Our world is consumed with pride.
So are we, if we’re honest. Or maybe it’s just me.
We see this pride in everything. The media proudly struts about, pounding their nonsense into the brains of those foolish enough to listen to them, lecturing us about how we should be living a more woke life. The education system proudly flaunts the fact that they have largely abandoned traditional teaching methods and classic education and, rather than teaching our children how to think and read and interact with their fellow humans, they clamor about how modern their methods are, while teachers unions whine about doing their job because they might get sick. The government so proudly lectures us, in the persons of the radical left, about how we are all racists and sexual bigots because we (Catholics) cling to the Faith. Our own Church hierarchy, in their arrogance, feel that they can adjust the Tradition of the Church to fit into their liberal ideology and expect the faithful to just go along with the nonsense.
It’s everywhere and consumes all in its path.
This was, perhaps, the great sin of Lucifer. In his pride, he wanted to be the star of the show, not some lowly virgin who would give miraculous birth and certainly not to God the Son who would dare to lower Himself to become human. How dare God not recognize the beauty and knowledge and wonder of him, Lucifer thought! He was and is consumed by pride.
But our readings today point us in a very different direction. Our Epistle is St. Paul’s famous text on humility: Philippians 2:5-11. Our gospel reading is St. Matthew’s narrative of the Passion of our Lord Jesus: Matthew 26:36-75, 27:1-60.
Let us consider together the humility of our Lord Jesus. St. Paul reminds us that we are to have the mind of Christ. And, in our text today, what is the mind of Christ?
He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. God the Son, who has existed for all eternity, through Whom the world was made, for Whom the world was made, took upon Himself human flesh. He took on all our weakness and frailty. Imagine, brothers and sisters. God has become human. He emptied Himself of the glory in which He lived and the constant praise of the angelic hosts to hear the hateful words of sinful man who spat on Him and mocked Him. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating on this fact and not exhaust its depths:
He emptied Himself.
He humbled Himself, being obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Fathom, if you can, the humility of the God-man, God the Son, who was and is and is to come. He obeyed the will of the Father, knowing it would cost Him agony that we cannot possibly comprehend and suffering a death that was excruciating beyond what we can imagine. Look at our gospel reading and see His agony. He was beaten, spat upon, stripped naked, nailed to a cross. Behold His suffering and fall on your knees, brothers and sisters.
And we, brothers and sisters, we not only observe but are invited to participate in His very Passion. What grace He has given us, that we should be joined to His suffering and death by faith! We cannot, we must not turn away from our own suffering for, in it, we embrace the suffering of our Messiah.
Embrace the humility of our Lord Jesus in your own life. In the garden, He said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me.”
What an invitation He has given us! We are invited to stay with Him and watch with Him in prayer!
Do our souls sorrow for our sins?
Do we watch with Christ in prayer?
Our Lord said to the Father, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Are we willing to submit to the will of the Father, no matter the cost? Are we willing to submit our own will? Do we submit to His Church, and thus to Him, or do we demand our own way? Let us take to heart the words of our Savior, even in His suffering and Passion,
“Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak.”
Let us embrace what our Lord has gone before us to show. Let us take to heart His words and amend our lives, rend our hearts and submit. Let us watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation. Our flesh is indeed weak and selfish and prideful. Pray, brothers and sisters, that your spirit would be made willing. Fast, pray, embrace the life our Lord has called us to, a life of submission to the will of the Father and service to our Lord Jesus.
And what shall come of us after we have submitted, after we have fasted and prayed, after we have submitted to the will of the Father?
Like the veil of the temple, our hearts will be torn in two. Not in pain but in freedom. For the veil of our flesh and sin that has separated us from God our Father will have been torn finally in two. Our hearts of stone will become hearts of true flesh. We shall have then the mind of Christ. And we shall see our Lord face to face, as He is.
Oh, this is the end, dear brothers and sisters, of embracing the Passion of our Lord. We shall be made in His image and we shall see Him face to face! Watch ye, therefore, and pray!
Have you ever found joy in a strange place or at a strange time? It’s like you are in your darkest hour and suddenly find joy. An example from my life was when my sister died. It was one of, if not the, darkest times in my life. And yet, joy came from and during that dark time. During that time, my relationship with my parents was renewed. Joy in the darkness.
Our readings this week are sort of like that. In the traditional calendar, this Sunday is known as Laetare Sunday. What, you may ask, is that? Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, takes its name from the Latin word which begins the entrance antiphon (introit) for that day. Laetare means rejoice, and this Sunday is marked by a relaxation of the penitential character of the Lenten season. This is Laetare Sunday when we consider the joy before us of the Easter season, joy in the solemn time of Lent.
Joy is one of those things that gets really misunderstood and is wrongly defined. We tend to think that joy and happiness are the same thing. They are not. Happiness is an emotion, a feeling that all is going well for you. Happiness, in our human experience, is largely tied to stuff; a good job, marriage is good, feeling fine, that sort of thing. Joy, on the other hand, is a much deeper thing. True joy is not based, necessarily, in the emotional realm. Joy is a deep-rooted experience that comes from a settled feeling of contentment and is usually not based on stuff.
Joy is not happiness.
So, even during a penitential season like Lent, even while we meditate on our sinfulness and mortify our flesh and do penance, we can have joy. Our joy, as followers of Christ, comes from something that is outside of us. All the readings from this week resound with this theme of joy, from the Introit to the Gradual, the Epistle and Gospel.
Epistle: Galatians 4:22-31
Gospel: John 6:1-15
Our Epistle text is really interesting as it relates to joy. In fact, you may read it and wonder how it has anything to do with joy. The situation that St. Paul is referring to in this text is found in Genesis 16. I’m not going to go into that but, if you like, you can go back and read it. What St. Paul is talking about here is primarily found in what St. Paul calls the “children of promise.” And what is meant by that?
St. Paul reminds us of the story of Abraham having two sons born to him; one from a slave woman and the other from his wife, Sarah. He says in verse 23 that the son born of the slave was “born according to the flesh” but the son (Isaac) that was born of his wife Sarah was “by promise.” What does that mean? Abraham was promised a son. Through that son all nations would be blessed. But Abraham and Sarah couldn’t wait on that promise. They took matters into their own hands, so to speak, and decided they would preempt the promise of God and have a son by the slave woman.
But God’s purpose was not be denied or thwarted, no matter how much Abraham took matters into his own hands “according to the flesh.” God’s promised son was born despite Sarah’s manipulation and Abraham’s capitulation.
There’s something here for us as well: Let us trust in the promises of God and trust His timing. Taking matters into our own hands mostly leads to disaster and sin. We can always rely on the promises of God.
But, St. Paul tells us that he’s reading this story, also, in an allegorical sense. These two sons are “the two testaments.” One, born of the slave, is born under the law. The other, born under promise, is “free.” And Paul relates this to what he calls “Jerusalem.” In Paul’s treatment of Jerusalem, we see the Church. Look at verse 26. St. Paul tells us,
“But that Jerusalem, which is above, is free: which is our mother.”
He is referring to the Church. The Church is our mother. And we, St. Paul tells us, are the new children of promise. Look at verse 28. The promise of God is salvation by the gift of grace. Isaac did nothing to earn it. He was merely born. So now, the child of promise is one who is born of faith, not of the flesh, as St. Paul tells us.
That is us. We who are of the faith are the children of promise.
In turning to our Gospel, we are tempted to think these two texts have nothing to do with one another. This is the miraculous feeding of “a very great multitude.” How many people exactly that is we do not know. What we do know is there were about 5000 men. That’s men only. Jesus miraculously feeds them by multiplying the loaves and fishes.
What we see here is a pre-figuring of the Eucharist. Jesus is giving a foretaste of what is to come after His ascension. The 1955 St. Andrews Daily Missal tells us that this is the Easter Sacrament, promised to the baptized children of the promise. What joy is ours, that THE Child of the promise, who is Christ the Lord, has become for us the Lamb that was slain on our behalf! But not just slain; risen indeed! This is the Easter promise of the Child.
There is One who, for us and for our sins, would be born. He would be the Child of promise in which Isaac is pre-figured. He would be the Seed that will bless the nations. He would be the Seed of the Woman who will crush the head of the great serpent, our enemy!
Now we, like the Psalmist can say,
“I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 121:1)
What joy is ours, we who rejoice in the promise of the Child! He, being the Firstborn of many brethren, has become for us our sacrifice. Now, with great joy, we go to the house of the Lord, to the house of our Father. There, in the Easter Sacrament, in the Eucharist, we may taste the joy of our salvation!
One day….oh, one day, dearly beloved! One day we shall see our Lord Jesus Christ face to face! One day we shall see the Eucharistic Lamb who was slain! One day we shall see the great Child of the promise, our Elder Brother, Jesus! With the Father, in the bosom of Mother Church, He has gone before us and He has won our salvation!
What promise, what joy is ours in Christ our Lord!