Fourth Sunday in Lent – Lectionary: 32

March 11, 2018

Reading 1 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23

In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people
added infidelity to infidelity,
practicing all the abominations of the nations
and polluting the LORD’s temple
which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

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.”

In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia,
in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah,
the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia
to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom,
both by word of mouth and in writing:
“Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia:
All the kingdoms of the earth
the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me,
and he has also charged me to build him a house
in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people,
let him go up, and may his God be with him!”

-This passage describes in summary fashion the infidelity of the Chosen People that led to the destruction of the Temple built by Solomon and the exile in Babylonia for over seventy years.  This also could describe the state of the Church in our the last fifty years.  In 19 68 Pope Paul VI published an instruction of the value of human life, known by its Latin title, Humanae Vitae.  In it he warns against dangers to changes in sexual behavior, including the use of artificial means of birth control leading to a great number of problems in marriage and family life.  Here is a brief citation that describes some of them:

“Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.”

Clearly, the words of Pope Paul VI have proved prophetic given the disordered sexuality so rampant in these days.  Yet, few take heed even now and deny the connection between disordered marital life and so many other social problems.  What will it take for folks to wake up and repent?  Will we need to go into a form of “exile to Babylonia” in order to see the errors of these things?

Responsorial Psalm  Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6.

  1. (6ab) Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
    By the streams of Babylon
    we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
    On the aspens of that land
    we hung up our harps.
    R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
    For there our captors asked of us
    the lyrics of our songs,
    And our despoilers urged us to be joyous:
    “Sing for us the songs of Zion!”
    R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
    How could we sing a song of the LORD
    in a foreign land?
    If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand be forgotten!
    R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
    May my tongue cleave to my palate
    if I remember you not,
    If I place not Jerusalem
    ahead of my joy.
    R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

-This beautiful psalm of nostalgia from those in exile might be on the lips of faithful believers who pine for an end to life in a post-Christian society.  It may also lead us to desire Heaven, our true and lasting homeland “where every tear will be wiped away.” (Rev. 21:4)

Reading 2 Eph 2:4-10

Brothers and sisters:
God, who is rich in mercy,
because of the great love he had for us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
brought us to life with Christ — by grace you have been saved —,
raised us up with him,
and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
that in the ages to come
He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace
in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them.

-The letter to the Ephesians invites us to focus on the great gift of forgiveness of our sins.  While it is indeed a free gift, it is not a cheap one.  It cost Christ His death on a cross that we might be free to be obedient to the truth and to know and love God.  Let us thank Him for His generous love for us.

Verse Before the Gospel JN 3:16

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.

Gospel jn 3:14-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

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.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

-Whenever John 3:16 appears in the Lectionary I am reminded of a politician campaigning for high office who sought to ingratiate himself to a Christian audience by saying, “My favorite Bible verse is John 16:3”.  If you look it up you will find yourself amused.

-What exactly does it mean to believe?  It is not enough to accept something to be true, but as St. Paul writes to the Romans 1:5 that we are called to the “obedience of faith”.  What we do demonstrates what we truly believe.  I am reminded of a priest who was making Communion calls to his parishioners during the time of the election of Pope John Paul II.  When he arrived at the particular home, the TV was on awaiting the white smoke to appear.  So as not to miss the moment the TV was muted while the prayers were being prayed in preparation to administer the Eucharist.  Meanwhile, the screen was showing pictures of possible candidates for the papacy.  Just before presenting the Eucharist, the image of an African Cardinal was on the TV, at which the elderly woman declared, “If they make a Black Pope, I am leaving the Church!”  Despite her racist exclamation, Father gave her Holy Communion but afterwards spoke with her about how Eucharist is communion with all who are part of the Body of Christ.  The split between what this woman believed and her way of seeing other people is not rare.  What aspect of the Gospel do you choose not to obey?  Do you see that it matters?  Are you willing to repent?

-Preferring darkness to light is also quite common even among those who claim to believe.  Like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), we want to see Jesus but do not wish to be seen.  Like Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden (Genesis 3:8-10) and Nicodemus coming at night so as not to be seen visiting with Jesus, keeping our lives as private as possible is a high priority for many of us.  In his book, “The Soul of Shame”, Dr. Curt Thompson points out that in the beginning Adam and Eve were naked but felt no shame. Once they sin not only do they feel guilt but also shame which is, “primarily an emotion that undermines us … by eroding our felt sense of connection and safety… (making us feel)  less than, to be inadequate…”   Thus, we hide ourselves behind masks of pride and independence lest anyone, even ourselves get to know us at depth.  This keeps us in isolation and fear that who and what we really are may come to light.  It also keeps us from knowing how deeply we are loved by God Who knows the truth and loves our reality and not our projected self-image.  What would it cost you to allow yourself to be deeply known?  What will it cost you to remain in the dark?  In Hebrews 12:2, Jesus embraces the cross “despising its shame”.  When we learn to renounce our sense of shame (and pride, which is the other side of this worthless coin), we will then be free to live and love well.

-Obey the truth about yourself and God as revealed by Scripture and the Church, and you will walk in freedom and peace, always.


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