"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
March 25, 2012: The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Overview: The reading from Jeremiah is one of the few places in the Old Testament where the idea of a new covenant is explicitly mentioned. Unlike the first covenant, which was carved in stone, the new covenant would be written on the hearts of the people. Echoing Moses’ words: “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you can do it” (Deut 30:14) Jeremiah wanted to convey the idea that covenant fidelity was not a matter of obeying rules, but of loving God with one’s whole heart.
The second reading from Hebrews is part a larger section showing how Jesus is the true high priest. The Lord exemplified the qualifications of God’s high priest by what he suffered and so became the “source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Finally, the Gospel reading focuses on Christ’s impending death and how that death would open the way to salvation for all people. Some Greeks had traveled to Jerusalem to worship God. They said to Philip, “We want to see Jesus.”
This episode marks a critical turning point in the narrative for it signifies the moment when all those who believe in Christ, Jew and gentile alike, will be brought into the new covenant. The cross broke down the barrier between Jew and gentile. Like a grain of wheat sown in the earth, Christ would die, be buried and then rise again producing an abundant harvest of believers.
Key verse: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of all nations. But the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant and behaving like a prostitute. They announce a new and eternal covenant. ‘Christ instituted this new covenant’” (No. 64; 762).
Benedict XVI: “The kingship of Jesus was proclaimed before all the world. Now he is truly ‘lifted up.’ In sinking to the depths, he rose to the heights. (On the cross) he has radically fulfilled the commandment of love; he has completed the offering of himself, and in this way he is now the revelation of the true God, the God who is love. The cross of Jesus is a cosmic event. On the cross the Church of the gentiles is born” (“Way of the Cross”).
Life application: A recent report from the Vatican said that 15 million new members were added to the Church last year. A bountiful harvest indeed! At every Mass Christ is “lifted up” and the covenant is renewed. The Eucharist is both a sign and an invitation to all people to become part of God’s one, holy family. In the sacraments of the new covenant, especially the Eucharist, God writes the law of love on our heart so we can experience it in a deeply personal way and then share it.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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