death gave way to the new life of the Resurrection.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that God is able to use all things for our good. Be it in the midst of corruption, persecution, discord, sin, illness or any other evil in life, when we turn to God in faith and surrender, He is able to transform all things and bring forth an abundance of good fruit through them if we only let Him and trust in faith. Prayerfully surrender over to God, today, any of the above concerns that have affected you, and allow yourself to believe the simple truth that nothing can keep you from the glorious fulfillment of the will of God. All things can help toward the salvation of your soul and end in God’s eternal glory.
My glorious Lord, You were loved by many but also hated by some. Those with power and authority could not see beyond their worldly ambitions, so they began to plot against You. Give me the grace, dear Lord, to see every act of evil inflicted upon me as an opportunity for You to bring forth good. You are glorious, dear Lord. May You be glorified in all things. Jesus, I trust in You.