Deacon Bill March 17

As we navigate Christian life we fluctuate between two extremes, seeking God’s direction in our lives and seeking to reduce the load His direction requires.”  We either seek purpose, engagement, and joy or we feel overwhelmed and ask for relief, help, and support.  It is like when I used to play water polo, I always wanted to start every game, but towards the end, I would motion to sub out as exhaustion would set in.

In our gospel today, the Greeks are in the first group, seeking an understanding of God when they ask Philip, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”   The Greeks are an intellectual people with a well-developed sense of God and a polytheistic (multiple-God) view of the world, yet something about Jesus has them questioning their beliefs and seeking answers from the Messiah.  This is that feeling we sometimes have in our hearts, if we could just see Jesus, we could get our questions answered and move on with life. 

Jesus on the other hand is squarely in the second group, grappling with his current assignment which just changed from preaching to suffering on the cross.  He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Peter Kreeft says, “To understand him, [the Greeks] must look at his death, not just his life, because that’s what he came into the world for.”  For three years Jesus preached a gospel of love, now he would embody that gospel with the most profound act of love the world has ever seen.

Jesus goes on to describe his life in terms of a grain of wheat.  “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.”  Kreeft says, “The human self was designed by God to die in two ways: first to actively die to itself, to its own natural selfish egotism, and only through this come to life spiritually; and the second is to physically die in order to enter our heavenly life and fulfillment.”  CS Lewis puts it this way, “We are like eggs, we cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary decent egg.  We must be hatched or go bad.” 

This hatching process is what drives us to strengthen our relationship with God, especially during Lent.  It’s a time to give more attention to this essential relationship, to free up our hearts through prayer, fasting, and alms giving.  To see Christ in others, and to build habits that nurture our spiritual growth.

For those who fall into the second group and are fully consumed by the crosses in their lives, Lent is a time to be inspired by Christ’s mission to serve the Father through his passion, death and resurrection.  In the book of Hebrews we hear, “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.”  Whether we cry out loud or pray silently, the three words, “I need help,” make a perfect prayer in times of need.  Humility is essential to letting God help us.  Even Jesus asked for the Father’s help throughout his ministry and passion. 

My mother was in the hospital after two surgeries and a fall, and as she stabilized, she moved to a rehab facility.  My wife and I took on the role of coordinating with doctors and therapists and helped Mom with medical decisions.  During this time, a friend from the church gave us delicious chicken vegetable soup.  This was no ordinary gift of soup; it was a bucket of soul food.  Jesus and the 12 apostles could have eaten this soup and had plenty of leftovers. This soup was like God’s love for us.  We enjoyed it at home with our family, we took it to the rehab where my Mom thoroughly enjoyed it after weeks of hospital food.  Everywhere the soup went it brought happiness, and in this happiness, kinship was born.  I sent my friend pictures of my parents eating her endless soup and she said she felt connected to us in a special way.  She was connected to our mission to help my Mom heal and return home. 

Every suffering comes with kinship opportunities that join people together as Jesus says, “To Glorify God.”  Kinship is the fruit of every Christian virtue.   Jesus’ death and resurrection started the Church, a community of kinship inspired by His self-giving love.  The Greek Orthodox Church, in full communion with the Catholic Church, was the fruit of the Greeks who, “wanted to see Jesus.”

In his book, “Barking to the Choir,” Father Greg Boyle speaks on the topic of radical kinship in the context of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention program in the world. He says, “The ground beneath our feet is the kingdom of God.  It’s not around the corner, it IS the corner.  Kinship is not a reward bestowed at the end.  It’s here, it’s now, it’s at hand and within our reach.  And this moment is the ONLY one available to us.”  This speaks to the need we are being called to answer to in the world.  It’s a way that Jesus, ‘Draws everyone to himself.” 

Kreeft says, “It’s not the suffering that attracts us [to the cross] but the love, the love that is so great that it goes the extra mile and meets the supreme test of self-sacrifice.  The power of love to motivate the beloved is irresistible!”

As we prepare for the holiest week of the year, let’s consider our own journeys.  Are we seeking direction or in need of relief?  Maybe it is both.  Let’s look with the eyes of the Greeks to “see Jesus” in the Holy Week Masses, Friday Stations of the Cross, Thursday Adoration, and all our Lenten devotions.  Let’s let the Father guide us as he did his Son, and give us peace as we overcome all obstacles, even death, as Jesus promised to prepare a place for us in God’s heavenly kingdom.

On this St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I would like to end with an Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.  Through Christ our Lord…Amen!