March 17 – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Recently, my fellow priests and I were sharing our experiences of Ordination with some of the men preparing to be ordained deacons. For many of them, the experience of preparing for diaconate was more daunting than preparing for priesthood because this was the first time we made the promises of celibacy, obedience, and praying Liturgy of the Hours. I remembered being relatively calm as I prepared for the diaconate. But as I reflected more after the fact, I remembered that I hadn’t been calm in the months leading up to Ordination.

During my retreat in preparation for Ordination, all my apprehensions about the diaconate came to the surface. I knew my faults better than anyone. How could someone like me become a deacon? When I shared my doubts with the retreat director, he reminded me that there was Someone Who knew me better than I knew myself, and that He was the one calling me to priesthood. I only had myself, with all my sins and wounds, and so I offered that to Him for Ordination.

When we consider Jesus’ Passion, we probably remember His strength and serenity in the face of brutal torture. But in this weekend’s readings, we hear that as Jesus approached death, “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” In the Gospel, Jesus even says, “I am troubled now.” Just as we will see later in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus experiences the human desire to avoid death. In spite of this, He still says yes to His Passion. How can we possibly imitate Him?

Jesus reminds 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.” As we come face to face with our own individual crosses, we see our fears, our sins, and our weakness, and everything in us cries out to the Father to take it from us.

In this moment, we are faced with the choice to rely on self or to rely on God. When we give into the temptation to rely on self, we reject the Cross because we don’t think we can bear it. But Jesus teaches us to rely on God when He says, “Father, glorify your name.” He places all His trust in the Father’s plan, believing that the Cross is for the salvation of the world, and the Father will save Him from death.

As we confront the cross destined for each one of us, we confront our own inadequacy before it, but we also realize our need to rely on God, believing that it is through the Cross that we will bear fruit, through the Cross we will reach the Resurrection. I’m grateful that I experienced those moments of fear and doubt before my Ordination because they gave me the opportunity to see that it was God Who was calling me to priesthood and to rely on Him rather than myself to bear fruit.

Father Frank