March 25, 2012 - Fifth Sunday Of Lent

Today's Readings

There are two ways by which we draw near to God: religion and revelation. Religion is how we try to approach God. Revelation is how God approaches us. Religion is like building a tower up into the clouds. Revelation is like when the clouds come down to the ground as a fog. Religion is like beginning with hunger and looking for food. Revelation is like seeing some amazing food and discovering then that it was exactly what you wanted. Either way leads to the meal.

Religion exists because when a human considers themself, they realize that something is missing. Religion begins with a question. That is why there are so many religions in the world although they all have some basic similarities. We are hungry and looking for something. Each religion is an attempt to answer this question we find inside of ourselves. Each religion is the best human attempt to approach God. Some people climb on top of a mountain. Some people sacrifice animals or even humans. Some people fast and pray. They are all trying to have a relationship with the unseen God.

Revelation is different because it begins with an encounter. Moses was minding his own business when he saw the burning bush. Abraham was going about his day when the angels of the Lord stopped by for dinner. Mary was working at home when Gabriel appeared and told her what God had planned.

We see this same revelation in the Gospel today. The Greeks did not want more religion. They had lots of religion. They wanted to meet Jesus. They must have seen him as part of a crowd and were blown away by what they saw. They wanted to meet him.

In the first reading, God tells Jeremiah that the days are coming when he will make a new covenant with his people. The old covenant began with a revelation, but it was a revelation about religion. Ten commandments, hundreds of laws, animal sacrifices: the Jewish religion was in some ways like every other religion. The difference was that the laws and the sacrifices had been given by God, not invented by humans. The new covenant would not be just another religion. God was talking about the greatest revelation in the history of the universe: Jesus Christ.

Does this mean that religion is bad and revelation is good? No. A revelation is useless if people are not prepared for it. In the Gospel today, God spoke from heaven, glorifying his name. The crowd thought that it was just thunder. Only some could hear the voice. At various times a crowd followed Jesus. They realized that he was a revelation because they saw the healings and the multiplication of the bread and fish, but they were not ready for the revelation; they left as soon as they could not understand.

The history of religion was a preparation for one girl to have a revelation, an encounter with Jesus Christ. After her, a few others came to know him. When his hour came, and everything was ready, he accomplished the perfect religious act. We could not build a bridge between earth and heaven, no matter how much we tried. Instead God dwelt among us, and when his hour came, he built a bridge for us by means of his Cross.

Christ Jesus, in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, was heard for his godly fear. Though he was the Son of God, by being obedient even in suffering, he became a perfect human. Now, he is the author of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him.

This is why the Christian religion is different from every other religion. We too have laws, but we are not trying to please God with our obedience of the laws. That was always impossible and now Jesus has done it for us. We are trying, by obeying the laws, to see Jesus. And when we disobey the laws, we confess our sins, and then Jesus forgives us. This is what is amazing: whether we are good or bad we encounter Jesus. We see him as we become more obedient, more like him, and we see him when, though disobedient, we seek forgiveness.

It is like a child and their parent. There are two ways for a child to be close to their parent: either by becoming more like them or by running into their arms. We advance in holiness when we avoid sin because we are becoming more like God, and we advance in holiness when we are forgiven because we are running into his arms.

Christians also still have ritual actions like other religions. It is part of the Christian religion to come to Mass on Sundays and other holy days and to pray. But all of our rituals, genuflecting and kneeling and holy water, icons and statues, incense and songs and Latin prayers, anointing with oil and laying on of hands, are about being prepared for an encounter with Jesus. Before, the mystery was essential because God was mysterious. Now the mystery is necessary so that we do not begin to think that he is not mysterious. We have to leave behind the ordinary things lest when he speaks to us we only hear thunder.

Now the law of God is in our hearts, and the love of God totally embraces us. Our goal is not to reach out by superior intelligence to make sense of gods who ignore us. Our religious goal is to be humble enough to hear God when he speaks. Our religious goal is to love other people enough that we finally begin to forget ourselves. Our religious goal is to become as nothing in the face of the revelation.

Revelation should make us become religious. If someone loves Jesus but hates religion they seem to be saying that they love Jesus but they do not want to be anything like him. That is an unacceptable response to the revelation. Seeing Jesus rightly must make us want to be more like him. And if someone loves Jesus and hates religion, by which they mean the religion of other people, they need to learn humility. I am trying to be like Jesus. You are trying to be like Jesus. Everyone who is trying to be like Jesus is part of my religion. If I point to them and say, “You are failing to be like Jesus” they could point to me and say, “you are failing too.” I love Jesus, therefore I am religious.