March 17, 2024 –
The Fifth Sunday of Lent [Year B]

Fr. Gabriel Greer

In recent years, we have heard frequently the term “New Evangelization.”  Pope John Paul II first used the term New Evangelization, which was encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. While Pope John Paul II first employed the expression new evangelization, the Second Vatican Council was deeply rooted in promoting the Church’s missionary activity to evangelize all nations. Yet, one of the most critical things in furthering the Church’s missionary activity to evangelize all nations is to understand that we, the baptized faithful, must constantly be re-evangelized.  When John Paul II coined the phrase “new evangelization,” he was not speaking of the mission to go to the nations that have not been evangelized; John Paul II understood the new evangelization to be for those who have already heard the kerygma and have been initiated into the Mystical Body of Christ, but who need to listen to the message of the Gospel anew. The new evangelization is for us to be faithful to our baptismal identity.

In baptism, each of us was inaugurated into the life of Christ. Our baptismal identity should shape every aspect of our lives so that by our actions, the world becomes consecrated, and the very act of living our lives can be a form of evangelization. We must remember why the Father sent Christ to evangelize over 2000 years ago, to recapture our baptismal identity. In John 15:13, Christ says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Christ became man to evangelize, that is, to show us that the fundamental way of living is through a sincere gift of ourselves, first to God and second to others, and he manifested this on the Cross.

In the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus proposes a parable to help us understand how to live out our fundamental vocation to give of ourselves to others. Today’s parable is the image of a grain of wheat being buried in the ground to die so it can bear much fruit. We can relate to this image even if we are not farmers because we don’t have to travel far in our diocese to see lush wheat fields. These fields of wheat did not just become lush magically. A farmer buried these seeds into the ground, resulting in new life. Our Lord uses this image first for his disciples to foreshadow his paschal mystery, and second, this parable helps us understand that Christ’s paschal mystery must be incorporated into our lives if we want communion with God.

The paschal mystery, which we prepare all of Lent to celebrate, captures the entirety of Christ’s work of evangelization in the Gospels, and it is the mystery by which we are meant to be transformed and renewed. The Gospel can renew and transform us, but it must not be done in such a way that the Gospel becomes watered down.  Pope Saint Paul VI said, “Evangelization risks losing its power and disappearing altogether if one empties or adulterates its content under the pretext of translating it.” Our Human condition needs to be understood for evangelization to be successful. Yet, the message of the Gospel cannot be altered because the Gospel calls each of us to imitate Christ’s self-sacrificing love modeled for us on the Cross.

Christ laid down his life for us on the cross so that through his glory, we, too, might be glorified. When we were baptized, we were baptized into his passion, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. In baptism, we became new creatures who are partakers of Christ’s divine nature. By becoming partakers in the divine nature of Christ, we participate in the New Covenant by fulfilling Christ’s Command, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Denial of self helps us to live our fundamental vocation of self-gift. Denial of self recognizes that we cannot live a life of sin, but daily, we must strive to overcome our sinful nature.

To conquer sin in our lives, we must follow the path of the cross. The Way of the Cross teaches us self-sacrificial love and that we must die to our self-centered tendencies. When Christ says in the Gospel, “Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” Christ is telling us that we must work daily to overcome our sinful tendencies. The only means of achieving victory is through the cross, as the resurrection and ascension to eternal glory are only achievable through death to self.

As we continue our journey toward the Triduum, let us live out our baptismal identity daily; let us remember that Christ suffered, died, and rose again so that we might have communion with him and one day experience his eternal glory in heaven.