Fr. Rick’s Homily: 4th Sunday of Lent

March 10, 2024

2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Ps. 137:1-6; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21

Usually, I end my homilies with a few reflection questions to give us a common action step to help us in going forth to teach the nations.  Since the Mass has just called us into a transcended state of oneness, our mission outside the door of the church must also have some high degree of a collective and focused service to the larger community and world.  A big part of the Church’s mission is to speak Truth to the world and to do it with our daily lives that actually personify what the Church teaches.  Today, I’m going to START with the reflection questions related to the readings we have just heard.

1  The first reading from 2 Chronicles reviews about a five-hundred-year period between the reign of King Solomon and the Babylonian Exile.  Our Eucharistic Prayer reminds us to ‘read the signs of OUR times through the light of faith:’ Consider just the period of your own lifetime.  How does our nation reflect the triumphs, failures and redemption experienced by Israel?  How does our present-day Church also imitate the travails and triumphs of Israel?

2    ‘…everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Jn.3:16

 If ‘believe’ is more accurately translated as ‘to entrust’ or ‘know intimately’, how would we describe our own sense of ‘belief’ in Jesus?  What is the good news we can offer to others by our own testimony?

Human beings have a natural capability of seeing and ‘believing’ in the power of signs and wonders.  If a lame person can actually get up and walk or run, that is something that can be observed and believed.  If someone can calm the wind and the stormy seas by just a verbal command, we can see and believe naturally.  We might continue or discontinue our relationship with a certain doctor or mechanic or plumber or interior designer because we can see and experience ‘naturally’ the positive or negative results.

In today’s Gospel of John in Chapter 3 verse 16 we hear the familiar line that, “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.”  To believe here is a bit of a contrast with the verse right before it.  Verse 15 alludes to an episode in the Old Testament when the chosen people have been afflicted with a swarm of snakes who are biting them for their sins.  God instructs Moses to make a serpent out of bronze, attach it to a pole and instruct the people to gaze at this bronze serpent and the live serpents will quit biting them.  It works!!  This is a natural belief although still miraculous.  We can see, naturally, the cause and effect.

To believe in the saving power of Jesus hanging on a cross requires a different kind of belief.  A supernatural belief.  Especially if we are talking about belief over time.  The image of Jesus hanging on a cross as a sign of saving power and new life seems completely counter intuitive.  This is a different type of belief. Biblical scholars have proposed that the Greek word that is translated into English as believe probably implies a deeper sense of knowing, or trust, to entrust.  It implies a sense of intimacy in fact.  Through this belief we get the power to become children of God.  We are not children of God by our nature, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We must receive this power and authority to be heirs to the Kingdom of God by GOD.  It’s supernatural.  We must be genuinely receptive to this power despite the extreme risk that it entails.

Good friends or spouses who have been together for months or years can still claim to be baffled by their spouses from time to time.  They say stuff that simply makes no sense, but somehow they trust the other person because somehow, they seem to be right on certain types of things, when all the ‘natural’ evidence seems to suggest something completely different.  E.g.  Sense of direction different than the GPS.  A bad feeling about a pending house purchase despite a great appraisal.  Or maybe a deep suspicion about their daughter’s recent suitor despite great referrals and family background.  We could say that we trust the spouse’s TRUTH despite the natural evidence.  This is the type of belief that SAVES us.  This is the type of knowing and trust that implies real intimacy.  We could even say this is supernatural believing and knowing.  We stake our lives and livelihoods on these kinds of relationships.

In the Eucharist we are called to this type of knowing and trust with Jesus who appears in the visible presence of bread and wine.  We are also called to the same type of knowing and trust with the members of the Body of Christ sitting in the pews next to us.  And even with all the people from all over the world who find their way into this little church.  We have this rather bizarre belief that Jesus is actually present in the bread and wine we receive.  Over time it has produced positive results.

This did not come naturally to us.  IT’s difficult to believe when we don’t get the type of results we want from Jesus…in especially dire circumstances.  It often takes Jesus sooooo loooooong.

It took Jesus almost two thousand years to even appear on planet earth in the first place after God called Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of a holy people. The first reading today ‘chronicles’ the harrowing and often disastrous history of God’s people attempting to believe and trust their God amidst all the other choices and allurements.

  2 Chronicles:  “Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.  But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects.  Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon, where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons until the kingdom of the Persians came to power. All this was to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah:  “Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.”

They lost their land because of their infidelity to the laws and worship of God.  They had the terrible experience of being at the mercy of their captors.  They were forced to sing their psalms as a type of entertainment for their captors.  Just as Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden, Israel was kicked out of their own country.  Exiled into Babylon where they were subject to the abuses of their captors.  They were however, rescued by the Persians whose king, Cyrus, experienced a supernatural calling from God. A calling to liberate the people and allow them to return to Jerusalem and to practice their beliefs and worships. In their newfound liberation, Judaism would survive and prosper only if it would to heed the lessons of the past and devoutly serve its God.  In a place where HE had chosen to dwell, the Temple in Jerusalem.

How often these days do we hear people bemoan that we are losing or have lost our country?  Are we?  Would it have anything to do with our lack of fidelity?  Have we understated what it means to be Christian?  What it means to BELIEVE in Jesus?  In the Eucharist and in the people sitting next to us?  Would we even WANT the type of intimacy Jesus has called us to?

Are we tempted to give in to sadness, anger, anxiety….  rather than the power of the cross?  We usually have to be desperate, in a lengthy exile to finally be humbled to actually give in to Christ.  Individually or perhaps nationally in exile. When we finally die to our own wills, we then start to live in the Resurrection.

We all want to be fully alive.  We are after all called to be heirs to the very Kingdom of God which has already been established by Jesus.  And in which we can even now experience in this life to a high degree if we give in to Jesus.  If we really BELIEVE.  True freedom.  Fullness of life.

In fact, this is what it actually means to be PRO-LIFE, a term we will be hearing a lot about in the coming year:  Often our political discourse gets centered on issues of abortion, IVF, what constitutes marriage?  What it means to be a man or a woman… or both … or whatever the choices are.  The prophetic voice of the Church, that’d be us, needs to be in a teaching mode and teach as clearly as possible.  We need to be PRO-LIFE before pregnancy.  Our nation needs to be PRO-LIFE when discerning how much weaponry we supply to the hopelessly warring tribes around the world.  We need to be PRO-LIFE in the tempered use of the resources of the earth.  A genuine PRO-LIFE culture flows out of a properly ordered sense of identity and relationship based on inner freedom and self-mastery.  (Chastidy).

To this end I continue to encourage all members of the parish to join us in reading and discussing Adam and Eve are from Eden: A Study Guide for St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  We have had in our lifetime true prophets in Pope Paul VI and St. John Paul the II.  We’re still mocking them.  Ignoring them at our own peril.  We are feeling the natural consequences of fear, disorder and growing chaos in our families, neighborhoods, our Church, our nation and around the world.  We are the PRO-LIFE voice.  Please join us.  Please sign up in the gathering space.  Books are $15.

Now as we enter more deeply into this sacred mystery and the season of Lent, let us try to be a little more open to how the Spirit is guiding us together and sending us out.