for the First Sunday of Lent, Cycle C
February 24, 2007
I am up here today to deliver a letter and then to reflect with you how we can best respond to the spiritual guidance we find in it. The letter has your name on it, and mine as well. It comes to us from the desk of Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI and it contains his personal invitation to join him on a pilgrimage of faith - a Lenten Pilgrimage to Calvary.
How better can we begin than by letting Our Holy Father speak for himself? I lent my voice to his words - not all of them (time would not allow that) but enough of them to capture the heart of his message. He begins with a quotation from St. Johnís gospel: "They shall look upon Him Whom they have pierced." and his letter continues:
This is the biblical theme that this year guides our Lenten reflection. Lent is a favorable time to learn to stay with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, close to Him who on the cross consummated for us all the sacrifice of his life. With a more fervent participation, let us fix our gaze on Christ Crucified who, dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God. ....
It is in the mystery of the cross that the overwhelming power of Our Heavenly Fatherís mercy is revealed in all its fullness. In order to win back our love, He accepted to pay a very high price - the blood of His Only Begotten Son ....
Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced on the cross. He is the unsurpassing revelation of Godís love. On the cross it is God Himself Who begs the love of His creature.† He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. The apostle, Thomas recognized Jesus as "Lord and God" when he put his hand into the wound in His side. ....
Jesus said: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself." (Jn. 12:32) The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome His love and allow ourselves to be drawn to him. Accepting His love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ "draws me to Himself" in order to unite Himself to me, so that I in turn may learn to love my brothers and sisters with His own love.
"They shall look on him whom they have pierced." Let us look with trust at the pierced side of Jesus from which flow "blood and water" (Jn 19:34) The fathers of the church have considered these elements as symbols of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Through the water of Baptism, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, we are put in personal touch with the very love of the Blessed Trinity. The blood of Christ, symbol of His love for us, flows into us especially in the Eucharistic mystery. "The Eucharist draws us into Jesusí act of self-oblation... we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving." (Deus Caritas Est 13)
Let us live lent, then, as a "eucharistic" time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us in every word and deed. .... Contemplating "Him who they have pierced", may our Lent be, for every one of us, a renewed experience of Godís love given to us in Christ, a love that each day, we in turn, must "re-give" to our neighbor, especially to those who suffer most and are most in need. Only in this way will we be able to participate fully in the joy of Easter. May Mary, Mother of beautiful love, guide us in this Lenten journey - a journey of authentic conversion to the Love of Christ Who, lifted up on the Cross, draws us to Himself.
This is the message, not only from the pen but also from the pastoral heart of Our Holy Father. If I were asked to summarize his letter in a single sentence, I would reply: "He is calling us to Calvary." - or "He is sharing with us his own ardent devotion to the Passion of Jesus."
Canít we picture Pope Benedict, as he set about his letter-writing task, asking himself: "What can I say to this people, beloved of God, which will really enrich their Lent with meaning?" And then, the inspiration comes! He finds his thoughts suddenly focused on the Good Friday liturgy. He imagines that vast procession of Catholics the world over, all coming forward to kiss the Crucifix........ Canít we imagine him, pausing for a moment to pray: "Holy Spirit of Wisdom, help me to find the words to make their memory of the Passion the context of their Lenten observance, each day a preparation day to fill that Good Friday moment with meaning as they come forward to reverence the Wounds of Our Savior."
And so we have it - Our Holy Fatherís personal invitation to Calvary! An invitation and along with it an R S V P. - Please Respond! But how do we do that? How do we fill our Lent with the Memory of the Passion? Actually our answer is readily available. What is being asked of us is really a sharpened awareness of something that is already woven into the very fabric of our Catholic lives! You cannot enter into this lovely church without the memory of the Passion waiting to be brought alive in you. What was the first thing you did? Was it not to dip your hand in holy water and sign yourself with the Sign of the Cross - surely a gesture of your Calvary faith!
Looking up into the sanctuary, again the same reminder! The Image of Jesus Crucified - a silent sermon speaking to us of Our Lordís Love for us. And looking around, there on the walls, the Stations of the Cross, visual memories of all that Jesus suffered and how He died for us.
And, of course, the Altar and our Holy Mass, the Sacramental Making Present of the Mystery of the Cross. Pope Benedict, you will remember, explicitly asked that we make this truly a "eucharistic Lent". In writing those words of spiritual guidance, he must have been recalling the words of the Second Vatican Council: "Our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the night before He died, in order to leave to His Church a memorial of His death and resurrection, instituted this Sacrament of His Body and Blood." Here and now and today, the "memory" into which we are sacramentally caught up is the Memory of the Passion.
And so many other reminders, waiting to be re-discovered... The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, for example. Most of us have found them the easiest mysteries on which to meditate. They help us to companion Christ along what Pope John Paul II described as "the common path of pain we all must walk." And the spiritually proven practice of aspiratory prayer, momentary reminders of the Sufferings of Our Blessed Lord: "Jesus, I thank you for dying on the Cross for me." "May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts." And is not our devotion to the Sacred Heart really just another expression of devotion to the Passion? The Heart we venerate in a Heart, crowned with a cross, encircled with thorns and pierced with a lance.
One final Lenten devotion which cannot be too highly recommended. What a difference it would make in our approach to Good Friday if, each evening of Lent, we would find time to open our New Testament to the pages on the Passion as we find them there, first reading through Matthewís account, then continuing with Markís and Lukeís and especially St. Johnís. Every one of them has its own special enrichment, waiting for us to claim it for our own.
As we turn now back to the Altar to enter into this living memory of Jesus Crucified, we make our own, the prayer which Our Holy Father has shared with us:
Contemplating ďHim Whom they have pierced" may our Lent be, for every one of us, a renewed experience of Godís love, given to us in Christ.... May Mary, Mother of beautiful love, guide us on our Lenten journey, a journey of authentic conversion to the love of Christ, who, lifted up on the Cross, draws us to Himself.