National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Entering Lent’s Last Stretch

User’s Guide to Sunday

BY Tom & April Hoopes

March 22-28, 2009 Issue | Posted 3/13/09 at 12:34 PM


Sunday, March 29, is the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B, Cycle I).

Rome is our website.

On March 29, Pope Benedict XVI, as bishop of Rome, will make a pastoral visit to the parish of the Holy Face of Jesus at Magliana (Rome) at 9:00 a.m.

“This ultra contemporary church, a sort of revisiting of the Pantheon, certainly has a striking presence,” wrote Elizabeth Lev in Zenit. “The Magliana district is not one of Rome’s more attractive areas and, for many years, it was known as a neighborhood of ill repute.

“The new church’s stark geometric design rises out of the flat landscape. The building is composed of circles and triangles — traditional symbols of God’s infinite perfection and of the Trinity.”

Visit the Register’s website for pictures on Sunday, March 29.

Media is the website for our sister publisher.

As Lent draws to an end, it isn’t too late to kick-start your Lenten program. If you haven’t yet, watch The Passion of the Christ. And get our Passion Companion: Rosary Aid, Study Guide, and Stations of the Cross, a full-color booklet featuring material that first appeared in the Register, from Circle Press.


Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33 offers free homily packs for priests.

Our Take

Today’s readings present symbols of the Christian life that make sense of three Catholic sayings.

1. “God is in your heart.” This phrase can seem like pious nonsense. God isn’t in your heart. He’s so much bigger than you — and the universe — that it seems to diminish him to say he is merely “in your heart.”

But the first reading makes clear that while God does not dwell in your heart in quite the same way Our Father is in heaven or the Real Presence resides in the tabernacle, he is, significantly, in your heart.

The symbol it uses to teach that is the Law. The word of God was revered by the Jews through the tablets of the Law. In the first reading, Jeremiah looks forward to a time when the Law of God will be written not on stone tablets but on our hearts.

That means that if we embrace and internalize the commandments and live them with Christ’s grace the word of God can be written on our hearts — making them like the “holy of holies” in the Temple, a place to encounter God.

2. “Christ died for our sins.” The doctrine of Christ dying for our sins can be taken in two ways. Some scholars try to put them in opposition to each other. Did he take our sins on himself, make himself guilty of them, and die in our place, taking our punishment? Or did he die in obedience to the Father to be an example for us, showing us how to do the Father’s will, no matter what?

The first way can seem too legalistic; the second can seem to make Christ too remote from us. Today’s second reading shows how both are true. It presents Jesus truly suffering from our sins; an example for us and the source of our salvation.

3. “Offer it up.” Especially in Lent, we often say we are “offering things up.” When something goes wrong, no problem: We “offer it up.” But what does that mean, exactly? Today’s second reading explains.

Christ says that only if a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies will it produce fruit. Likewise, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” It’s a beautiful image. We can imagine ourselves like a grain of wheat: We are a hard shell around a middle of great potential. The potential is nothing on its own. First has to come a difficult breaking of that shell, and then grace — like soil, water and sun — needs to make us blossom.

For a grain of wheat, this means dying and being buried. For us, it means letting go of our priorities — our pride, vanity and comfort — and adopting God’s. Think of each thing you “offer up” as another crack in your shell.