APRIL 2, 2006, 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT: JEREMIAH 31:31-34; HEBREWS 5:7-9; JOHN 12:20-33
I- ONCE I AM LIFTED UP FROM THE EARTH- WILL DRAW ALL MEN TO MYSELF. These words of our Lord are an instance of the deliberate obscurity with which, under certain circumstances, Jesus clothed his teaching. Only after the passion, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit was this saying relatively clear. Implicit in this declaration of Jesus is his teaching on the need to take up the cross in order to follow him. Only to the extent that we are willing to comply with his teaching can we grasp its hidden meaning. Gaining access of a more personal, intimate nature, to our Lord, has never been without its exacting requirements. Rightly to understand him we must be disposed to be formed by him. His words must find room in our heart or they will not achieve their purpose. This is the essence of true love, to give entrance to oneís heart and to conform to the belovedís interests in the hidden place within from which our decisions and actions flow. Such love alone can be united with another person at the most interior center of his or her person.
Accompanying his attractive ways, the charm of his person, his compassion and ready sympathy for the poor, the suffering and the well disposed, there always remained a notable element of freedom and independence about the person of our Lord. He did not readily deliver the more interior regions of his person over, even to those who left all things and followed him. St. John states this in so many words: "Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them. He never needed evidence about any man; he knew what was in a man(2:24,25)." There always remained a mysterious region of our Lordís personality that only rarely revealed itself, and then only in part. The Father alone knew him fully, in the Holy Spirit. Even when the Father revealed something of his hidden mystery it was not evident to many just what it meant. The event described in todayís Gospel is a striking instance. Although a voice from heaven was heard there remained an ambiguity for many: Here is how St John describes the scene. Jesus, troubled at the prospect of his imminent passion and death, speaks aloud in the presence of a crowd:
"My soul is troubled now, yet what should I say- Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from the heavens: "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." When the crowd of bystanders heard the voice, they said it was thunder. Others maintained, "An angel was speaking to him."
In the first reading today we learn from the prophet Jeremiah the essential condition for rightly recognizing in Jesus the Word of God made man and his revelation.
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 kinsmen how to know the Lord. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evil and remember their sin no more.
Only the heart, turned away from sin and made pure by Godís gracious gift of his Spirit can know the Lord for who he truly is. This law that God writes in our heart is the law that is love. This law is knowledge imparted by The Spirit who is Himself the law by which God lives, as St. Bernard tells us. Written by the Word, who is, as it were, the finger of God, on the tablet of our heart, we can know it only to the extent that we enter this deep, hidden place of the heart, at the center of our own being. As we endeavor to do just this we soon discover many obstacles in our path in the form of our passions, our selfish desires and scattered interests. Yet, even a glimpse of this place within where the Lord already abides, gives us the heightened desire to know more fully Him who has the secret of eternal life.
It was on the night before he died, in the course of the Last Supper, that Jesus revealed with a new clarity of expression the purpose and ultimate meaning of his mission in this world. He states it in the course of a prayer addressed to his heavenly Father.
Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you. And through the power over all mankind that you have given him, let him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him. Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John17:1,2).
Some measure of this experiential knowledge of the Father we have already received in the words and through the person of the Son. The measure of this knowledge is the degree of our admitting into our heart his teaching and his example. "He who loves me will keep my words and my Father will come to him and we shall dwell with him", our Lord explained on this same occasion. This then is the new heart, inscribed with the law of God of which Jeremiah speaks to us today. His message is fulfilled as we hear Jesus promise to those who put their faith and trust in him a share in that life which is eternal. As Lent approaches its climax in the next two weeks we are presented with the purpose of our observance: our prayer and self-denial, our concern for those in need is ordered to open our hearts to the loving knowledge of God the Father, through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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