Pastor’s Homily — 5th Sunday of Lent

21 MARCH 2021: 5th SUNDAY OF LENT: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; JOHN 12:20-33

There has been an incredible amount of loss in this year of pandemic.  And in the last couple of months, we’ve had kind of a slow-motion acknowledgment of the losses as they continue to grow, and as anniversaries of pandemic milestones arrive.  The massive numbers of human deaths, the loss of jobs, loss of dreams, favorite routines and expectations.

Some have said, “It’s been Lent for a year.”  Others have said, “We’ve been living like monks for a year.”

But something important is missing in these lamentations, especially when we start to connect Lent and monks only with death.  The point of the Lenten season, the point of being a monk, the point of being a Christian, is to live the new life that comes from death.

“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.”

Much fruit:

— Gratitude for life

— Spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life

— Vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant source

— More profound depth of faith

These are fruits that maybe some have experienced and appreciated during the pandemic.  But the fruits that I listed were taken directly from Thomas Merton’s 1961 book, “New Seeds of Contemplation.”  Merton is lifting up the special nature of contemplative life, and he advises, “To enter this realm one must in a certain sense die…a death for the sake of life.”

For Merton, and really for Jesus, the death that is most important for believers, is the death of the superficial self, which is not the real self.  Who am I? Who am I becoming?  How am I making room for God’s new life in us? And how are we getting ourselves – our ego, our distractions, our appetites – out of the way?  How honest have we been with ourselves this Lent, and indeed throughout the whole pandemic?  And what still needs to die in us to make way for new life?

The Argentinian poet, Francisco Luis Bernardez, a favorite of Pope Francis, once said, “At the end of it all, I’ve understood that what on the tree flowers lives from what is buried.”

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