5th Sunday of Lent
Year C

Formed in the pattern of His death

A good saint to think about in Lent is St. Gemma Galgani. Within just a few years this modern Italian laywoman (1878-1903) achieved a remarkable likeness to the suffering Christ.

Gemma was a mystic - one of those rare souls called to so high a level of communication with God that we ordinary Christians simply cannot comprehend it all. Her vocation was to suffer with Christ. To the physical trials of spinal tuberculous were added many super natural trials. For instance, over several years she bore the stigmata of Christ's passion: not only the marks of His nails but of His scourging and His crown of thorns. She even experienced His bloody sweating. Constant meditation upon Jesus' death won for her a sense of His constant presence; and while in these ecstasies she had many conversations with Him in a low, sweet voice.

Now, the Church does not canonize people just because they are mysteriously marked with the wounds of the Passion. On these phenomena she passes no official judgment. When Pope Pius XI declared Gemma Galgani a saint in 1933, it was because of her gentle patience, her heroic virtue during years of pain.

Still, God does occasionally give to the world, it seems, a certain holy people who resemble Christ even more in being given the marks of His agony and crucifixion. Some think St. Paul may have been the first to receive this heavenly "branding". At all events, Paul says (in today's second reading): "I wish…to know how to share in His sufferings by being formed into the pattern of His death."

Why so? Because it is only by uniting ourselves with Christ in His death that we can deserve to be united with Him in His resurrection. The whole paradox of Lent is "dying in order to live." In that sense we can say that St. Gemma Galgani was Lent personified.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q572: Why did Jesus write on the ground with his finger (John 8:1-11)?

That has been one of the most fascinating actions by Jesus in all of the gospels, and draws many suggestions from movie makers and scripture scholars. Certainly the conclusion of the story is clear. The Pharisees were quick to test Jesus and point out that the Law condemns adultery with a punishment of stoning to death. Jesus confronts their selfrighteousness with a demand that they first examine their own consciences before they accuse another. After they depart in guilt like falling dominos, Jesus then forgives the adulteress and gives her another chance to amend her life.

I am fascinated with the Carmelite suggestion that this action of writing on the ground is a possible allusion to Jeremiah 17:13 (RSV). That verse says that those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord. Jesus is saying that he will not permit the Law to be manipulated by the Pharisees to condemn those they label as sinners, when the hypocritical condemners themselves are also sinners. Thus, just as the scribbling of Jesus that was written on the ground or in the sand will disappear with the wind and rain and be forgotten, so will the sins that God has forgiven disappear and be forgotten.

Lent is all about self examination, to root out personal sin in our lives and to seek forgiveness. Significant among the virtues to reflect upon and imitate is that of mercy. Yes, we stand condemned under the law, because each one of us is a sinner. But we also know that we will be forgiven by God, to the extent that we seek absolution and resolve to amend our life. We can expect forgiveness from the Lord to the extent that we forgive those who trespass against us.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The home is the first Christian school where one learns love and repeated forgiveness (CCC #1657), based on the loving mercy of God. The gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin. There is no sin, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive (CCC #982).

Turn to Me and Live

Today we hear Isaiah remind the exiled Jews of how God saved them in the Exodus, but he also promises a new Exodus that will make the original pale by contrast. Paul tells us that new Exodus is the death and resurrection of Jesus. I can be part of that new Exodus by following Christ in his suffering. We are already united with Christ but we are not finished; we must still run the race; we are called to deeper conversion, to more complete identification with him. It is like the woman caught in adultery. She was forgiven and given life, but she was commanded "go and sin more." Like us she embarked on a life-long commitment to Christ.

Jesus, reach out to help us remember that we live now not by our own power, but by the power of Christ living in us. Help us to take up their cross in our daily lives; guide us on our journey and bring us one day to share in your resurrection.