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Sunday Scripture: Only by dying to self can we live in Christ

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Readings for March 25, Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9;

John 12:20-33

Today’s Gospel marks a momentous turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Numerous times in John’s Gospel leading up to this point we hear it said that Jesus’ “hour has not yet come,” or words to that effect.  For instance, when the Blessed Mother tells him at the wedding feast of Cana that “they have no more wine,” Jesus responds, “Woman, what is that to me?  My hour has not yet come.”

When an angry crowd tried to lay hands on him in the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles, he passed through their midst because “his hour had not yet come.”

Now, however, Jesus states that his hour has come, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified,” and a few verses later, “Yet what should I say? Father, save me from this hour?” What is Jesus’ hour?

The hour of Jesus is the time appointed by God for Christ to be glorified, but it is not the kind of glory one would expect. The hour in which Jesus is glorified by the Father is in fact Jesus’ passion and death, particularly when he is lifted up on the cross. Jesus himself is the “grain of wheat [that] falls to the ground and dies,” and by doing so “produces much fruit.

Father John S. Grimm

As we pray during the Stations of the Cross: “We adore you O Christ, and we bless you, for by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.” For St. John, the only apostle who was at the foot of the cross, Jesus’ humiliation and death on the cross is precisely the time of his exaltation by God the Father. Jesus is victorious over sin and death by sacrificing himself for the redemption of the world. Jesus atones for the disobedience of Adam by becoming “obedient unto death, even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:8).  Humiliation turned into glorification, death turned into eternal life, the cross turned into the empty tomb: this is what we call the paschal mystery.  This mystery, that by dying Jesus destroys death and wins for us eternal life, lies at the heart of all reality.

The entire life of Jesus Christ has led up to this, his hour. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that whereas people are born in order to live, Christ was born in order to die, to die for us. From all ages, God, who is rich in mercy, planned in the fullness of time to restore all things by Christ’s death and resurrection. Thus the cross shows forth the immensity of God’s love as well as showing Jesus’ glory.

As one of the Fathers of the Church said, “To redeem a slave, O Lord, you sacrifice a Son.” Thus the death of Jesus not only glorifies Jesus, but also glorifies God the Father; the voice from heaven said: “I have glorified [my name] and will glorify it again.” Just as Jesus always sought to glorify his heavenly Father, so we too are called to glorify God by our charity, truthfulness, hard work and patience.

Above, I said that the paschal mystery lies at the heart of all reality.  By this I mean that it is only by dying to self that we can live in Christ.  The prayer of St Francis of Assisi says it best: “it is by giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying we are born to eternal life.”

Jesus said: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” The word “hate” in ancient Aramaic does not mean to despise but to “love less.” That means we must put our self-seeking and worldly ambitions second to our number one job, which is to save our souls by loving God and neighbor.

Mother Dolores Hart is a living example of this mystery. Mother Dolores is a cloistered Benedictine nun whose life is the subject of the recent documentary, “God is the Bigger Elvis.” In 1963, Dolores Hart was a rising Hollywood starlet who had just starred in a film with Elvis Presley when she announced at age 25 that she was entering a Benedictine convent.  She had everything that the world deemed desirable: youth, beauty, talent, fame and fortune. But Dolores happily gave all of that away for something even more valuable, a life of close intimacy with God. She opted for a life of sacrifice and prayer because she wanted to be as close as possible to God by devoting as much of her time and energy to him alone.  Though foolish in the eyes of the world, Dolores proved herself wise, for she has chosen the better part.  While you and I probably cannot become cloistered monks or nuns, by our lives of faithful service, we, too, can live the paschal mystery of Christ, and thus enter into eternal joy.

Father John Grimm is administrator of Holy Spirit Parish, New Castle.