Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
One Question, Two Tones
As we approach Holy Week, we might be more aware of the cross. Yet, all Lent focuses us on the cross, one of “the great events which gave us new life in Christ.”/1/ A few years ago, writer Lauren Winner became aware of the cross as if for the first time. Her words are worth hearing:
I’ve grown a little cynical about Lenten devotion. Too often, Lenten disciplines remind me of New Year’s Eve resolutions—we all make these pledges, we vaguely gesture toward keeping them, but we know we’re never really going to take off those five pounds/join a gym/work weekly at a soup kitchen.I, too, had forgotten. I noticed that Lent that I gained a deeper appreciation of the cross. Then I forgot it again, and this Lent has restored my vision of it.
It was with that faint cynicism that I turned to the lectionary for Lent, and as I read through John and Mark and Paul, I realized that I (like Mark’s disciples) had missed the point, mis-taken what was supposed to be a devotional aid as the end in itself. And that—an end in itself—is the very thing Lent is not. Rather, Lent is a trail, an “in between,” a going toward. “Above all,” wrote Orthodox theo-logian Alexander Schmemann, “Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter.”
So don't pick up the lectionary if you want to devote this Lent to breaking your caffeine addiction. For what the readings come back to—over and over—is the cross. I wear a cross around my neck every day, but somehow I had forgotten./2/
The cross is at the center of Christian life: it is the standard under which we place ourselves; we sign ourselves with it often to remind us that the cross is the door of our salvation; the cross is a favored place at which to converse with Jesus--as St. Augustine said, we ought to place ourselves with the suffering Christ as well as with the victorious Christ. Of course, Easter victory cost the cross.
The cross was imperial Rome’s instrument of capital punishment. Jesus transformed it into our badge of identity, our standard of peace. Easter peace, which is true peace, cost the cross. Jesus’ dying and rising transformed human suffering: by his struggle Jesus did not eliminate struggle he gave it new meaning.
Not every human struggle parallels crucifixion, however, the dynamic of the cross is every present. An example whispered itself to me in today’s gospel in the form of the question of the chief priests and Pharisees: What are we going to do?
The scene suggests that their tone of voice was desperate. They had long plotted to rid themselves of Jesus, and they often had failed. They were at their wits’ end because, seeing people believing in Jesus, they felt that spelled the end of both our land and our nation. That is desperate.
Luke recounted that question during the Baptizer’s days and after Pentecost. People heard about repentance and heard about Jesus and they are moved to ask. What shall we do? They were not desperate, urgent but not desperate. They were finding peace because they found what gave them hope and meaning.
Lenten disciplines are not ends in themselves. They help us return to Jesus. It is never to late to begin Lent. Jesus desires to set us at peace in order to follow him on his mission. On mission with Jesus we discern more clearly what to do.
/1/ Preface for Lent I
/2/ Her “Journeying Toward Resurrection” appeared at sojo.net
Flickr photo by ramoo76 used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0