Friday, 19 March 2010 09:29
Reflect on the suffering of Jesus in Lent’s last two weeks
By Msgr. William Carr
5th Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; and John 8:1-11
During the last two weeks of Lent, we reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus. In ancient times, crosses were very ornate and beautiful; usually the crosses did not display the body of Christ.
The empty cross was a symbol of Christ’s victory in the resurrection. For this reason, the Church veiled the crosses during the time when we meditate on the suffering and death of the Lord. This was also the reason for veiling the statues: At this time, we do not think of the saints; we think of the Passion and Death of the Lord.
Sunday’s Mass, however, looks to the effect of Christ’s Passion rather than to the suffering itself. By his Passion, the Lord atoned for all our sins! He redeemed us and brought us forgiveness.
The setting of the first reading is the return of the Jews from Babylonian Captivity in 538 B.C. Deutero-Isaiah compares this release to the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Then the Lord brought them through the waters of the Red Sea to the Promised Land. Isaiah speaks of the waters in the desert and rivers in the wasteland. We naturally think of the waters of baptism in which we were baptized and liberated from sin.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us of our new value system: In Christ, we now think of everything else as garbage. Compared with the glory of salvation, all other things are worthless. We are willing to share the suffering of Christ in order that we shall also share the glory of his resurrection.
The Gospel is the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. The Torah called for her execution. Jesus’ reply to the Scribes and Pharisees should be our motto: “Let the person without sin cast the first stone!” Although she did not deserve it, the Lord gently and respectfully forgives her and sends her on her way, telling her to sin no more. Let us rejoice in the effect of Christ’s suffering: our forgiveness! The Lord has done great things for us; let us be glad — and let us be loyal to him.
Gospel of Palms: Luke 19:28-40. Mass: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; and Luke 22:14-23:56
Holy Week is the great week of spiritual renewal. Today we begin our celebration of the “Paschal Mystery.” “Paschal” means “Passover;” it also means “Easter.”
The “Paschal Mystery” is the mystery of sorrow and joy, of defeat and of victory. It is the strange paradox that we must deny ourselves if we are to find ourselves — that we must die in order to really live, that we must suffer in order to share in ultimate victory. Jesus said, “Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it shall not live.” He said, “He who would save his life will lose it.” He said, “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” These and other paradoxical statements are expressions of the “Paschal Mystery.”
Jesus dedicates himself totally to the will of the Father. In doing this, he encounters suffering and death. Through his obedience and humility in his suffering and death, he gains the victory of the resurrection. It is the same with us: We must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him in every aspect of our lives if we are to find real life. This week’s liturgies will be filled with the paradox of the Paschal Mystery: Defeat and Victory will be intertwined, often in the same celebration.
Today, we wave palm branches of acclamation and victory; the liturgical color is festive red instead of Lenten violet. Yet the Scripture readings are of the Suffering Servant, the Son who emptied himself and became obedient unto death, and the Gospel of the Passion according to St. Luke.
Don’t let anything interfere with your spiritual renewal this week. All shopping and activity should be completed before Good Friday. The time from Holy Thursday evening until the Easter Vigil should be a time of quiet and reflection with no games or parties or entertainments. Be sure to share in the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday; do this even if you have done nothing else during Lent.