Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B: The Eyes of the Heart


Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33

At first glance, it seems that Jesus is using the politician’s campaign-season playbook.  Philip and Andrew (two apostles with Greek names) bring Jesus a simple request from some Greek proselytes (honorary Jews): “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”  Rather than answer the question straightforwardly, however, Jesus opts to stick close to his talking points.  He goes on to speak of the seed that must die if it is to bear much fruit, the need to surrender one’s life in this world, the cost of discipleship, his spiritual distress, his trust in the Father, and the manner in which he was about to die.  By this point, Philip and Andrew are probably looking at their watches, thinking, “He could have just said no…”

But of course, Jesus is answering the question.  He is simply answering it a deeper level than either the Greeks or his disciples understand at that moment.  “Seeing” often has a special meaning in John’s Gospel.  It isn’t just physical vision.  It is understanding; it is penetrating reality.  And, unlike a camera lens, we are never just passively recording the data within our field of vision.  We are constantly filtering out irrelevant details while giving more attention to certain objects—all according to our life experiences and our inner scale of priorities.  My brother is an architect, for instance.  And even though, in terms of raw vision, we might look at the same building, he always “sees” something more–its proportions, its detailing, the way it turns corners.  For the same reason, a wife might understandably feel hurt if her husband doesn’t “see” her new hair-style or dress; this “blindness” suggests that her appearance is no longer important, that her beauty no longer captivates.  What we “see” depends very much on the kind of heart and the kind of desires we have: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

In a similar vein, Bl. John Henry Newman, the famous 19th-century English convert to Catholicism, once said (here),

For is not this the error, the common and fatal error, of the world, to think itself a judge of Religious Truth without preparation of heart? … [I]n the schools of the world the ways towards Truth are considered high roads open to all men, however disposed, at all times. Truth is to be approached without homage.

At this level of this deeper vision and judgment, then, we can see how Jesus is actually speaking very much to the point.  He responds to Philip and Andrew by sketching the preparation of heart those must have who want to “see” him.

The heart that “sees” Christ is not the heart of an aloof, scientific observer or of a curiosity-seeker.  It is the heart of one who has been “humbled” like the seed that dies (NB: “humility” comes from humus: “soil”). It is the heart of one who surrenders and risks his life on God’s promises: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”  It is the heart of someone who follows Jesus in suffering: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”  It is the heart of somebody who finds himself “troubled” by the Father’s will—as Jesus is today—and yet returns everything in praise: “Father, glorify your name.”  To “see” the Father, in other words, we need a heart like Christ’s.

And most especially, we need Christ’s own heart to see in the cross–ours and His–not just horror, but the terrible beauty of the one who has loved us to the end: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  In the old calendar of the Church, today marked the beginning of Passiontide.  And still today we can feel the transition into the atmosphere of his suffering.  From today through Holy Week, all the readings and prayers at Mass highlight Christ’s path to Calvary.  Ritually, we emphasize the cross by covering it (“absence makes the heart grow fonder…”).  And, in light of these words of the Gospel, the elevation of the host and chalice at the Mass takes on a special meaning.  All this is the Church’s way of letting Christ “be lifted up from the earth” so that all men might be drawn to Him.

The Cross thus becomes the true proof of our hearts, God’s “judgment” upon the world: if we can “see” his glory there—in His cross and in our crosses—then our hearts are ready.   Perhaps this Sunday is a good moment to ask: has my Lent—my prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—prepared my heart to “see” my crucified Lord?  We begin in earnest today.


9 Responses to Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B: The Eyes of the Heart

  1. Nan says:

    I hope you’re “seeing” what I’m “seeing” in that painting.

  2. Betty says:

    Thanks for what you wrote: it will help me during this Holy Week.
    Could you tell me all you know about the painting . who painted it and when? Thanks a lot Betty

  3. Nicole says:

    The hearts of scientific observers and curiosity-seekers can’t see Christ? That is a bold statement you make. I wonder what the scientific observers and curiosity seekers of the world would have to say about that. What about Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Galileo? Since when does scientific observation and curiosity blind us to Christ?

  4. Aaron Pidel, SJ says:

    Since the very days of Christ. This is not to say that scientists can’t also be Christians and “see” Christ, of course. It is simply to doubt whether Mendel, Pasteur and Galileo came to believe in Christ by means of the scientific method or a detached, “wait-and-see” attitude. Christ is seen by the humble and pure of heart, which means that the “seeing” of faith depends upon the condition of the “seer” in a different way than the “seeing” of sciencee.

  5. Nicole says:

    I don’t think they believed in Christ because the scientific method proved it to them (or else they were very seriously misusing the scientific method). But I do think that many scientists see the intricacies and beauty in the natural world that 1) their hearts recognize as design created by a designer 2) inspires them to delve deeper into the mystery of the world which so fascinates them, using their strengths (Did God provide the brilliant talents of mathematicians, physicists, engineers, biologists only as a test to see if they would resist using their God-given strengths & choose to explore their world in a more God-centric way? My dear friend, we cannot all be philosophers). I believe many were blessed with their strengths so they could do God’s work. And the fruits of their labors have greatly benefited society. Take Pasteur, his work paved the way for so many practical applications of modern science. Immunization & pasteurization have protected millions of people from unnecessary disease & suffering. But you are convinced his research proved to him God’s existence, & not that God’s existence inspired & propelled Pasteur’s scientific zeal? You are right, the Lord is seen in a completely different way than the seeing of science. But we are first God’s creations, not scientists. And I am optimistically hopeful for the ones who truly believe this.

    • Aaron Pidel, SJ says:

      I agree that we can’t all be philosophers in the academic sense. However, I would say that–insofar as Pasteur and others were delving deeper into the “mystery” of “creation”, seeing its “beauty” and its “design”–they were going beyond what can be verified by the scientific method. In short, they, though scientists, were seeing as “philosophers” see. They were drawing conclusions not about some part of the world and its relation to some other part, but asking a question about the world as a whole (e.g., its origin and destiny). The point of my original comment was not that scientists can’t have faith or do God’s work; the point was that the could not do so if the only lens through which they viewed the world were the scientific method. In point fact, if one begins to apply a quantitative, scientific rationality to certain objects, such as Christ and his claim to divinity, one becomes instantly unscientific. True science is means applying a method suitable to the object under investigation. A psychologist using X-rays would be considered a quack, as would a theologian trying to evaluate Christ’s claims through stoichiometry. If the basic point you want to make is that scientists can also be good Christians, however, then we are agreed.

      • Nicole says:

        Oh good! hahaha

      • Nicole says:

        How ironic that you used to be a physics major before the theology switch. (Stop making the rest of us look bad!) I was thinking about the humble part of it, & maybe Mendel stood a chance. His brilliant research was not recognized as ground breaking insight into genetics until after his death. & didn’t he take all those vows that are supposed to bring you closer to God & all that? I just think people are complex. We are more than any one trait, passion, or profession. & we are more than what others perceive. Also, certainly all things in the realm of God & religious belief are beyond the scope of science. They should revoke my science degree if I did not know that. 🙂

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