5th Sunday of Lent B

Written in their hearts

God chose the Israelites as His special people and revealed Himself and His law to them. Out of Israel came His divine Son, who revealed God even more fully, and gave us the law of love. But throughout human history there have been many wise men of every nation who have known neither the Old Testament nor the New, yet have taught many of the same truths.

Take Confucius, the Chinese moralist who lived in 552-479 BC, and is still revered by the Chinese as a master counselor. A man of high intelligence and compassion, Confucius tried to reform society in China by teaching practical wisdom to a small group of men who were destined to hold high public office. Here are some of the ideas he passed on to them.

“God is the creator of all men.” “There is the great God; does He hate anyone?” “The superior man exalts others and abases himself; he gives the first place to others and takes the last himself.” “The practice of right living is deemed the highest . . . complete virtue takes first place.” “Do not commence or abandon anything hastily.” “While his parents are alive, a son should not consider his wealth his own nor hold it for his use only.” “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do unto others.” “The body and the animal soul go downwards and the intelligent spirit is on high.”

These were wise sayings, indeed, and Confucius had many admiring pupils who carried on his work as a teacher. One of them, Mencius, who lived in the third century BC, was the author of one axiom that was particularly discerning: “The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart.”

Try matching some of these statements with comparable passages in the Bible. Of course, not all that the Confucianists or the other thoughtful pagan philosophers said would blend with divine public revelation. But their efforts to teach goodness shows that God was calling them to Himself through the light of human reason, and they were listening.

… I will place My law within them, and write it upon their hearts. (Jeremiah, 31:33. Today’s first reading).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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B209: Greeks come to “see Jesus” (= seek discipleship) and he talks about grains of wheat (Jn 12:20-33). Is there a connection?

Just a few days ago the Academy awards were hosted on TV, and those who watched were treated to the same annual “display.” Was the inner motive of the participants an anticipation of “awards for achievement,” or was it an annual disease of human striving for glory and attention through opulence and skimpy attire? Hero-worship or heroine-worship seems to be rampant, and God seems to be totally absent in a way that only Hollywood could bring about. “SELF” dominates the entire scene.

We need to remember that we are approaching the end of the Lenten season, and that means that we are being led to the Cross. There is no room for “Self” at the Cross, only self-emptying. Jesus’ message is clear: if you want “to produce fruit” you must first “die to self.” It is only when the grain of wheat “dies” that it is transformed into an explosion of fruitfulness. This is what happened to Jesus; he freely accepted death on the Cross, fulfilling the will of his heavenly Father. And it is the Father that receives the glory, not the Hollywood heroes; glory belongs to God alone, not false idols. Discipleship demands this same self-emptying of pride and ostentation. It demands a choice either for or against Jesus.

The call to “lose our life” is a call to conversion, to change from our present ways that keep us from full discipleship. We all hide behind a “shell” – our Hollywood veneer, so to speak – and it is that shell of false reality that must be cracked and surrendered to Jesus.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! We are specifically called by Jesus to “take up our crosses” and follow him (Matt 16:24-25; see CCC #618). When we do this, somehow we participate in a redemptive partnership with Christ. This cross of Jesus is the sign of our salvation, and makes kings of everyone reborn in baptism (CCC #786).

Reflection: what “Hollywood shell” have I surrounded myself with that needs to be surrendered to Jesus?

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Q365: The metaphor of “a grain of wheat” in today’s gospel is beautiful, describing how new life comes about (John 12:20-33). How can I apply it to my own life?

The metaphor that Jesus used has special meaning to those with “green thumbs.” For example, my wife Patricia and I love to grow tomatoes. During the harvest season, we save some of the seeds from the tomatoes, and put them in an air-tight container to save for planting the next season. In fact, the seeds can be saved for years. But they need to be planted, even though it be a few years later, in order to produce more tomatoes.

Now, connect that “seed” metaphor with another part of today’s gospel. Jesus says, “where I am, there also will my servant be.” Well, where is Jesus? In his public ministry, he is out there “planting seeds” of new life – seeds of love, seeds of instruction, seeds of our call to holiness, seeds of our call to faithfulness to God, seeds of forgiveness and compassion.

“There also will my servant be.” As followers, as disciples of Christ, we are called to the same tasks that He engaged in. We are called to plant the seeds of Christ. This is what servants do: whatever their master wants them to do. So Lent is a good time to “replay” your recent life: have you been keeping your “seeds of life” sealed up for some unknown future use (also known as laziness and spiritual blindness), or have you been faithful in carrying on the mission of Jesus by planting those seeds in your daily life?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! An old proverb says, “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” It is easy to sit and complain about the world’s immorality and decadence. But what seeds are you planting, what candle are you lighting, to help overcome this darkness and bring about new life? We need to continue the mission of Jesus, and live through Him, with Him and in Him (CCC #787). Mushrooms grow in the dark; Christians grow in the light of Christ and plant their seeds of new life by charity in action (CCC #1695).

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We Should Like to See Jesus

This is what the unknown group of Greeks asked in today’s Gospel. Jesus seems to ignore the request; perhaps he knows that they want to see him only out of curiosity. As he said on another occasion, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” There are a lot of people like that today. They want to know about Jesus out of curiosity; they devour books and TV “documentaries” about the historical Jesus. But Jesus didn’t really ignore the Greeks in today’s Gospel. He lets them and us know that we can see the real Jesus only in the context of the cross. Only then and through faith can we see the revelation of Jesus as the glorified Son of God. Jesus teaches us this paradoxical lesson: “Whoever loses his life shall save it.” and “Unless the grain of wheat fall to earth and die, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” “When I am lifted up, I shall draw everyone to myself.” And he tells us, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” He tells us we must reject the wisdom that says, “What’s in it for me?” or “Take care of number one.” Like him we must learn obedience and fidelity by suffering, by emptying ourselves, especially in service to others. It this dying to self that becomes our glory, just as Jesus by being lifted up from the earth on the cross draws people to himself and to the Father.

Father, help us to be like Christ, your Son, who loved the world and died for our salvation. Change our self-focus into self-giving. Help us to transform even a little bit of the darkness and pain of the world into the life and joy of Easter.

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