Father O’Connor’s Homily for March 22, 2015
Fifth Sunday of Lent – B
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Hebrews 5: 7-9
John 12: 20-33
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: “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.” Seeds in a packet can remain as they are for years. But once planted in the ground “and dying to themselves” they sprout new life.
The grain of wheat dying and producing much fruit is also Jesus’ prediction of His own passion, death and resurrection. On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, I thought that I would place before you a long-standing devotion of the Church that centers on this theme: the Stations of the Cross.
The Stations were made popular by the Franciscans. In medieval times, pilgrimages were very popular. In those days they did not have 747s to jet them across the waters and air-conditioned buses to take them around. No, they walked or rode donkeys or took slow boats. And such pilgrimages often took months.
One of the favorite pilgrimage sites was the Holy Land. People wanted to visit the very spots where Jesus walked, especially on His way to Calvary through the streets of Jerusalem, the “Via Dolorosa” [the “Sorrowful Way.”]
For many people it was impossible to make the actual trip to the Holy Land. So pictures of these sites were often placed along roadsides and inside churches back home. The number of pictures varied from seven to twenty-four, but by the 18th century fourteen became the standard number of the Stations of the Cross, as they are today.
They are called “stations” which means “stationary standing places.” The pilgrim is to “stand before” the scene of Christ’s way to Calvary and do two things: reflect upon it and enter into it – becoming a participant in Jesus’ journey.
Let me illustrate this by asking you to journey with me along six of these Stations.
The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. Have you ever stood, at any time in your life, falsely accused, when rumors spread about you, when you were the victim of false gossip? And no matter how hard you tried to explain, no one seemed to believe you?
If you were there with Jesus, unjustly accused, how would you act? Do you identify with Jesus before Pontius Pilate, keeping silent and offering up your humiliation for the sins of the world? Or at least knowing that Jesus has been there before you, and that God will have the last word?
The Fourth Station: Jesus meets His mother, Mary. Mary’s heart was broken not only because she saw her Son humiliated and going to His death as a common criminal. But most of all because she could do nothing to help Him. The Roman soldiers kept her back.
Mary is every parent unable to save their child. Every parent who watches by the hospital bed. Every parent who has buried a child. Every parent who stands by helplessly to watch a child self-destruct with drugs or alcohol. Or every parent who pleads with God for a son or daughter living a sinful lifestyle, or who has left the Church, or whose marriage is falling apart.
Mary is every parent who wants so badly to save their child – and can’t. At least not right now. But they continue to offer their prayers and their tears and their love. They never give up.
The Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene is forced to help Jesus carry His cross. Those who stand a long time at this Station are people who carry crosses they did not ask for. No one wants the cancer, the addiction, the divorce, the job loss, the depression – or other crosses of all descriptions.
So many of us are like Simon of Cyrene and don’t want to help Jesus carry His cross. We get angry with God and are frustrated. But Simon was moved from anger to love – and to his own salvation. And all because He willingly embraced the cross of Jesus. Could that be our calling as well?
The Ninth Station: Jesus falls the third time. People who spend time here might be saying: “Here I stand with my habits of sin – the nasty word that comes out of my mouth before I can stop it; the quick judgment; the ongoing gossip; the anger; the addiction – and it is just that – to internet pornography.
“No matter how hard I try, no matter how often I confess it, no matter how badly I feel afterwards, I can’t stop my favorite sin. I keep on falling, like Jesus did on His way to Calvary.”
But maybe this Station should have a different title than “Jesus falls the third time.” Maybe it should read instead, “Jesus gets up again the third time.”
Lord, don’t let me get discouraged. O God of the Second Chance, here I am again! Please help me.
The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross. Jesus hanging on the cross forgives His enemies: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
And here I stand accused. How can I be so unforgiving?
The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb. There are many people at this Station. And they are crying: “It is dark and dry in my life. It is hard to pray. I get no answers when I do. My faith is routine and empty. God seems to have abandoned me.
“Like the people who put the lifeless body of Jesus in the tomb along with their hopes, and rolled a heavy stone to close the entrance way, I feel a heavy stone rolled over my heart.”
But these same people are in for a BIG surprise on Easter Sunday.
O God of Surprises, find me soon! Find me soon!
These Fourteen Stations are a powerful devotion. They are where we are, and we are not alone. We are walking in Jesus’ footsteps. The Stations of the Cross reflect our pain, but they also give us hope. For they lead to a Fifteenth Station called “the Resurrection.”
I have left Stations booklets on the literature tables at the church entrance ways if you would like to use one as you make the Stations of the Cross during these last two weeks before Easter.
We have been praying the Stations together every Friday evening at 7:30 PM during Lent – except for this coming Friday when we celebrate Confirmation with our 8th grade students. The next opportunity will be on Good Friday night at 7:30 PM. You are welcome to join us.
“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.”
“We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”