NB. I wrote this homily three years ago while living in Rome. Since the community Mass on Sunday in the convent was celebrated in Italian, I never got to preach it. So, I thought I'd give it a hearing this weekend.
Fifth Sunday of Lent (2012)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Jesus is troubled. What should he say? “Father, save me from this hour” or “Father, glorify your name”? He chooses to glorify God’s name. Why? He says, “…it was for this purpose [to glorify God’s name] that I came to this hour.” By glorifying God’s name he fulfills his purpose. Does this glorification of God’s name accomplish any vital tasks other than praising the Father? Yes. Jesus says to the crowd at that time of judgment, “. . .the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." What Jesus says and does is the mechanism of our salvation; his word and deed makes us sons of the Father. What does he say? “Father, glorify your name.” What does he do? He dies. And then he rises from death to take us with him. So, why is Jesus troubled? To rise with him, we must die with him and our deaths must be in service to him. We cannot hope to escape the betrayal of Judas, the passion in Jerusalem, the nails and wood of the cross, and then expect to be part of a glorious Easter harvest. If we will follow Jesus up from the earth, we must follow him on the earth. This is what troubles our Lord: “. . .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.” To rise, we must fall; to produce much fruit, we must die.
So, are you ready to die? I mean, are you ready to follow Christ and produce the fruit he produced by dying on the cross? Most of us hope to avoid the kind of death that Christ died. And most of us will. At least in the particulars. Few of us will be scourged. Or force-marched to a burning landfill and nailed to a cross. Few of us will be subjected to public ridicule and executed to spare the nation the wrath of its foreign military governors. Few of us will be accused of blasphemy, religious sedition. If we are killed for the faith, it will be incrementally. Slowly. Almost invisibly. The proverbial frog boiled by degrees of increasing heat. The Enemy’s strategy this time around is far more subtle. More understated and restrained. This time we will be accused of hating ourselves, our neighbors, and our God; we will be accused of standing against truths the science and progress, against the beauty of Mother Earth, against the innate goodness of our human nature. This time, we will be charged with being inhumane, intolerant, uncompromising, divisive, and ignorant. And like all the other times, we will die. . .for preaching the simple truth of the gospel.
God’s will be done; therefore, we are troubled. So, what do we say: “Father, save us from this hour” or “Father, glorify your name”? We could ask our Lord to save us from this hour. We could. But why should we? Can we honestly claim we didn’t know what was in store for us? Can we look God in the eye and say, “Hey, this wasn’t in the brochure!”? “No one every said anything about suffering for the faith!” No, that would be a lie. If you know what it means to be baptized into his death, then you know what it means to be resurrected into his life. If you will rise, you will die. Why would you beg God to save you from the very thing you signed on for? Yes, we were promised a garden. . .and we will have it! Look for the path marked “Gethsemane.” Ask yourself: why do I deserve a better life and death than Christ? You might say, “Didn’t Christ die so we wouldn’t have to?” No, he didn't. No, he died so that we might have eternal life and have it most abundantly! That path—the Way to an abundant life, an eternal life—cuts straight up and through Gethsemane. And there is no escalator, no detour.
No detour, for sure. But there is hope; and here it is: “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." Though we may understandably fear the death we have signed up for, part and parcel of that death is the promise—the guarantee—the death is not the end; that is, death is not our end, our purpose. We were not created to die. We do not live to die. Though our bodies fail us, and we cease to live, we do not stop being exactly who God made and remade us to Be. In fact, in Christ, we are made perfectly who were first made to be. And only in Christ—perfect God, perfect Man—can we be perfectly who we are made to be for all time. When Christ dies on the cross, humanity dies with him. When Christ rises from the tomb—dead for three days, three nights—humanity rises with him. If you and I will be among those who rise with Christ, we must be among those who die with Christ. As Christ himself teaches us: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” If you read any detours in that sentence, you might need to get your eyes checked.
Whose path do you follow? Where are you on that path? Which Way do you go? You, like every man and woman ever created, will be offered, at some point, a bag of thirty silver coins. The Powers of this world want one thing for this price: a simple, easy accommodation, a compromise; an answer from one who has chosen to follow the Way of Truth and Life—“So that the many may avoid persecution or pain or inconvenience or anxiety, tell us what we want to hear; tell us that this Christ is a fraud, a myth; tell us that his good news is simply one message among many equally valuable spiritual options; tell us that we do not have to suffer the Cross and die in order to rise again; tell us that we can make our own lifestyles choices and still have eternal! Tell us, Christian, that God loves us just the way we are and doesn't want us to change.” At this moment, staring down at thirty pieces of silver, who are you? Where are you and where do you hope to end?
Before you answer. . .before you commit. . .hear again: “[Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” If you will learn, if we will be saved. . .we will first suffer—maybe physically, maybe emotionally, maybe socially or spiritually. But we will suffer, and when we suffer for the sake of Christ's name, we obey his commandment to love. He loved us all the way through his Passion, all the way through the garbage of Gehenna, and on to the Cross. Like Christ, to rise, we must fall; to produce much fruit, we must first die.___________________
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