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Bishop's Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 17, 2024

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (Mass with Scouts); Sacred Heart Church, Pahoa (Installation of Pastor)]

We have great pride and respect for St. Damien and St. Marianne, the two Hawaii saints who are now enjoying the glory of heaven.  But what inspires us most about them is not the glory they are now enjoying, but the fact that they willingly buried themselves into sufferings, isolation, and hard work in order to make light the sufferings of others. They truly laid down their lives, died to themselves, and now we honor them as living forever among the saints in glory. They not only produced a rich harvest for the Lord during their lifetimes, but they continue to inspire others to lay down their lives so that others may live.

We need examples like them in order to realize that the radical self-negation and self-giving urged by Jesus does yield its rewards.

Parents who raise their children to be good and loving people know that it is not an easy task.  There are many times when the seed of suffering must be planted and when sacrifices are made to see that children have opportunities to grow and develop.  Parents forego many things they would like to do for themselves, just so that they can give more to their children.  Not the least of their sacrifices is disciplining their children and making them good disciples of the Lord Jesus.  It is especially difficult when children and young people are exposed on a daily basis to stimuli and to values that are contrary to the gospel.  For parents to lovingly insist on doing what is right often involves tension, criticism, and even rejection.  Yet good parents know that unless they allow the grain of wheat to die, there will be no harvest worth reaping.

Young people who want to be faithful to Christ also have a great struggle, and I think the challenge of today’s gospel is at the same time a comfort.   To say no to drinking or taking drugs when everyone else at a social gathering seems to be indulging is not something that is immediately going to win them applause.  Using their sexuality according to the laws of God and reserving it for marriage is not something that is going to make them wildly popular.  Yet Jesus here challenges them to let these seeds of sin fall to the ground and die, and he promises them that only then will there ultimately be rich reward.

We are all busy people and do not need yet another thing to do.  Yet we are called to not just lament the ills of our society, but to involve ourselves in changing our social institutions so that they reflect a respect for all life in all its stages; a respect for marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman, which is permanent, committed, and fruitful; to make sure that all are children receive the solid education that will lead them out of poverty and violence.  To do any, or all, of these things definitely requires dying to ourselves, letting the seed of self-satisfaction die, so that an abundant harvest can result, even if we do not live to see that harvest.

But what would motivate us to have the kind of spirit that Father Damien and Mother Marianne had, a spirit that serves without counting the cost, a spirit that readily buries the seed of self-fulfillment?  It is not some principle, or some sermon, or some law.  It is the heart touched by love.  And that is why we are here, not just to hear God’s saving Word, but to be in the presence of the Word-made-flesh, who is present here in the Eucharist, and who enters our bodies as food and drink so that the Word may become flesh.  He buries himself in our sinful nature, in the dirt and manure that we often find in our hearts, because he knows he can come to life in the dirtiest and most disgusting places.  In Holy Communion Jesus comes into us as a little seed, dying in the soil that is there, so that we can yield a rich harvest of his love.  It is the fulfillment of the promise God made long ago that he would write his law in our hearts.  As we come here to be in the presence of Jesus himself, he draws us to himself.  Our heads may be able to figure out that God’s law, while it might seem to restrict and constrain us, is really the greatest source of our true freedom.  But it is the heart that must be touched before we would be motivated to put up with suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom.  It is Jesus, lifted up from the earth on the cross, the epitome of someone who has the courage to let the seed die, who draws us by such tremendous love.  It is our love, the law written on our hearts, that will draw others to the freedom found in it and to the rich harvest in which this planting will result.

We all long for glory, for happiness, and for rest.  But Jesus reminds us that these are the fruits of self-denial, of service to others, and of laying down our lives.  He gives us models to follow who suffered much in this life, but who now live in glory and bliss.  And he strengthens us to never be afraid to lose ourselves, because that is the best way to find our true selves and to experience unfathomable glory.