March 21, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Mother Rebecca Stramoski
March 15, 2015

Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

            In today’s gospel Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”   Later in John’s gospel, Jesus will address this message to everyone: “when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.” 
            When a charismatic leader dies a lot of his personal power and attraction dies with him.  What remains is a memory and perhaps a few books and insights.  But with Jesus it is all different.  The Lord’s power to draw all people to himself is mainly in His death, when he was lifted up on the cross.  How ironic it seems that His main attractive force is the cross.  What remains in Jesus’ death is not a memory but a living presence and a Spirit of driving force.  The written words that remain speak as personally to us today as when they were written two thousand years ago!  They are not just insights but have the power to save.
            I remember BJ recalling how Colum would give him a scripture passage to ponder in prayer each day.  She gave him a verse from 1 Cor (2:2): “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified “.   BJ came back the next day and asked for another passage.   But Colum told him to stay with that one sentence for a full week.  He was surprised - how could he meditate on one verse for a whole week?  But Colum told BJ that unless he understood Christ crucified, he could not be a true disciple of Jesus. In other words if we don’t understand Christ crucified we have missed Jesus’ central message and His greatest act of love.  The cross is the center-point of Truth’s many paradoxes.  It is at the cross we understand that death is life, loss is gain, weakness is strength…and our darkest moments are filled with greatest light.  Jesus’ glory arose in His humiliation, love in his suffering, and mercy in his dying words.  This is what we want to emulate in our own lives:  humility grounded in truth, a love stronger than death, and a mercy without limits.  Jesus taught us this not only by his words but by his life – to be His disciple we must do the same.  This is why Colum was saying we must know Christ as crucified, for His cross is the attractive force of God’s love and it is by this that we are saved.  Do you find the cross attractive?  Is it something you want to embrace in your life?  Do you see the cross of Christ as the center of your life?  Pope Benedict remarked in his Encyclical, “God is Love {and} it is only by looking at Jesus dead on the cross that this fundamental truth can be known and contemplated.  In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.” 
            In this Lenten Season we want to spend time at the foot of the cross and let Jesus teach us, inspire us, forgive us, love us, and encourage us.  As Pope Benedict said, it is the place of infinite love and eternal life.  Love and eternal life have been the two greatest desires of all humankind throughout all ages!   The cross is an attractive force because it offers us both.  Jesus held on to nothing in order to give us everything.  To be like Christ is our ambition and our mission - to love like Him and divest ourselves of everything that is not Him…that is not love…that is not life giving.  But in the cross we don’t just see Jesus’ greatest expression of love.  In the cross we see what humanity is capable of - we are capable of tremendous love, like Jesus, but it requires a self-transcendence in surrender and trust.  We must spend time at the cross to learn this lesson and received its grace.
            St Bernard confirms this when he said, “We too when faced with our trials in community, with the crosses we must bear, here is our greatest opportunity to love, our greatest chance to be generous.  So like Christ, we desire to embrace the cross.  We don’t want to erase, but rather embrace, the crosses of Life and Love for the sake of our God.   Divine nature never worked more nobly and beautifully than when human nature must suffer because it is in our weakness that God’s power is strongest.” 
            When I was on retreat I would stay in church and pray after mass.  There was an 8 foot crucifix behind the altar and by its side was a huge icon of Jesus holding open the Scripture passage “I am the Light of the world.  He who follows me will not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”  At first I thought the two being put so close together was strange, but as the days went on I came across in a book I was reading:  “Not to Bethlehem, where the stars of Christmas burned, do we look for our greatest comfort, but to that place where the sun was darkened at midday and the face of eternal love was veiled.”  (Charles Spurgeon)  Yes, how true this darkest of days became our greatest light.  The cross…this is our guiding star in the Lenten Season.  If we are struggling or grieving, look to the cross.  “If the first glance does not quiet you and bring you consolation and peace, then look and look again, for every grief and trial will die where Jesus died.”
            Let us make this Lent a time in which we sit under the cross of Christ and give God our whole being – our mind, heart, soul, and time.   And let us allow the cross to bring us comfort, love, mercy, and salvation, for today Jesus is attracting us to Himself!...The question is “will we come?”!

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