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John 3:16 and Laetare Sunday

We are halfway through the season of Lent. For the past three weeks we have been trying to go about our lives in a penitential spirit by spending more time in prayer, by fasting and doing acts of self-denial, and by sharing some of our material possessions with the poor -- three ways of following Christ who endured suffering and death on the cross to save mankind.

This 4th Sunday of Lent is called “Laetare Sunday” (Rejoice Sunday). The Church interrupts this serious mood, so to speak, and urges us to be in a rejoicing mood, in anticipation of Easter or Resurrection Sunday, which commemorates the glorious rising of our Lord from the dead following His passion and crucifixion. For because of this Paschal Mystery, we can hope for and look forward to our own resurrection and salvation in Christ. Thus our reason for rejoicing . . . and thankfulness.

Our Gospel for today contains that most commonly quoted verse, by all believers of Christ – John 3:16, which is the core of our faith and the good news which should make us rejoice. It says:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Starting from God’s creation of man, our first parents Adam and Eve, down to the history of the Israelites, the Chosen People, through the centuries and up to our time, the world has been characterized by numerous acts of rebellion and disobedience against God. This is called sin.

Our first reading from the Old Testament Book of Chronicles enumerates the acts of rebellion of the Israelites against God. As a result, God allowed their enemies to destroy the temple and walls of Jerusalem and to take them as captives and slaves in Babylon.

The Chosen People’s forty years wandering in the desert was marked by sins of idolatry, immorality and other transgressions of God’s law.

The world that we presently live in is not any different. In fact, despite the centuries of the preaching of the Gospel of Christ that made it better, the world has again deteriorated, especially during the last sixty years or so. Crimes of hate and violence, dishonesty, wars, greed and immorality, and violations of God’s commandments, especially against all human life and the family are even more rampant now.

The killing of six million Jews in the holocaust is a drop in the bucket compared to the 60 million babies mercilessly killed in the womb in the United States alone since 1974.

The deterioration in faith is also evidenced by the 70 percent decrease in Mass attendance and the failure of passing respect for life laws blocked by Catholic politicians themselves.

The rest of today's Gospel talks of Christ coming as the light. But many who are wicked choose to hide themselves from the light and stay in the darkness.

But in the midst of this all, God has been sending wake up calls through natural calamities, conflicts and worsening lack of peace that can be interpreted as punishments for man's rebellion and infidelity but are in reality manifestations of his love and mercy so that we will come back to Him in repentance and conversion of heart.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul repeats that because of God’s great love for us, even when we were spiritually dead because of our sinfulness, He still brought us to life in and through Christ, and He wants to raise us up to heaven with Him. He stresses that our salvation is a gift of God to us, given because of his love and mercy.

In the Gospel today Jesus refers to an incident in the Old Testament Book of Numbers when poisonous snakes bit the people of Israel in the desert. But God told Moses to fabricate a bronze serpent (snake) and put it on a pole and anyone who looked at that snake would be saved from death. That incident in Israelite history prefigured the lifting of Jesus on the cross and the saving of humanity on those who would look at Him with faith.

Just as by their looking at the image of the serpent lifted by Moses in the desert the Israelites were healed, so by our looking at the crucified Christ with faith, He would bring us salvation and healing.

However, it is not only gazing and believing in Jesus crucified that will bring healing to us. It is the faithful following of Jesus that will bring us healing and new life. It is in repentance and changing how we live that will make us holy and be united with Him.

This is the love of God, the love that invites us again and again to come back to Him and change our sinful ways. He is a God of many chances. He is a God of mercy and forgiveness. But we should not ignore but heed His call now and always in our life. For otherwise, it might be too late.

As we continue with our Lenten journey, let us spend time gazing at the cross and contemplating the love that made Jesus accept His suffering and death for us. We can make the Stations of the Cross and come for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We can read more of Scripture and other spiritual books that will remind us of the great love and mercy of God.

Very importantly, let us ask for the grace of sincere repentance for our sins and ask for His forgiveness and avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And as we ask for forgiveness for ourselves, let us likewise be willing to forgive others who have offended us.

Let us ask Him to give us the grace to follow Him more closely, to know Him more deeply, love Him more dearly and serve Him more faithfully.

Let us make this prayer, not only for our individual selves, but for our families and for this increasingly unbelieving world that the God the Father, in His great love and mercy, sent His Son Jesus to save.#

(Homily at St. Columba Church - March 11, 2018)

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