Love Christ more than oneself – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Central idea: Loving life by hating it. Doctrine: The virtue of temperance or selfless self-preservation. Practical application: Personal encounter with Christ.

Lectionary 35

Central idea: Loving life by hating it

Reading 1 Jer 31:31-34

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they broke my covenant,
and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the LORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

  • “The New Testament presents the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as inaugurating a new covenant open to anyone who professes faith in Jesus the Christ” (NAB note). We have the ability now, through grace, to know God, to be his son or daughter, to find his law of love written in our hearts, and to be forgiven our sins.
  • Because for each of us personally the new covenant is only beginning, we still need to be taught by our “friends and relatives how to know the Lord.” These friends and family are the members of the Church. This teaching is the work of evangelization and catechesis.
  • This new covenant, unlike the Mosaic covenant, is gentle and without coercion. In Exodus, God led the Chosen People out of Egypt with powerful signs. When they disobeyed the covenant, God punished them like a master would chastise a disobedient slave.
  • But the New Covenant is voluntary and fitting free persons.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15

R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.

  • Our hearts are completely cleaned in Baptism, but as our lives go on, we sin and so sully them.
  • God is always ready to ‘forgive our evildoing and remember our sin no more,’ as Jeremiah put it.
  • We need clean hearts both because they are good for us to have and because goodness can draw others to God and to doing good.

Reading 2 Heb 5:7-9

In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

  • Our Lord always was perfect, both perfect God and perfect man. However, he had a work to accomplish, and this work was completed when he remained perfectly obedient to the Father by suffering everything his Passion called for.
  • We can imitate Christ whenever we want, because we all have sufferings, large and small, that we can offer to the Father. We learn obedience to the Father, who permits us to experience these evils. We reverently offer them to the Father, who can save us from death. These crosses, so offered, perfect us.

Gospel Jn 12:20-33

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast
came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
Philip went and told Andrew;
then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Jesus answered them,
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
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.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
But it was for this purpose that I
came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;
but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
Jesus answered and said,
“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.
Now is the time of judgment on this world;
now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself.”
He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

  • When Our Lord was lifted up from the earth he began to draw everyone to him.
    • To be “lifted up from the earth” can mean Christ’s entire work to save and sanctify men: his sufferings, his being lifted up on the cross on which he died, his rising up from the dead, and his Ascension into heaven.
    • Why draw everyone to him? Christ is “the source of eternal salvation,” as Hebrews puts it.
  • When Our Lord was lifted up from the earth, God judged the world.
    • Part of the judgment was against the ruler of this world, that is, the devil, and the judgment was to begin to drive him out of the world.
    • The other part of the judgment pertained to us. This judgment was radically different than what we might expect from the judgment against the world in the story of Noah or the judgment against Sodom in the time of Lot. Instead, God’s judgment was that he loves us even in our sins and wants to save us. He wants to lift us from the dominion of the devil whose subjects we are if we sin.
  • When Our Lord was lifted up from the earth, he glorified the Father and himself.
    • He did this in the most surprising and counterintuitive way. He glorified himself by completely emptying himself, by letting himself be marred and humiliated and crushed. An earthly man would glorify himself by slaying all his enemies and forcing everyone else to serve him. The God-man glorified himself by serving everyone and by letting himself be slain.
  • We participate in God’s good judgment toward sinners when we turn from loving our lives to hating it. What does it mean to hate your life?
    • It means to turn from one’s understandable desire for self-preservation to reliance on God’s care.
      • One’s desire for self-preservation is seen in holding on to, by whatever means necessary, ‘my needs, my desires, my pleasures, my health, my honor, my reputation, my being right.’
    • Hating your life also means ordering all of those good things to the will of God.
      • To live the virtue of Christian chastity, for example, means ordering one’s desire for sexual pleasure according to the will of God. This means saying no to what the desire wants in many circumstances and yes to it in others. That saying ‘no’ is the kind of good self-hatred Christ advocates.
    • When we hate our lives—in this sense—we plant the grain of wheat of eternal life in the ground so that it can begin to grow and bear fruit. When we do this “the Father will honor” us, because we are serving his son.

Doctrine: The virtue of temperance or selfless self-preservation

  • Temperance is the virtue or good habit by which we moderate our desire for pleasurable things. We moderate this desire by only saying yes to acts that give us pleasure at the right time and in the right circumstances. At the wrong time or in the wrong circumstances we are temperate if we say no to those acts.
  • Temperance moderates passions necessary for life: hunger and thirst because we must eat and drink; sexual desire so the human race can continue; anger to defend against aggression and injustice; and even hunger for knowledge so we can be educated. These passions are good in themselves.
  • Josef Pieper describes temperance as selfless self-preservation, whereas intemperance is selfish self-destruction (Pieper 150).
    • Pieper argues that our passions get us in trouble because instead of the inner order that ought to prevail in us we have an actual interior disorder.
    • God has created us with a nature which directs us to love him above ourselves, whereas due to original sin we are inclined to love ourselves more than God.
    • We observe the inner order proper to us when we act in obedience to the moral law.
    • Yet we often reject the moral order and make these life-giving drives destructive.
      • Hunger becomes gluttony. Thirst becomes drunkenness. Sexual desire becomes lust. Just anger becomes uncontrollable fury. Even the desire to know becomes the vice of curiosity. (Pieper 150-151)
    • One of the reasons the Church makes every Friday a day of penance and gives us the season of Lent each year is to help us put a curb on our passions, something possible through God’s grace and our cooperation.
    • The virtue of temperance does not ask us to enjoy pleasures less; rather, it makes it possible to enjoy them as much as we wish but at the right time and under the right circumstances.

Practical application: Personal encounter with Jesus Christ

  • We have seen that Our Lord asks us to hate ourselves in a good way. It is easy to see why many persons do not want to do this. It is easy to see why we Catholics do not want to do this! A lot of what Christ asks—which the Church merely echoes—seems very hard.
  • Each of us can ask ourselves what are the obstacles that stand in the way of following Christ fully. The answer will be some form or combination of weakness, vice, sin, fear, or woundedness.
  • The solution is Christ himself, the Divine Physician. He makes it possible for us to live according to his hard sayings.
  • As the preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families in 2015 put it in regard to evangelization, “In the Church, the first priority is to bring people to an encounter with the Divine Physician. Any encounter with Christ brings healing to fallen humanity, and the Holy Spirit can always be invited into our hearts to enable repentance and conversion.”
  • The authors are not saying this for people “out there” but are addressing each one of us, you and me.
  • We know this because they then go on to quote Pope Francis: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’” (LIOM 155)
    • Each one of us needs to be renewed, as Pope Francis says. We should seek this everyday.
  • Then, as Jeremiah foresaw, the time will have come when the Lord says, “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; . . . No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD.”

The Homiletic Directory offers the following Catechism points and themes for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

  • CCC 606-607: Christ’s life an offering to the Father
  • CCC 542, 607: Christ’s desire to give his life for our salvation
  • CCC 690, 729: the Spirit glorifies the Son, the Son glorifies the Father
  • CCC 662, 2853: Christ ascended in glory as our victory
  • CCC 56-64, 220, 715, 762, 1965: the history of the covenants







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *