Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"Following the Lord Closely with the Acceptance of the Cross"
Homily for the
3rd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon

27 March 2011
Year A 

These past few Sunday’s I mentioned that the prayers and texts of the Mass have changed – changes that will be implemented on the First Sunday of Advent of this year. The gestures and the overall rites of the Mass have not changed but the language has been heightened to a more profound and dignified way of speaking. To understand these changes we have to first understand the nature of the Mass itself. The Sacrifice of the Mass – also called the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist – is the way in which God breathes His divine life into our souls. There are three main aspects of the Eucharist – it is at one and the same time a sacrifice, a presence and a food.

As food, the Eucharist is food for the soul. Our Christian lives are fueled by this food and we are brought into a profound union with God. As a presence, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is present in the form of bread and wine – present, not absent. Thus, each and every time we come to Mass and prayerfully participate in this sacred act of worship we have a real and true encounter with the living God in an experience of a loving union no greater on this side of heaven. This experience of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist touches the heart, propels us to greater devotion and love, forgives our venial sins, heals our spiritual wounds, recognizes our need for continued renewal and conversion and leads to great joy.

There is still one more aspect of the Eucharist yet to be discussed – that is the Eucharist as a sacrifice. Here, we have come upon the great mystery – the paradox – of the Eucharist in that it is both the remembering of a past event and making present that same event, which is none other than Christ’s saving sacrifice on the Cross. It is to this climatic point that all of Christ’s life on earth is directed. He revealed to His disciples His desire to give His life for us – leaving us with a testimony of the true meaning of love – total self-giving. In this sacred context, a sacrifice is to offer something to God to honor Him, to thank Him, to gain communion with Him and to make atonement for our sins. Since Jesus is both God and Man, His sacrifice achieves these aspects of the nature of a sacrifice in the most perfect way, has an eternal significance and gains mercy for the entire world. In the OT we read of the many animal sacrifices that were made by the priests in order to atone for the sins of the Israelite people. These, Pope Benedict explains, were not sufficient to satisfy for the sins of human beings – only a human being could make true atonement for human sin and at that, one without sin himself. Jesus confirmed this when He spoke of Himself as food (Jn 6:51) and when He gave us the Eucharist as food at the Last Supper, saying: “do this in memory of me.” It is this very sacrifice that is remembered and yet at the same time made present to us on this altar. By His grace, He makes this mystery a reality through the prayers, gestures and rites of the Mass – which are carried out through His minister, the priest, who is called “alter Christus,” another Christ.

In the twilight of his life, the French writer, Francois Mauriac, recognized how in his youth he preferred his anguish; he preferred his suffering because he preferred his sin. As a youth he chose these torments over and above the love of God. He could not imagine a God that could deliver him, save him from his anguish and it left him with reasons and excuses to escape having an encounter with the living God – he escaped His presence because he preferred unhappiness. Over the course of his life, what he discovered was the gift of God – the gift of which Jesus speaks about to the Samaritan woman – the complete opposite of anguish. Thus he discovered the mystery of the cross.
In this saving action we find our full identification with Christ – giving deep meaning and value to all of our own personal sacrifices and acts of penance. And it is in this way we must follow the Lord – to Calvary. This is the journey of Lent – it is the journey of life, following the Lord closely with the acceptance of the cross. None of us are without are crosses, none of us go through life without having to make sacrifices, and none of us are without our own personal anguish – but apart from Christ we are left in torment, apart from Him we become consumed by our anguish; united to Him we find joy, forgiveness, healing and the true meaning of love. It is this love for Christ that moves us to come to Mass each and every Sunday, to go to Calvary with Him, and thus united to Him our anguish is consumed by His, our suffering is taken up into His suffering – touched by His grace, by the saving power of His sacrifice, we are filled with great joy. United to Christ in this way, trials, suffering, anguish and difficulties of all kinds are not oppressive, not burdensome, on the contrary, they dispose the soul to prayer and the ability to see Him in the events of daily life.

This is what we experience here, at Mass, if we but open our hearts to God’s grace, if we lose our fear of sacrifice, banish from our minds and hearts the fear of drawing closer to Him because it is too challenging or too difficult. Rather, through our prayerful participation in this saving sacrifice, through our acceptance of the cross, through our small acts of penance, we must open our hearts to Him and recognize that in this, the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, the Eucharist, this is the gift that God gives to unite us to His heart.


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


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