So, the fake ladybugs are back with a vengeance. They seem to be coming in to my house with a special zeal now that it is beginning to warm a little – and yet even as they escape the cold outside, none of them seem to last all that long inside. As I saw one struggling to stay alive near the drain of a sink, I thought of the classic starfish story. Perhaps you’ve heard it – you know there is the boy throwing starfish back into the sea and there are thousands more and some cynic says, “What difference can you make?” and the boy responds, “it made a difference to that one” and I thought about all the fake ladybugs and whether or not I should try to spare some of these guys. But here’s the thing: the starfish are just out there and they get washed up by accident – they’re not trying to be cast upon the shore. On the other hand, these fake ladybugs are storming my house with the instinctual drive that they will live longer in my house. But even if I were to throw one of them back outside it would work as hard as possible to crawl back in to die. I’m sure you have had the same thought yourselves: these ladybugs are a great metaphor for us. Because, before the coming of Christ, certainly we wanted to come into the holy place of God, into His Temple – but it was not an environment we could handle. You could think of God’s law as a brilliant light that attracts us to its order and allows to understand everything that we know. Yes, we need the eternal light that emanates from God’s Law, and the ladybug is attracted to the light emanating from my house. But just as the ladybugs seem to starve to death when they get indoors, even if we were to sneak into heaven (source of God’s Law) – without the help of Christ we wouldn’t last any longer than these stinky bugs. We need the Law of God, but we were not able to live it. It’s the same reason that as technology increases we still haven’t improved as people. Trying to live off the Law alone would be like a fake ladybug trying to live off the light of my house alone.
Imagine if you could become the size of and color of one of these beetles and tell them that they needed something more to live in Father Foy’s house. It is a deathtrap until they are transformed – that they would need the ability to not only be attracted to the light or the heat, but also to live off of it – because his house doesn’t have any aphids to fill up on.
From one perspective, Christ came to us as this kind of teacher and the subject that He teaches. In other words He’s going to reveal the fullness of what love is and how to do it…but He will also reveal Himself as the God, as the object of our Love. That’s where the first reading comes in. God foretells a time when His Law of Love (or if you prefer to think of His eternal light) will not only be external. It says that God will put His law “in them and write it upon their hearts.” Only the Latin does not say “in them”, but in their viscera – in their intestines. The law will be not only in our hearts, but in our gut. We will both desire this law of love and be able to digest it – to live off of it.
In the Gospel, Christ reveals that He will be the object of both. He shows us how to love and what to love and calls us to imitate Him as the perfect human, and He will also be the very sustenance of love that feeds us. In regards to being the true role model, we can trust Him. We can even see his authentic human heart, for in the face of His impending death, His Hour, He shares with us a desire to live.
He exclaims, “I am troubled now.” (His desire for life is proof that Jesus is actually making a sacrifice — if He hates His life it would mean a lot less to offer it up and be done with it)
And yet, this great mystery of love that He teaches us from the Cross will be exactly this: that for us to be transformed we have to die. Love requires our sacrifice. If we have no sacrifice we will be filled with our old selves and we will have no emptiness, that is, no appetite for the true food that God wants to sustain us with in heaven.
Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” Our ability to live eternally lies in Him making it to this hour and through it.
How can Jesus really suffer like us? He is God and He knows everything, so how does Jesus really take our human nature and make it capable of loving? In the second reading, St. Paul says Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered. How does the all-knowing God learn? Well, not in His mind – that is – not in recognition, but in experience. By living through the experience, Christ is able to learn in this classroom of life and this human nature that He took up to actually know what it actually means to love even through death by the actually doing of it. No human being had ever fully given Himself before. This is why Jesus prays for the Hour for it will help us for He will glorify the Father on our behalf. God had created Man for His glory, and yet we had always taken part of the glory for ourselves.
This of course brings us to the Eucharist. As social creatures we are called to pray together in the Body of humanity that Jesus has won for Himself. During the Mass (as always), Christ is living in heaven. He has taken our humanity into the eternal dwelling – and His humanity is evidence that united to Him, we are capable of actually living there in joy. And we say that in heaven, Jesus intercedes for us constantly and forever. But here’s where we come back down to the Mass and these Lenten readings: His heavenly intercession for us is His offering on the Cross – He is offering His own death on the Cross non-stop to the Father. In the Mass we our invited into the meaning of life and death and life…into the classroom of love. Christ takes what had been given to Him and gives it back to the Father. In the Mass we tap into this now permanent aspect of reality and by uniting our own hearts to the heart of Jesus we not only have a gift to give God, but find ourselves capable of living off receiving Christ’s Body as our own – a Body capable of sacrifice and capable of love and capable of graduating this crash course class in life in an otherwise inhospitable climate.