This week marks the fifth Sunday of Lent. The readings focus on the approaching death of Jesus, which Paul considers a priestly sacrifice and John considers the moment of Jesus’ “exaltation” and “glorification.” The readings challenge us to possess Heaven by dying to self and living our lives in selfless and sacrificial service, just as Jesus became the “Promised Messiah of Glory” and the “Conquering Son of Man” by offering His life for others.
The first reading, taken from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, explains how God will replace the Old Covenant of Judgment with a New Covenant of forgiveness of sins. Although the prophet saw the exile of his people as God’s punishment for their sins, his proclamation of the new covenant is not based on their repentance, but simply on God’s mercy and goodness. We can see both continuity and newness in this promised covenant. The continuity originates from God’s abiding choice of the house of Israel and His willingness to make them His own. This following verse profoundly brings out this message: “I will place My Law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they will be my people.” So, the New Covenant does not abolish the earlier Covenants, but, according to Jeremiah, was fulfilled in Jesus.
The second reading beautifully connects the first and the Gospel reading. It discusses Jesus’ Passion as the fulfillment of the New Covenant. The first part of the reading is a prayer of the priests of ancient Judaism, it then describes Jesus as the Priest of the New Covenant. The second part of the reading describes Jesus as God’s Son, and at the same time, it emphasizes the human nature of Jesus, learning to be obedient through His suffering, and His suffering made Him perfect. The reading also indicates Jesus’ superiority to the priests of His time: He “became the source of eternal Salvation” to others.
The Gospel hints at Jesus’ inner struggle in accepting the cup of suffering to inaugurate the New and everlasting Covenant. However, Jesus accepts the cross as His “hour,” meaning the stepping-stone to His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Exaltation. He also considers His “hour” as the way to glorify His Heavenly Father and to be glorified by His Father. In addition, it is the way by which Jesus draws all people into the saving action of God. Finally, the “lifting up” of Jesus on the cross and later into Heavenly glory by the Resurrection and Ascension, is the assurance of our own exaltation and glorification, provided we accept our crosses.
The readings remind us that new life and eternal life are possible only by the death of self through suffering and service. For example, parents sacrifice themselves so that their children can enjoy a better life than they did. It is true that a life spent for others will be glorified in Heaven, and sometimes even in this world. We know that the world owes everything to people who have spent their time, talents and treasure for God and their fellow human beings. Finally, the second reading as well as the Gospel remind us that because Jesus suffered and tearfully prayed to be saved from death, He can sympathize with our sufferings. Jesus knows our human condition, our anguish and distress; He pleads with God the Father on our behalf, so let us not hesitate to take to our suffering and pain to Him.
We have several activities this coming week: Stations of the Cross on Thursday, at 2:15 pm, led by the Academy students, and Stations of the Cross on Friday, at 6:00 pm. Our parish mission is this week, Monday through Wednesday, and Rev. James Sichko will lead the parish mission and will give a talk every evening at 6:00 pm. We will conclude the parish mission on Wednesday with a penance service at 7:00 pm. There will be several priests available to hear confessions. As I mentioned in my last week’s column, there will be envelopes available for contributions to defray the cost of the parish mission. Please make checks payable to Santa Sophia Parish. You may drop the envelopes in the basket during the parish mission or in the collection basket.