Today we celebrate the Fifth Sunday of Lent. In ten days, we will follow Jesus as he enters his passion. How are you doing? Are we ready? As I was putting this reflection, together a phrase kept repeating in my mind and heart, and I am sure you have heard it before.
If not now, when?
The first reading and the gospel have a time element in them. In the first reading from Jeremiah, it starts with the verse, “the days are coming says the Lord when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.
In the gospel from John, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and later says, “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out”.
We go from days, to hours, to right now. We know the events that are to take place. Jesus is going to suffer, be crucified, die, and be raised from dead to take away our sins and open heaven to all who believe in Him, and the Father who sent him. He is the new covenant mentioned in Jeremiah.
As I mentioned, something is going to happen soon. Are we ready?
To be ready, we must follow Jesus. We must die to ourselves. If we do not, what fruit can we bear? We remain just a grain of wheat, as Jesus tells us. Have you ever planted seeds for a garden or a flower bed? As one of thirteen kids growing up in Wisconsin, we always had a large garden. Our dad taught us what to do, and then my siblings and I were responsible to plant, water and harvest it. We had to plan where all the plants would go, to make sure there was room for everything. We had to prepare the land first, getting rid of any weeds and loosening the soil. Once we planted, we had to watch and remove any weeds that could affect the plants. If rain was scarce, we had to water the plants to keep them alive. As we picked the vegetables, we offered some to neighbors and friends. Although it took time and effort to maintain it, the food always tasted great and was well worth the hard work.
A few years ago, my wife and I purchased some vegetable seeds for a garden and did not use all of them. The extra seeds stayed in the packages for a few years, just sitting on a shelf in the basement, until we planted them. These extra seeds were “dormant”; waiting to grow and produce their “fruits”. When we finally planted them, some did not grow because we waited too long to use them.
That is how it can be for us. If we stay dormant, not willing to let go of the world’s distractions and the sin it can lead us to, how can we expect to grow in love of Jesus, accept the graces God wants to pour into us, and complete the work God has given us? As Jesus said in the Gospel, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25). That last phrase is telling. We are not to hate our life. How can we? God gave us life, so we know it’s good. We are to hate the things of the world, we freely choose, that keeps God at a distance.
Lent, more so than any time in the year, gives us the opportunity to focus on the “garden of our life”. I used to think giving up my favorite food or snack was enough of a sacrifice, but I have learned God wants more from me and you. He wants all of us and all from us. We heard part of Psalm 51 proclaimed today. The last two verses were 14-15. If we read verses 18-19, we get some insight of what it is God wants from each of us.
“For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.” (Ps 51:18-19).
So, what is a contrite spirit, a contrite and humbled heart and how do we obtain it? What conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us?
All we need to do is look to Jesus. He is the Way. He models for us what we need to do. We find examples in the second reading, the Psalms, and the gospels.
In the second reading we hear that Jesus offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death. Supplications is defined as “the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly”. Jesus’ prayers were heard because of his humility and reverence for his Father. Jesus suffered, and learned obedience from that suffering. In Luke’s gospel, we read, “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Lk 22:44).
Can you imagine Jesus, as he went off by himself to pray and how intense were his prayers? That’s our challenge and our guide, to pray intensely and humbly to the Lord God.
Today’s Psalm ties in perfectly with Jesus’ model for us. As you read it, can you feel yourself praying humbly, in loud cries and tears, asking God to create a clean heart in you; Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin, cleanse me; Cast me not out from your presence; Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me, and finally, I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall return to you.
In today gospel passage, Jesus says, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
This is another example for us to accept the will of the Father, even if it includes suffering, asking the Lord God to use our suffering to glorify His name.
We have faith that if we follow Jesus, the reward will be far more than we can imagine. Jesus tells us that if we serve and follow Him, we will be with Him for eternity and the Father will honor us.
So as Holy Week draws closer, let’s use the time until then, to clean up the garden in our hearts. Let us allow God to plant the seeds of love, forgiveness, humility, truth, and charity in us. Then let us ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit to help us grow these graces to an abundance, so we can offer them to others. As we know, these graces are not for us to keep. They are given to us so that we can give them away. Now is the perfect time. If not now, when?