To Know the Lord

(Homily for Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B)

Bottom line: To know the Lord - to experience his new covenant - requires introduction, initiation, repentance and prayer. A sacred place, the psalms and the use of posture can help us pray - to see Jesus, to know the Lord.

In recent Sundays we have heard about the covenant: How God - by his initiative - establishes a relationship with human beings. We learned about the covenant with Noah after the great flood - when God made a new beginning. Jewish scholars call this the "Noahide Covenant." It has certain norms that apply to all human beings: setting up law courts, respect for marriage and human life - and the prohibition of idolatry.

After many generations God made a specific covenant with Abraham - who is the father of the Jewish people. That covenant has laws which God spelled out in detail through Moses. Those laws guided the Jews in their relation to God and to others.

Today, in our first reading, we hear about a further covenant - a "new covenant." The prophet Jeremiah says God will place his law within us. The new covenant is not a new law. Rather, God by his Spirit helps us interiorize his ancient eternal law. He will write that law upon our hearts. Then, He says, "All shall know me."

All shall know me. How does that happen? How do we know the Lord? Not only know about him, but actually know him?

We have a cue in this Sunday's Gospel. It begins with some Greeks who approach the Apostle Philip with this request, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus." To see Jesus, that is the key to knowing God. To see Jesus is to enter the "new covenant."

Before talking about what it means to see Jesus, I would like to say something about these "Greeks" who wanted to see Him. They had "come to Jerusalem to worship at Passover time." They were not necessarily people from what we today call the country of Greece. In Jesus time, "Greek" applied to the people who spoke that language - and Greek had become the common language of the Roman Empire and beyond. Some of those "Greeks" had adopted partial or full Judaism. And many first century Jews lived outside of Palestine and had immersed themselves in Hellenistic culture to the point that their first (or only) language was Greek. The Jews of Palestine referred to them as "Hellenists" or simply "Greeks." These two groups (Greek converts to Judaism and Hellenized Jews) were large.

So, the "Greeks" were a broad group. A few from this vast number wanted to see Jesus, to know him. How would they do it? We see the steps in today's readings.

First, of course, someone has to introduce them to Jesus - in this case the Apostle Philip, together with Andrew. It is not an accident that they both have Greek names. (Philip means "friend of horses" and Andrew simply means "man.) The important thing about them, however, is not their names, but that they are Apostles. They represent the Church. We need to be introduced to Jesus - and that happens through the Church, particularly by the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.

Along with that initiation (or introduction) comes repentance. Jesus says the grain has to fall to the ground and die in order to produce any fruit. C.S. Lewis put it this way: "love, as mortals understand the word, isn't enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried."*

We must repent - die to sin - if we are to know the Lord. Jeremiah tells us that we will know the Lord because he will forgive our evildoing and remember our sins no more. When we see the Lord - and not our own reflection in a mirror - we become aware of our sins. And we open ourselves to his mercy. As we say in the Psalm, "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense."

So, repentance and initiation. Then we begin the exhilarating work of daily prayer: conversation with God. Prayer, of course, does not happen by our own power. God has to lift our minds and hearts to him. Prayer is God's work in us. There are, however, certain things that facilitate prayer.

Regarding prayer, I recently read an interview with Fr. Liam Cary - the new bishop of Eastern Oregon. Bishop Cary emphasized having a place for prayer. He admitted that sometimes people grab a cup of coffee and sit on the porch in an easy chair. "You can do it," Bishop Cary said, but he added, "one should be more careful and attentive to the details of prayer." He told how a sacred image can help: "when you have holy images," he said, "you have someone looking back at you, as it were, you're conscious of being seen." Bishop Cary encouraged people to use the Book of Psalms, maybe reading three psalms in the course of a day. Finally, he underlined the importance posture: moments when a person sits, stands or kneels. I quote:

"Then, for example take the prayer of the monks or the sisters, you begin standing up and then you kneel, and then sit down for awhile. You kneel while you pray the psalms, sit down when you read a little bit of scripture, stand up for certain parts of the office. Bow down, bow your head like the Muslims; I think the first thing they do in the morning is to bow their head to the ground as a sign of worship."

From what Bishop Cary says about prayer, we take home three things. They begin with the letter "P": place, a space that has some sacred image, psalms that provide inspired models for prayer and finally posture: kneel, stand, sit and bow. Place, psalms and posture can help us know the Lord.

To sum up: To know the Lord - to experience his new covenant - requires introduction, initiation, repentance and prayer. A sacred place, the psalms and the use of posture can help us pray - to see Jesus, to know the Lord. Amen.

************

*From The Great Divorce. The dialogue between Lewis and McDonald continues:

“The saying is almost too hard for us.”

“Ah, but it’s cruel not to say it. They that know have grown afraid to speak. That is why sorrows that used to purify now only fester.”

“Keats was wrong, then, when he said he was certain of the holiness of the heart’s affections.”

“I doubt if he knew clearly what he meant. But you and I must be clear. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion.”

**Here is an extended quote from the interview:

“We take our bearance from the prayer of the Church. On the one hand everyone prays personally and uniquely, because when you pray you don’t pray for me and I don’t pray for you, you pray for yourself.

The first thing is to give time to prayer, regular time. Not necessarily hours and hours but regular time; morning, evening, especially in the middle of the day, the time has to be there everyday.

Then, as I said centering on the Eucharist. If possible go to Mass everyday, if not than try to go to Eucharistic adoration.

As for the form of prayer, I would recommend to people to get used to the Psalms. Because that is the prayer of the Church. Of course if you become a religious or a priest then that is the prayer that you will pray.

I found for myself, when I was thinking about being a priest, a way that I just stumbled upon, of praying the psalms; I would say three in the morning the next three in the evening and three more the next morning and three that evening again. This way I said three Psalms each day.

That was very, very helpful for a number of reasons. It quickly became very easy to do, and I liked it. I liked that form; it had a beginning, middle, and an end, so I knew when I had completed my prayer. I had a sense of completion and that’s important. Prayer shouldn’t just be this open-ended thing where I’ve got to go on for however long. It’s similar to the Mass; it has a beginning, middle and an end.

The thing about the psalms is that you get to learn about the scriptures. You’ll find that in some of them you don’t understand what’s being said, but that’s alright. You just learn it, incorporate it, and gradually you get to know about things.

You notice that various things turn over and over in the psalms and it can widen out your spirit, because maybe you’re not accustomed, for example, to prayers of praise. Maybe all you’ve ever done is ask for things, which is alright, but you learn there is more to praying than that, simply by going through the psalms. You can go through the whole book of psalms and then go back through them again.

You’ll begin to at home with the scriptures; these prayers are at the heart of the Church. You can be sure that this is good material for prayer, where as there is other material for prayer that could be questionable. However this is unquestionable solid ground for prayer.

Then, I think, the form of the body of prayer is important. You can take the church building as a model of how to pray, there are images, it has center. The space is focused on what is most important, the altar and the Tabernacle. You have the crucifix, the holy images of Mary and the Saints. So should our place, our house, of prayer be. The task is to build a house of prayer.

You should take care to arrange that space, so that when you come into it, it doesn’t take you long to enter into prayer. Because that space is where you pray. The other thing is that when you have holy images you have someone looking back at you, as it were, you’re conscious of being seen. That’s very important because we are seen.

Some people talk about praying as getting up in the morning and taking a cup of coffee and sitting in the easy chair on the porch. You can do it, however I think one should be more careful and attentive to the details of prayer.

Then, for example take the prayer of the monks or the sisters, you begin standing up and then you kneel, and then sit down for awhile. You kneel while you pray the psalms, sit down when you read a little bit of scripture, stand up for certain parts of the office. Bow down, bow your head like the Muslims; I think the first thing they do in the morning is to bow their head to the ground as a sign of worship."

Versión Castellana

From the Archives (Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B):

2015: New Mind and Heart Week 5
2012: To Know the Lord
2009: A Matter of Life and Death
2006: Your Judgment on the World
2003: Now is the Time of Judgment
2000: We Would Like to See Jesus

Year A (RCIA):
Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 5 (2014)
Revive (2011)
Overcoming Power of Death (2008)
Joining Body with Soul (2005)
He Was Buried (2002)
On Confession and Cremation (1999)

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