5th Sunday of Lent
Preached March 18. 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
I didn’t plan this.
Last Sunday I finished a series of seven homilies on the basics of the Catholic faith. I started out with a rough outline of topics, which I developed Sunday by Sunday, introducing each theme starting from the readings for the day. As I worked through the series of homilies a certain theme began to emerge that I didn’t have in mind when I started – the new heart that Jesus Christ wants to fashion in us through the power of his Holy Spirit.
The theme of the ‘new heart’ was rooted in three passages from the Old Testament: a passage from Ezekiel, a prayer of David in the Psalms, and a passage from Jeremiah. I never looked past last Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent.
I didn’t plan this, but I think someone else did.
Today, our first reading was taken from the very passage of Jeremiah that lies behind the theme of the ‘new heart’: I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts. Our Psalm response was the prayer of David: Create a clean heart in me, O God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through him it becomes the interior law of charity: ‘I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will put my laws into their hands, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’ The New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful through faith in Christ. It works through charity; it uses the Sermon on the Mount to teach us what must be done and makes use of the sacraments to give us the grace to do it.” (CCC 1965-1966, emphasis added)
The ‘new heart’ is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, in which the Law of the Gospel has been inscribed as in the Ark of the New Covenant.
I didn’t plan this: it seems clear that the Lord wants this parish, in a special way, to know and understand his desire to create a new heart within us.
With that in mind we might ask what light the 2nd reading and the Gospel today shed on the ‘new heart’?
The word of God, in the 2nd reading and the Gospel, speaks to us today of the origin of this new heart, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, Son of God made man, the high priest of the new and eternal covenant. The new heart is the heart of Christ that is given to us.
From his Sacred Heart, from his priestly heart, Jesus, in the days of his earthly sojourn, offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears on our behalf, that we might be saved from sin and death, and he was heard because of his reverence. He became obedient unto death, death on the Cross (Ph 2:8) and by the sacrifice of his obedient will we have been sanctified. (cf. Heb 10:9-10) He has thus become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
To be saved, through obedience to Jesus Christ, means having our heart fashioned anew after the pattern of his priestly heart. The one who most perfectly reflects Jesus’ work of salvation in this earthly pilgrimage is Jesus’ own Immaculate Mother, who stood beneath the foot of the Cross, united her will perfectly with his, and offered herself to the Father, through him, with him, and in him.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us first of the abundant fruit that his life-giving death will yield, making us of the image of the grain of wheat, that falls to the ground and dies: If it dies, it produces much fruit. Then he goes on to say, referring again to his death on the Cross, through which he conquers the devil, the prince of sin, When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.
All of this, which Jesus accomplished once for all upon the Cross is made present to us here and now upon the altar of sacrifice.
Here Jesus, who now lives and reigns at the right hand of his Father, is ‘lifted up’ in our sight beneath the separate appearances of bread and wine, showing forth the separation of his Body and Blood that took place upon the Cross. Here the Immaculate Virgin is always present teaching us to offer the saving victim as she did offer him, and to offer ourselves along with him. Here Jesus continues to draw to himself all who hear and believe. (cf. Jn 6:45) Here in the power of the Holy Spirit he gives us his Body and Blood as true food and true drink in order to refashion our hearts, to unite them to himself, and make them like his.