At a recent dinner party on a Saturday evening a parishioner asked me what the title of my homily for the following day would be. It was the first time anyone ever asked me for a title of my sermon, and so, not to miss a beat in the conversation, I simply looked at him and said, “Oh, the title of my homily for tomorrow is: ‘Lent – Part V.’” While he got a good chuckle out of my quip, it was actually quite close to being accurate. I truly believe that we should see the Sunday Gospels in Lent as spiritual steppingstones on our journey toward Calvary.
We began this season of Lent in the desert, with Christ, tempted by Satan. It was on the first Sunday of Lent that we read the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 4:1-11) as Satan was trying to plant in Jesus’ mind the thoughts of straying from the divine goal of humbly serving God’s people — by commanding a miracle with the rocks, by throwing himself down from the parapet of the temple or even bowing down and offering homage to Satan. With Christ, we recognize that our temptations come from within, from our very thoughts – and at times we even seek to rationalize them. This Lent has been for us a time to enter into the desert to face our own temptations.
During this season we also journeyed with Christ and three of the Apostles to the Mount of the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9). It was there that Jesus was seen in all His glory conversing with Moses and Elijah; He was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets respectively. Peter, for his part, has a desire to mark the occasion by suggesting that he build three booths – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Scripture tells us that while he was still speaking a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” It was then that the apostles fell prostrate to the ground and covered their heads in fear. Jesus touched them and said, “Do not be afraid.” It was then that the three apostles mustered up enough courage to lift their heads and Scripture says that they saw only Jesus.
Lent is the sacred time when we ask Jesus to touch us and dispel our fears! A time for us to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. It is important that we experience the desert facing our own temptations as Christ did when He was led out to the desert by the Spirit. It’s important for us to prayerfully reflect on the Transfiguration when Jesus touches the apostles and says, “Do not be afraid.” Lent is the time for us to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is important that we experience both the desert and the glory of the mountaintop with Him. For if we do not experience the desert or the mountain top, we will never be effective disciples in the marketplace.
The Lenten Gospels continue to show us God’s love, mercy and compassion in the face of our growing faith, frail humanness and earthly immortality. It is illustrated in the Sunday Gospel of the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:5-42) as she grows in faith and understanding of who Jesus is. Her request of Jesus for “living water” not only quenched her desire for spiritual growth, it actually caused her to yearn for the opportunity to be one of the first evangelizers of Jesus Christ. When we see Jesus in another Gospel healing the blind man (Jn 9:1-41), it helps us to see how—with Christ in our life, extending His healing touch—we can be made whole. The calling of Lazarus from the grave (Jn 11:1-45) demonstrates to us a sincere love and friendship which affords Jesus Christ the opportunity to demonstrate His glory in raising the dead.
Palm Sunday is the day in which we reenact Christ’s wonderful entrance into Jerusalem when the crowds cried out “Hosanna.” But it is soon afterwards that we hear the crowds crying out “crucify him”—a phrase that we shamefully utter in our sacred liturgies of Holy Week. During this Holy Week we enter into the sacred traditions—the washing of feet, the celebration of the Last Supper and the great gift of the Eucharist, participating in His way of the cross and witnessing His ultimate crucifixion.
If there is one lesson we learn during this Lenten season, it is that we should imitate the apostles after the Transfiguration who after Christ’s words and touch had the courage to lift their eyes and “see only Jesus.” Lent is meant as a time of observation and participation—to observe the great act of salvation won for us in Jesus Christ and our participation in His love for us.
As we journey beyond Lent and into the Easter season, let us continue to “see only Jesus,” the great plan He has in store for us, the wonderful way in which He will bestow His gifts upon us as seen at Pentecost, and how He will continue to call us from our struggling human conditions into the fullness of life in Him.
Blessings to you and your loved ones as we celebrate the great Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ!