Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, March 21, 2021. OT: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Responsorial Psalm 51; Gospel John 12:20-33. Theme: The Grain of Wheat - New Life, New Heart
Turning to God for healing and transformation in order to begin living a brand new life is the message we hear in today’s readings. Through the prophet Jeremiah God promises in the first reading to give us a new life and new heart. Our responsorial Psalm has us begging for this new life when it repeatedly puts on our lips the words, “create a clean heart in me O God…”. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus uses the dynamics of a grain of wheat to explain the transformative process of dying to self in order to live a new life.
When the grain falls into the ground and is buried in the soil, it dies. It gives up its seed-form and begins the process of becoming something new, something that gives life to others. This process is hidden and hard to see at first, but eventually it will show itself. Just as a farmer trusts the process of planting and harvesting, so must we trust the process of dying to self in order to find the new life that Jesus holds out to us.
For me this brings to mind the true story of Mary, a beautiful young Catholic girl who lived in Egypt. By the time of her teenage years, she had become a prostitute and we are told she became very rich but also very bored. Mary began to seek out the thrill of new challenges and she got an idea that was horrible – demonic even. She decided to go on one of the very popular pilgrimages to Jerusalem for Holy Week, not out of any religious devotion, but solely for the thrill of seducing the men on pilgrimage. And stories tell us that she was quite successful.
And then one day her very own experience of being like the grain of wheat took place and here is how it happened…When the pilgrims were going to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to venerate the empty Resurrection-tomb of Jesus, Mary joined them solely out of curiosity. Everyone was able to pass through the church doors…except for her. Oh, not that she didn’t try…but every time she DID try an invisible force prevented her entering. After several failed attempts, her eyes caught sight of a picture of the Blessed Mother hanging above the doorway. It seemed to come to life and spoke to her saying, “Repent of your sins. Ask forgiveness from my Son and change your ways. Then you shall enter.”
Mary repented then and there over her wayward life and begged a priest who was walking by to hear her confession. Then, going back to the entrance of the shrine, she walked right through the doors without a problem and spent the entire day there in prayer and meditation. She spent the rest of her life dying to selfishness and growing in a new way of thinking, a new way of living that sprang forth from her new heart and new life. She has been honored for centuries now as St. Mary of Egypt. And as a matter of fact, in some parts of the Catholic world, the 5th Sunday of Lent that we are observing today is dedicated to her honor because she is such an outstanding example of complete transformation in Christ.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives each one of us the same message that Mary was given: to give up your ways of thinking and living that lead to spiritual death. We are each called to turn away from any attitude or behavior that is holding us back from living as authentic Christians. The change of heart and life that Jesus promises begins with the awareness that Christ truly loves me personally and passionately. That he loved me enough to die for me. This realization changes me from the inside out. It makes me want to respond to His love by living a life that is truly pleasing to Him in return. It frees me from my past - whatever that might have looked like - and allows me to embrace a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at life, a new way of living like St. Mary.
This all becomes a possibility for us when we choose, once for all, to stop enthroning ourselves and our desires as #1 in life and begin to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. We will then begin to find power and freedom by the grace of God. As Christians, we always have this hope beyond hope that our dying to sin and selfishness will result in a new and transformed life, making us and all that we do something beautiful for God and others.
Ancient icon of the Blessed Mother which spoke to St. Mary