We Want to See the Infinite: the Thirst for God's Face

Lectio Divina: 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B

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Roman Rite

Jer 31, 31-34; Ps 51; Heb 5, 7-9; Jn 12, 20-33[1]

Ambrosian Rite – Fifth Sunday of Lent – “of Lazarus»

DT 6, 4a.20-25; Ps 104; Eph 5.15 to 20; Jn 11.1 to 53

1) See the good Face of Destiny: Jesus Christ.

  Days fly by and even the forty days of Lent are about to end. Next Sunday will be Palm Sunday and the following one, finally, will be Easter Sunday. In this approach to Holy Week (that the Ambrosian rite calls True Week) and to the day of Resurrection, today’s Gospel tells us what we must do to see[2] Jesus. First of all, we must have the desire and go to him as some «Greeks» (= pagans, then non-Jews) did. Second, we must understand why Christ instead of saying «look at me», replied that «the time has come» (Jn 12, 23) of his «death that gives death to death» (see Hos 13:14).

 Jesus gives the answer and moreover goes to the heart of the request made by the pagans and presented to him by the Apostles. To the request for a direct encounter, Jesus answers in an indirect way, announcing his Passion, in which he explains his death as «glorification» of His passionate love for his brothers and sisters in humanity. What does that mean? It means that those who want to see Him  will meet Him and see Him through the cross, by accepting to put into practice the parable of the grain of wheat that dies (Jn 12:24)  to be a source of life, following Him (Jn 12.25 to 26) and letting be drawn by Him,  who reigns having been elevated to the throne of the glorious Cross «When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself» (Jn 12:32).

Even today, Jesus meets our desire to see Him. He is like a grain of wheat that dies to bear fruit.

Even to us, today, the Lord says that if we want to meet him, know Him and advance on the Way for Life, we have to «die».

It’s true: the husband «dies» to his selfishness to devote himself to his wife.

The mother «dies» sacrificing her freedom to give birth to a child.

The priest «dies» putting his daily life at the disposal of the sheep that God has entrusted to him.

The consecrated person «dies» because he or she offers his or her life to Christ, totally. » the vocation of consecrated persons to seek the Kingdom of God is first and foremost a call to complete conversion, in self-renunciation, in order to live fully for the Lord, so that God may be all in all» (S. John Paul II, Ex. Ap. Post -sin. Consecrated Life, n. 35).

These four examples of «death», are examples of actions that give birth to a new dimension of love, a new creature, born to God and to fraternal communion.

The image of childbirth describes well this logic woven into things: the pains are needed to give birth to a new creature.

It is true that to accept this is difficult. When we are suffering, we do not think of the life that will come out of it. When we are hurt, we find it hard to see the future. When we are in the dark and in the cold of the earth like the seed of grain, we find it hard to think about a merciful and tender God. But if we keep fixed in our mind and in our heart that Jesus is the seed that goes into the ground (namely that donates himself to death) to bear fruit, we will understand the «need» to die and we will accept to die like Him: for love, only for love.

Seeing this love, knowing of being watched by this Love incarnate and crucified, we have the courage and the grace to die to ourselves for God and for our neighbor, as did Jesus, the Emmanuel, the God with us always, and the good Face of Destiny who gives life and gives life to us.

            2) The Cross allows to see with the heart.

In this mystery of the death on the cross, by means of the «Word of the Cross» (1 Cor. 1:18), two truths intimately connected are revealed: the truth about God and the truth about man.

Let us briefly examine these two truths, beginning with that of God. In this effort we are helped by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who writes: «He harbored thoughts of peace, and I knew it not. For who knows the feelings of the Lord, or who was his counselor? (Jer 29:11). But the penetrating nail for me was like a key that opened me so that I could see the Lord’s will … the entrance to the secret of the heart is open through the wounds of the body…   the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on highwill visit us (Lk 1:78), appears » (Sermons on the Song of Songs; Ser. LXI, 4).” The entrance to the secret of the heart is open»: the Cross is the supreme revelation of what dwells within the heart of God. Therefore the apostle Paul writes of «not knowing others among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified “(1 Cor 2, 2). To the highest question that the human being can ask: «Who is God?» the Church, in the light of the Gospel, replies «Look for the answer in the Crucifix.» To the desire kneaded in the human heart to see God (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1.2, Q.3, a.8) the Christian, brought up in the following of Christ, responds by saying «See the Crucifix, look with the eyes of the heart that humbly asks».

The truth about man and his value is shown to the eyes of our hearts by the Cross, on which Christ has paid with his life the ransom for ours. He has thus shown the great value of our life, because for the life of man He gave His life.

Christ has shown with the gift of himself that he believes in man and in his value. The Cross however not only shows the «faith» of Christ in man, but shows Christ as a model of life to follow, imitating him to look like him.

It is a call to the true greatness, the one which comes from humility, generosity, love, the gift of self to the one we love, and not the greatness that comes from the physical or moral violence that destroys. The greatness of Christ and of man in Christ does not depend on the opinion of others that is based on strength and, very often, on contempt. It does not ask the «worship» by the others, so much so that often the actors are called «superstars». The greatness that God offers to man is to be, along with Him, creator, and not to be exalted. Christianity is not a religion that dehumanizes, on the contrary it makes us real men and women, capable of giving and building something great for the One who has built everything.

What happened on the cross, and that happens again sacramentally at every Mass, changed at the root our human condition: we are no longer condemned to eternal death, we are no longer «beings to death» (Heidegger) because dying on the cross Christ has redeemed our death. The certainty that this actually happened is given to us by the Resurrection. Because of the Resurrection, we know with certainty that our humanity, not the ideal but the real one (in Heaven the Risen Jesus keeps the stigmata), has definitely entered the Trinity, holy and inexhaustible source of happiness. This is the result of the death of the Incarnate Word, because for this «Therefore God exalted him» (Phil 2.9A). Thanks to the Cross we are forever in God.

In the crucified humanity of Jesus shines the love that God is, the love that is «life of our life» (St. Augustine). Let’s continue on the path of penance of Lent so not to oppose our indifference to this great love.

To protect and grow the truth of this love, we must deny ourselves. It is not to renounce for the sake of it, but to accept Christ fully, to indicate the incarnated Son of God as the goal to which all things tend, the splendor before which every other light pales, the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart.

In short, today’s Gospel reiterates that Christianity was born from the Cross and cannot do without it. Jesus becomes King of the Universe on the cross and not after the success of the multiplication of the loaves. Christianity is born from a pierced heart. When
we talk about the power of the heart, is  to the Heart of Christ that we must look at: a heart, which is the measure of the love of God and therefore of our love. Our action as Christians has to be measured with that Heart.

At this point, if this is true for all Christians, I could be asked why then consecrate oneself in virginity? I get the answer from St. John Paul II “In the consecrated life, then, it is not only a matter of following Christ with one’s whole heart, of loving him «more than father or mother, more than son or daughter» (Mt 10:37) — for this is required of every disciple — but of living and expressing this by conforming one’s whole existence to Christ in an all-encompassing commitment which foreshadows the eschatological perfection»( Apost. Post-Sinod., Consecrated Life, n. 16).

The consecrated virgins in the world testify the importance of a heart donated completely to God, because through this offered heart He loves mankind.

«If really you gave yourself, you cannot live any more than in his heart, you cannot live any more than in his body, you cannot live any more than in him, as a mother lives in the blood of the child, in the flesh of her child, because the flesh of the child, the blood of the child is the blood of the mother «(Divo Barsotti). In this way we will experience the truth of the following sentence «The Lord is near to those who seek him in truth» (Ps 145: 18). In fact «One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye «(Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince)

Patristic Reading

Saint John Chrysostom

Homily 66

Jn 12,20. “And there were certain of the Greeks that came up to worship at the Feast.”

Being now near to become proselytes, they were at 18 the Feast. When therefore the report concerning Him was imparted to them, they say,

Jn 12,21. “We would see Jesus.”

Philip gives place to Andrew as being before him, and communicates the matter to him. But neither doth he at once act with authority; for he had heard that saying, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles” (Mt 10,5): therefore having communicated with the disciple, he refers the matter to his Master. For they both spoke to Him. But what saith He?

Jn 12,23-24. “The hour is come, that the Son of Man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fill into the ground and die, it abideth alone.”

What is, “The hour is come”? He had said, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles,” (thus cutting away all excuse of ignorance fromthe Jews,) and had restrained the disciples. When therefore the Jews continued disobedient, and the others desired to come to Him, “Now,” saith He, “it is time to proceed to My Passion, since all things are fulfilled. For if we were to continue to wait for those who are disobedient and not admit these who even desire to come, this would be unbefitting our tender care.” Since then He was about to allow the disciples to go to the Gentiles after the Crucifixion, and beheld them springing on before, He said, “It is time to proceed to the Cross.” For He would not allow them to go sooner, that it might be for a testimony unto them. 20 Until that by their deeds the Jews rejected Him, until they crucified Him, He said not, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28,19), but, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles” (Mt 10,5), and, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15,24), and, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and give it unto dogs.” (Mt 15,26). But when they hated Him, and so hated as to kill Him, it was superfluous to persevere while they repulsed Him. For they refused Him, saying, “We have no king but Caesar.” (c. 19,15). So that at length Heleft them, when they had left Him. Therefore He saith, “How often would I have gathered your children together, and ye would not?” (Mt 23,37).

What is, “Except a grain of corn fall into the ground and die”? He speaketh of the Cross, for that they might not be confounded at seeing, that just when Greeks also came to Him, then He was slain, He saith to them, “This very thing specially causeth them to come, and shall increase the preaching of Me.” Then since He could not so well persuade them by words, He goeth about to prove this from actual experience, telling them that this is the case with corn; it beareth the more fruit when it hath died. “Now,” saith He, “if this be the case with seeds, much more with Me.” But the disciples understood not what was spoken. Wherefore the Evangelist continually putteth this, 21 as making excuse for their flight afterwards. This same argument Paul also hath raised when speaking of the Resurrection.

[1] Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus. “Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, 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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me. “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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again. “The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him. “Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. “He said this indicating the kind of death he would die. ( Jn 12, 20-33)

[2] «To see» in the Gospel of John has a very rich meaning: it is to go beyond appearances to reach and know the mystery that they hide. «To see» means not only to meet the Messiah, but to recognize him in his true identity and to believe in Him.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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