• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

5th Sunday of Lent (B)

“If a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it produces much fruit ...”

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 43(42): 1-2 — “Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless. From the deceitful and cunning rescue me, for You, O God, are my strength.”

First Reading: Jer 31:31-34 — “I will make a new covenant and remember their sin no more.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15 — “Create a clean heart in me, O God.”

Second Reading: Heb 5:7-9 — “Christ learned obedience and became the source of eternal salvation.”

Verse Before the Gospel: Jn 12:26 — “Whoever serves Me must follow Me, says the Lord; and where I am, there also will My servant be.”

Gospel: Jn 12:20-33 — “If a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it produces much fruit.”

Communion Antiphon: Jn 11:26 — “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will not die for ever, says the Lord.”

Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits also known as the Companions of Jesus, established a set of Spiritual Exercises for the Jesuits and others interested in growing in the spiritual life. Before people are ready to enter into doing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, they have to have had a Principle and Foundation experience. Basically, in other words, they have to have had an experience that allows them to know the truth of this weekend’s First Reading.

Having said that, in this weekend’s First Reading, Jeremiah makes it clear that a shift has taken place in God’s relationship with the people of Israel. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel ... I will place My law within them and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be My people ... All, from the least to the greatest, shall know Me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evil-doing and remember their sin no more.”

And so, before entering into the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, people need to know a couple of things. First, they need to know this gracious love of our God. They need to know who they are and who God is. Second, they need to know their gifts and limitations and that God loves them as they are, not who they will be or who they might be someday. Third, they need to know that God forgives them and embraces them today, right now, in the present moment.

This gracious act of God’s forgiveness and love, if taken in, will transform the people. God’s law will be within them ... written upon their hearts. In the seminary, we read a couple of works when by a Scripture scholar, Fr. Timothy P. Schehr, when we were studying the Gospel of Saint John. One line from a book of his that I remember reading says, “All the people from least to greatest will know God, recognizing instinctively that their true purpose in life is to serve God,” Another line I remember from Fr. Schehr notes, “It seems the experience of such love will be enough to motivate them to absolute loyalty to God’s saving Word.” In light of that recall the opening words of Saint John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ...” Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. To experience the love of God is to be loyal and to love the Word ... Jesus Christ ... the Son of God ... the second Person of the Trinity.

And so, on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, I have a couple of questions for you. How has this love ... God’s love ... taken root in you this Lent? And if you answer that first question truthfully, here’s the second question ... ask yourself ... Have you truly been transformed? In the Gospel we hear, “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.” And having heard that now for a second time, ask yourselves, “What fruit can you point to in your own life as a result of your Lenten efforts?” In this weekend’s Gospel we heard, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” When I read that over again and thought about that passage during this past week, I came to the conclusion ... I believe ... that this demands a shift or a change in our life. Instead of clinging to our riches, our possessions, our relationships, our anger, our grudges, our bitterness, or our identities, we must “spend” them, we must “lose” them, we must “let them go” for the good of the Kingdom. “Whoever serves Me must follow Me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”

Today begins Passiontide ... the final two weeks of Lent before the celebration of Easter. We 21st century Christians all know where Jesus’ journey leads. Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, begins Holy Week, the week in which we will once again remember and celebrate the death of Jesus that brought all of us new life. “How have we followed Jesus and been where Jesus is this Lent?” and to take it one step forward after that, “what’s our ongoing plan for after Lent?”

God draws us into relationship and gives us what we need to be faithful to our baptismal covenant. As I’ve said a couple of different ways during my homilies since Ash Wednesday, Lent is a good time to examine how we are living up to that covenant. It is a good time for letting God’s love and forgiveness open us up to the transformations needed in all of our lives.

Each and every time the Mass is celebrated, we remember again how Jesus gave His life for us. He died that we might live. He comes into our hearts that we might bring forth fruit. Receiving God’s love and mercy creates a bond that moves us to action.

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