The Fifth Week of Lent: Paving the Path to Salvation March 14, 2024

The Fifth Week of Lent: Join the Journey! 

Bend your knees, mend your heart, and lend your hands.”

“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.” John 12:24

These past few weeks have afforded us quite the spiritual journey. We have lingered in the desert where we rediscovered the importance of profound silence, the pressing need for deep solitude, and where we distinguished the essentials of life from all that is superficial. We climbed the mountain with Peter, John, and James where we beheld the majesty of Christ. We were asked to cleanse the temple of our soul just as Jesus cleansed the Temple of Jerusalem. And we faced the choice between living in darkness or embracing Jesus, the light of the world. All of this prepared us to encounter the challenging words Jesus offers us on the fifth Sunday of Lent: “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.” John 12:24

Jesus uses this image first and foremost to refer to his impending suffering and death. For indeed, paving the path to salvation required his willingness to suffer the ultimate sacrifice of death on the cross. Like a grain dies to provide fruit he had to accept death to offer us new life. To be sure, though the Cross was necessary, it never was the goal. The goal was the glory of the Resurrection which could not happen except for Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross.

In addition, Jesus presents this image as an invitation to all of us to embrace growth through sacrifice. This profoundly Christian calling is antithetical to the promotion of extreme individualism and an unhealthy emphasis on power and personal success which marks our society today. Yet, if we take our Christian calling seriously then we need to embrace the fact that following Jesus means joining his path of self-sacrifice. This implies that in all humility we address any unhealthy habits, selfish desires, and unchristian attitudes we might harbor so we can more closely follow God’s will and embody Christ to the world.

During this fifth week of Lent, we invite you to: bend your knees while praying for the gift of humility; mend your heart by turning away from selfishness and egotism; and lend your hands by embracing Christians attitudes.

  • Bending our Knees: by praying for humility
  • In the film Amadeus, Mozart famously brushes off humility and refers to it as the “little cousin of mediocrity.” The kind of humility Christians are to embrace is very different from that. Pope Francis grounds our call to humility in Jesus’ willingness to leave “his heavenly glory in order to come among us” and on top of that to allow “himself to be split open by death as a seed lets itself split open under the ground.” There is nothing mediocre about this kind of humility.
  • C.S. Lewis reminds us that “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” The experience of COVID as well as our social media driven world has caused us to think about ourselves all the time and almost exclusively. Because of that, humility has become a lost virtue. We are so focused on ourselves that we forget to think about others.
  • As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to fight the worldly desire to solely focus on ourselves in order to focus on others instead. Being a true Christian requires a good deal of humility for Christianity is not a religion rooted in power and glory, rather it is a religion built on humility and vulnerability.
    • One small step during Lent could be to pray for the gift of humility.
  • Mending our Hearts: by turning away from selfishness
  • In the eyes of the world those who pursue their own self-interest may be winners yet in the eyes of God they “swell with pride and lose.” And while those who are ready to serve others may be losers in the eyes of the world, they follow God’s will which makes them winners in the eyes of God” according to Pope Francis.
    • When we choose to follow Jesus, we gradually discover that the successful way of life is that of the seed that dies which is the way of humble love, and “only this bears fruit.”
    • This radical choice to embrace death to self, of course, requires a major change of heart which we know is necessary yet difficult. We need to be willing to let go of all that we cling to because the more we have and the more we want, the more difficult it will be to become the seed that needs to die to give life.
    • One small step during Lent could be to ponder in our heart the challenging words of Jesus “He who loves his life loses it” John 12:25
  • Lending our Hands: by embracing Christians attitudes
  • Our world is facing many difficulties and sometimes we may be tempted by despair. As Christian we believe that the world can be changed. As a matter of fact, it is our mission to change the world. This can only happen by changing the hearts of people, one at a time. The best way to change people’s hearts is to show them love as Jesus did.
  • Pope Francis aptly observed that “it is lovely to help others, to serve others.” However, he is also very realistic in that it is not always easy, and we may get tired! Nevertheless, to serve others is the Christian way of life is, and it will fill one’s heart “with joy and hope.”
  • He further bemoans the fact that “we have lost the joy that comes from caring genuinely about others” and he asks that we re-discover the beauty of caring for others rather than just thinking of ourselves. Those who serve others become “seeds of hope for the world.”
  • One small step during Lent could be to surprise a different person with one act of kindness each day of this week.

And please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian stamina. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.

Blessed Lent,
Johan van Parys, PhD
Managing Director of Ministries/ Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts