Fr. Rick’s Homily: 5th Sunday of Lent

March 17, 2024

Jer 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-15; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33

Today Annual Collection for Catholic Relief Services

I usually end my homilies with some reflection questions and/or an action step.  Today I’m going to begin the homily with the action step and then extrapolate into the scriptures and crescendo with the reflection questions.  It will be, AS USUAL, very exciting!

It seems that it’s increasingly rare to listen to the news without being served up any variety of issues related to some type of sexual confusion and distress.  Most recent are issues concerning In vitro Fertilization and how to care for fertilized eggs, insufficient care in the school and prisons for those transitioning, minors’ access to contraceptives without parent approval, access to abortion in all states, and then the ongoing confusion about how to address someone’s gender properly.  And of course, there are the many challenges in maintaining healthy relationships and marriages among heterosexuals.  All these issues are staggeringly complex and seem to be growing.  Ultimately, they all relate to our confusion about our deepest identity as children of God.  When we get this right, we get EVERYTHING else right.  Literally EVERYTHING else, right.  These are deep spiritual issues and cannot be adequately addressed in our judicial, legislative or corporate systems, especially in our increasingly secular culture.  This is particularly the role of our Church which has been given the mission to teach.  The good news is that we know what and how to teach effectively to this terribly confused human species.  The bad news is that WE are the teachers.  We can’t delegate these duties to civil authorities.  It should be obvious by now that that doesn’t work.  We can’t delegate these duties to bishops, priests, ministers or professors either.  They have their role as leaders to be sure, but most of the day-to-day teaching must happen with ‘regular’ people, on the ground, in our daily interactions.  This teaching and right-ordered living requires preparation.

The great learning opportunity we have before us is to read and discuss the book Adam and Eve are from Eden: A Study Guide to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  This study guide does a masterful job of introducing the subject of sexual identity as a PART of our deeper identity as children of God.  And then points us to many other learning opportunities.  I can’t imagine anything being more interesting than exploring the nature of our relationship with God and with each other.  Please sign up in the gathering space for a book and a discussion session.

The way the Church has been teaching about love, marriage and sexuality over the past few decades has been woefully ineffective.  This method of teaching is the grain of wheat that must fall to the ground and die which we just heard about in today’s Gospel.  We must die to ineffective teaching about what it really means to be human so that we can bear new fruit.  So that our children will be up to the challenges of living in the modern age.  Our grandchildren deserve a better teaching Church.  AND we are fully equipped right here in little ‘ol St. Christopher’s to do effective teaching and to shape the world our grandchildren are inheriting.

Dying is not easy, but when it’s time, it’s time.  It’s not easy to die to an engrained way of thinking even if it is obviously outdated and ineffective.  We really can’t die or live well without the full intervention of the Holy Spirit.  In the first reading today from the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear God’s promise 600 years before the Incarnation and Pentecost.  God promises that, “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  And then, shockingly he continues, “No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD.”

A rather rudimentary example might help explain this.  Most of us probably had to learn from repetition and an ongoing series of reprimands to NOT steal when we go into a grocery store.  Not coincidentally, the candy is often displayed right about the eye level of a three-year old.  Candy. Good. Mine. Eat.  But usually by the time we’re 20 or 25 (laugh, laugh) or four years old, we know almost instinctively that there are some bad consequences to taking what is not ours.  Perhaps a spanking (at least in the old days) or even being caught by the police.  But then as we grow older, we wouldn’t even consider stealing.  We don’t want our stuff stolen so we don’t steal other peoples’ stuff.  Things just work better that way.  The seventh commandment is written on our hearts.

Likewise, most people have never considered actually beating up their spouse.  The thought has surely crossed their minds, but it never actually happened… because it’s against the 5th commandment.  But even more so, you LOVE your spouse and wouldn’t even consider beating them up.  You just live in a certain level of trust and acceptance while at the same time likely needing a little ongoing improvement.  The fifth commandment is written on your heart.

A little more precarious are the 6th and 9th commandments which declare that even desiring an adulterous relationship is already adultery.  That might take a little more purification and maturity, but eventually this level of awareness can be achieved.  It can be achieved because the Holy Spirit-infused love that one has for a spouse is of a more transcended nature.  Something less is simply not desirable.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives us experiential knowledge of God.  We can know our relationship with God and each other with the certainty of the very consciousness of God.  This is hard to fathom outside of the experience itself.  When we receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism and then are further sealed with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, we are invited into the very indwelling love of the Trinity.  Even the 6th and 9th Commandments can be written on our hearts. Recall that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit include God’s Wisdom, God’s Understanding, God’s Knowledge, and God’s strength.

You could say that we become part of the Trinity.  We know right from wrong and can actually live ‘rightfully’ with a true awareness of what we are doing and why we are doing it.  The law is written on our hearts.  We have been given this power 2000 years ago, long looooong before there was anything like artificial intelligence.  Rather than being constantly afraid of who can know what and manipulate us, we could have developed such a vast network of truly trustworthy relationships that we would know a whole new type of freedom.  Freedom to love on a truly God-level.

Of course, this experience of knowing with the law written on our hearts is not a ‘one and done’ process.  We require ongoing renewal. Psalm 51 from today’s liturgy recalls the ever-present and ever-renewable presence of the Spirit within our very being.

A clean heart create for me, O God, (a clean heart must come from God)

    and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Cast me not out from your presence,

    and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,  (we can lose it)

    and a willing spirit sustain in me.  (we can become weakened)

I will teach transgressors your ways,  (now it’s getting scary)

    and sinners shall return to you.

Purification and renewal can sometimes be painful.  From the Letter to the Hebrews today: ‘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.’

This is a very dynamic process. It’s a participation in the very life of God, that requires ongoing attention and renewal and purification.  This is what the human spirit really desires.  This is what we are created for:  A level of intimacy on par with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not exist on their own, neither can we exist on our own.  We need a family that transcends biology.

Isn’t this the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard?!  Do you even believe it?  Does it matter?  Will you even discuss this after Mass today or during the week?

Please consider today’s reflection questions which are also listed in today’s bulletin.

Name two laws that you can confidently claim are written on your heart.

Name two laws which are still far from your heart or perhaps even rejected.

How might you make your heart a more receptive ‘writing surface’ during the remainder of Lent?

For your purification pleasure we also have available on the table in the gathering space an examination of conscience using the Spiritual Works of Mercy.