Today’s homily is for the 5th Sunday of Lent, March 21 , 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here soon.
Jesus teaches his disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit,” referring of course to His death, but also to ours. St. John Paul II, in his Exhortation, Chrisifideles Laici said, “It must be remembered that Christian witness is to be considered a fundamental obligation that can even lead to the sacrificing of one’s life, to martyrdom, in the name of love.” He said that “The history of the past twenty centuries, as well as that of the last century, is filled with martyrs for Christian truth, witnesses to the faith, hope, and love that is founded on the Gospel.”
Estimates suggest that 100,000 Christians lose their life each year because of their faith in Jesus Christ. On Jan. 13, this year, Vatican News reported, “Every day, 13 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith, 12 churches or Christian buildings are attacked and 12 Christians are unjustly arrested or imprisoned, while another 5 are abducted. 1 in 8 Christians worldwide are facing persecution.” Can you believe it?
I go to work Monday to Friday…the week flies by, I say, “Where did it go?” One month turns to another and just like that a whole year has gone. I lament Mondays, love taco Tuesdays, and look forward to Fri-yeah! while 13 people are martyred each day, 91 this week, almost 400 this month–all the while I seem only to want to escape even the slightest discomfort. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Many Christians in developed nations have all but removed themselves from the scourging at the pillar, the discomfort of the cross, the humiliation of Calvary, and in doing so have denied themselves the glory of the resurrection.
“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” I am not without reproach in my desire to seek comfort. I mean, I am a man! I don’t mind carrying my cross, as long as it’s not too heavy, and the trip is short, and the cross has some padding, and maybe if it’s kinda small.
How do we in this first world comfort enjoy the victory of the cross and the martyrdom that is required? How do we without persecution walk in the footsteps of Christ and lay down our life for others? St. Ignatius, on his own way to martyrdom may offer some helpful insight. He said, “Now is the moment when I begin to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen distract me from making my way to Jesus Christ. Fire, cross, wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of the whole body, cruel tortures inflicted by the devil–let them come, provided that I make my way to Jesus Christ.”
His answer is quite clear, we must remain focused on Jesus. Not on comfort, but on Jesus. Not on the wealth of this world, but on treasure in heaven. Not on politics and pleasure, but on unity and sacrifice. As I speak with kids who have done wrong at school, they often want to avert their eyes to things less uncomfortable. I sternly say, “Look at me,” as I remind them of who they are, where they are, and what is expected of them. They are far less concerned about living right, than who might be watching. I say, “Look at me.” And as the weight of their wrongdoing finally sinks in and they bow their head, and sometimes there are even tears, I say, “Look at me.” I start stern and end in love. I say, “You can do better. I know you can. Show me what you’ve got.
In their willingness to look at me there is death to sin, death to self, and only in that is there hope for resurrection. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. We need to ask ourselves, how often do I divert my eyes? It’s time for the Bishop’s ministry appeal–look away! Oh jeez, here come the Knights of Columbus–another fish fry! Look away! There are the homeless–look away. Here are children without clothes–look away. There are the hungry and in shelters–look away. Here are those who are in prison–look away.
To seek only comfort and the path of least resistance and to look away from sadness, suffering, helplessness, and hopelessness, is to look away from Jesus. We turn away from our Lord who said that which you did not do for these least brothers of mine, you did not do for me. Pick up our cross? In truth, too often we don’t even want to follow him. We certainly don’t want to run to him.The answer is quite simple, really, when God presents us with the discomfort of sin, brokenness, addiction, homelessness, and a life of irresponsibility, we have a choice to make, we can look away, or we can admit with Jesus, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” And in that moment, we remain fixed on Jesus, pick up our cross, and donate, serve, support, and yes, sacrifice. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat…but we were created for so much more–produce much fruit and be his disciples today.