March 21, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH


What kinds of things do you like and dislike? What are you attracted to? What draws you? Why does one person love basketball while another loves opera?

What kinds of persons do you like or not like? Whom are you attracted to? Do you think of yourself as attractive, whether in your appearance or personality or talents?

What is the attraction? It is not easy to explain or analyze why we are drawn to certain things or certain persons. We just are.

Jesus said, on the eve of his Passion, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” The Evangelist John leaves no doubt about what Jesus meant: “He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.”

If we look at the scene of the crucifixion, Jesus did in fact attract a crowd on that day, but not in the sense that we are talking about, and that was certainly not his meaning. In less than two weeks, on Good Friday, we will hear a reading from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant. The prophet says, “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.” We might even say that, in all his public life, Jesus was never less attractive than when he was hanging on the cross!

And yet, this had to be. We read in the Letter to the Hebrews: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Eternal salvation — now that’s attractive! Because we love promises.

There is a great promise in the reading from Jeremiah. There’s going to be a new covenant. Apparently everyone will be delighted to be God’s people, and will behave accordingly. The Law will be written in their very hearts, and observing the law will become an attractive thing to do, the most natural thing in the world.

In a slightly different context, that of spiritual direction, there is principle I always propose: “Follow what attracts. If that isn’t what God wants of you, you’ll find out soon enough.” Please note, this is not opposed to doing what you should do; that is taken for granted, written on our hearts. But beyond the “shoulds” there is a vast range of possibilities. What draws you? For young persons that question usually concerns their vocation or calling in life. Once that choice is made, the range of possibilities is no longer as vast as it was, but it is by no means confined to just a few.

Specifically, returning to today’s Gospel, what is there about Jesus lifted up on the cross that attracts you? How does he draw you to himself? Stand before a crucifix or imagine the scene on Calvary. We all see and hear the same things, but we are not all the same person. And so we are drawn differently.

To illustrate this point, I often use the example of different Religious Orders. Without having done any research on the matter I imagine, nonetheless, that Jesuits, Franciscans and others respond differently to the crucified Savior, according to their perspective.

The heart of Jesuit spirituality is discernment of God’s will, in view of obedience to it. So I can easily imagine that what a Jesuit “sees” as he contemplates the crucifixion is Jesus, “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

The Franciscan way of life is centered on poverty for the sake of the Kingdom. Perhaps a Franciscan “sees” the consummate poverty of Jesus on the cross: naked, abandoned, powerless, even giving his mother away.

The Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette — my Congregation — have a special vocation focused on Reconciliation. We “see” Jesus “reconciling all things to God, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

All three are drawn to the same crucified Christ, but perceive him differently.

Other persons and groups are attracted to some other aspect of the life of Jesus: teaching, healing, compassionate, passionate about true righteousness, etc. It hardly matters, as long as Jesus draws everyone to himself.

So, what draws you to Christ? It may not be easy to explain or analyze why. But then again, you don’t have to. Just follow what attracts.

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