March 22, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Mother Rebecca Stramoski
March 22, 2015

            Jn 12:20-33
            We spoke last week of the attraction of the cross.  Today this message is repeated: Jesus lifted up will draw all people to Himself.  This repetition is not surprising since last week we were talking about the cross as the center-piece of our lives where all paradoxes, graces, and salvation flow.  So we remain again at the foot of the cross looking with love at Jesus who is looking lovingly at us.  Love always attracts and the cross of Christ is the greatest love.  But there is a catch to this seemingly simple attractive force of love.  We love, but unfortunately, we love many things.  Yes, we do love the cross but we also love our comfort and our will and our possessions and our time…and the list goes on!  Our arms are not big enough to embrace all the things we love! 
            I read a book during retreat that used the image of a magnet and its attractive force.  If you put a nail close to a magnet, the nail sticks.  Put another nail by the nail on the magnet and it sticks too.  We can repeat this on and on until we have a trail of nails piled high.  Things begin to get heavy and messy as the strings of love pile on and on. 
            This is a reason we want to return daily to the cross…to make Christ crucified the center of our passion and the only desire of our heart.  When the soul is filled with Christ it has no more longings.  So here comes another image.  A horseshoe magnet can rapidly pick up pieces of iron.  However if you put a piece of iron right across the two ends of the magnet, it will cease to attract anything else.  The magnetic circuit is completed, and the magnet rests perfectly quiet, refusing to go beyond its own circle of pure content…and content.  When my soul is filled with Jesus, He completes the circuit of my soul’s passions and longings.  He is my salvation and all my desire – I have no need to pick up other things.  Haven’t we all experienced this?  Hasn’t your soul come to a complete rest when it has been absorbed by Christ?  When He has drawn you to Himself, have you not entered into rest?  Just as Jesus said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Mat11:28).   This peace is another fruit of the attractive force of the crucified Christ.  
            Lent is a time of recommitment…a time for us to examine our lives and set things in proper order with God – with our sole passion being for Christ.   Jesus says in our gospel today “that to serve me is to follow me”, but adds “where I am”.  Jesus says follow me “where I am”- not where I think I should be or where I want to be, but simply, where He is.  Without that completed circuit, so to speak, this one phrase can cause us many troubles.  Purity of heart allows us to see Jesus where He is.  Or like those Greeks in today’s gospel, with our whole being (heart, mind, and soul) we beg “Sir, we would like to see Jesus”.    
            So let us look at where Jesus went in His earthly travels.  We heard at the beginning of our Lenten season that Jesus was led into the desert.  So we should not be surprised when we find ourselves in desert places.  This is where we must all eventually travel.  The desert is not a comfortable place to be.  It is the place of the heart which we must enter - where things are stripped down to essential truths so that our love, desires, and thoughts may become single focused and pure.  It is a difficult road that leads us to the truth of who we are, but it also leads us to the truth of who God is, which brings us to peacefully rest in His heart…where that magnetic circle is complete.  It is where “the grain of wheat dies” in order “to produce much fruit”; where “we lose our life” so as “to preserve it for eternal life”
            But what led Jesus into the desert?  Certainly it was not the flesh because the flesh does not seek out the uncomfortable and barren spots.  Rather we are told that it was the Spirit that led him into the desert.  For only the Spirit can give us the courage to enter our consciences honestly and recommit our lives and purify our hearts. 
            Jesus was led to another place as well…the cross.  With this in mind, can we hear the words of Jesus again:  “to serve me is to follow me where I am”.  In other words, to serve God am I willing to follow him all the way to the cross?  Can I truly say with St Paul, “I want to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”.
            When I was new in the life I was speaking to someone in community about my struggling with something.  (To be honest I can’t remember what it was but at the time I thought it was huge!!  You know how that goes!!)  I told her I had been taking it to the cross of Jesus every day and yet it was still with me!!!  She responded that I don’t go to the cross and throw my troubles up to Jesus hanging there…I need to mount the cross with Jesus.  I was shocked, or more accurately, “awoken” by that statement!  Later, what came to mind was St Paul’s words “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I live is not my own but Christ living within me.”  Subconsciously I was thinking that if I took my sufferings to Christ He would take them away, but I realized this was a cross I was to bear for Him and with Him.  It was God’s choice on whether it was more beneficial for me to carry the cross or not and God’s discretion on when this suffering would turn into new life.  It was like I was expecting Jesus to be where I was and how I thought it should be, and not following where Jesus actually was and where Jesus wanted me.  It is easy to slip into this way of praying if we are not careful.    
            So yes, Lent is a time to enter our hearts honestly and to look at our commitments and promises.   Sometimes we prefer distractions or even to entertain the temptations in the desert.  But distractions bring a lack of peace and a multiplication of loves like the nails piling high on the magnet.  So whether we are being led to the desert or to the cross, let us stay focused on Christ…let His love attract us to Himself.  This is the only way we can “look forward to holy Easter with that joy and spiritual longing” that St Benedict prescribed during Lent.    
            So let us embrace the cross with joy, peace, and trust, and let its love attract us, knowing that Christ did all of this…for us!

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