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IHS Quinquagesima Sunday—3 March AD 2019 Ave Maria!

Theos agapē estin God is love [*] 

St. Paul speaks of Charity, one of the three Theological virtues, the virtues that draw us close to God; Faith, Hope, and Charity. Faith enables us to believe what God has revealed; it will pass away when we see God. Hope enables us to trust in God for whatever is necessary for salvation; it too will pass away on the day of judgment. Charity enables us to love God, and love our neighbor for the love of God; it will never pass away.[1] It is always a temptation to preach about this most beautiful of Saint Paul’s writings, but, today, let us concentrate on the Gospel. “The Son of Man … will be mocked and scourged and spit upon … [and] they will put Him to death.” [2] You may have noticed that there was an abrupt change of subject in the Gospel: Jesus is speaking about being put to death; and then without a pause, Saint Luke has Him curing a blind man. Matthew and Mark fill in this space with more detail—keep this in mind, and we'll come back to it in just a moment. If you read any of the three [synoptic] Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke, you will find that the portion we read to today is the third time that Jesus informs His disciples that He will be going up to Jerusalem where he will be arrested and treated very badly before being put to death. And that on the third day He will rise from the dead. The first time Jesus revealed this just after Peter identified Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” and Jesus promised to found His Church on the Rock of Peter.[3] The second time is recorded just a little bit after the Transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Thabor.[4] And this third time, about which we read today, took place just before our Lord made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.[5] And, again, if you read all three of these accounts, you will notice that in each case the Apostles either contradict or ignore what He has to say—and then they go on to get into a discussion as to which one of them is the most important. The first time, right after Peter is designated head of the Church that is about to come into being, he tries to talk Christ out of going to Jerusalem and getting crucified: “Not if I can help it … this will never happen to Thee.” Peter seems to be suggesting that with Jesus' talents and the backing of the Apostles there were greater things to do than to go and get crucified. But our Lord firmly corrects him: “Get behind me Satan, start minding the things of God and stop worrying about the things of men. If you want to come with me, you must deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.”[6] The second time, immediately after Jesus announced again that he would be crucified—all along the road to Capharnaum the Apostles argued about which one of them was the greatest. And our Lord, to silence them, took a little child to Himself, and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”[7] “If anyone wishes to be first, he will be the last of all and the servant of all.”[8] And then, the third time, when Jesus announced that the day of His crucifixion was drawing very near indeed—and this is where the gap occurs in Saint Luke's Gospel—James and John, accompanied by their mother, get Jesus aside and try to coax Him into giving them special positions in His kingdom: “Grant that we may sit, one at Thy right hand and one at Thy left hand in Thy glory.”[9] But our Lord rebuked them, and told them that just as they would share His sufferings, they also had to imitate His humility: “For the Son of Man has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”[10] By now, I am sure you notice the pattern: Jesus speaks of suffering and death; the Apostles want to hear about more pleasant matters, and particularly about their own importance; and then Jesus brings them back to the reality they must accept the sufferings that will come their way, and above all that they must not even consider themselves as greater than one another or greater than those to whom they will minister. This Wednesday we begin the season of Lent. And in the readings of the Masses during that season, we will figuratively accompany our Lord as He goes up to Jerusalem. We will hear about His Transfiguration and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but we will also hear about Him being arrested and mocked and scourged and spit upon and put to death on the cross. If the season of Lent is to mean anything to us at all, we must not try to disregard these painful realities—and certainly, this is not the time to consider our own self-importance. The ashes we receive on Wednesday must remind us all through Lent of what our Lord was so insistent upon whenever He mentioned that He would be crucified: “Those who make themselves great will be humbled”—“Whoever humbles himself like [a] little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”—“If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” NOTES: [*] [1] I Corinthians xiii: 1-13 [2] Gospel: Luke xviii: 31-43 [3] Matthew xvi:16; Mark viii:29; Luke ix:20. [4] Matthew xvii:21; Mark ix:36; Luke ix:44. [5] Matthew xx:18; Mark x:32; Luke xviii:31. [6] c.f. Matthew xvi:23, 24 [7] Matthew xviii:4 [8] Mark ix:34 [9] Matthew xx:21; Mark x:37 [10] Mark x:45 

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