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Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 26, 2006

Blessed Laetare Sunday!

You may remember that I mentioned “Gaudete Sunday” during Advent. Well, “Laetare” means “rejoice” too, and we can trade our Lenten violet for the rose-color of joy today. We rejoice because we’re more than halfway through our time of spiritual preparation for Easter :).

Our season is starting to shift. Up to this point, we’ve heard almost exclusively from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew. Today we move to St. John’s Gospel, and stay there for the rest of the season, with only 2 exceptions (Palm Sunday and Wednesday of Holy Week). St. John’s Gospel is markedly different from the other three (which are collectively referred to as the synoptic Gospels), both in style and in content. John’s main purpose in writing is stated at the end of his book: “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). As we approach the mystery of Jesus’ Passion and death, we need to be very clear about who He is–the Son of God–in order to understand the meaning underlying Jesus’ words and actions, and the significance they have for our own lives. We turn to St. John, that he might teach us.

2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23 (Judah was exiled for her sins, then God let the exiles go home)
Psalm 137 “Let my tongue be silenced, if ever I forget you!”
Ephesians 2:4-10 (our salvation is a free gift from God)
+John 3:14-21 (Jesus came to save us; we condemn ourselves)

We live in a world of illusion, of plastic smiles masking broken hearts, of material wealth concealing spiritual destitution. It’s a world of darkness. Ever since Original Sin, we’ve had a hard time recognizing eternal Realities. Every so often God pulls back the veil, and reveals the Reality behind the façade, so that we’re brought face to face with our need for Him.

This is what happened in our first reading. On the outside, things looked great. Judah was a free country, prosperous, religious…and spiritually dead. They added sin to sin, desecrating their own glorious temple. God finally cut through the pretense. If the temple is being desecrated by the very people who are supposed to be leading worship there, it might as well be desecrated by foreigners and leveled. It’ll do more good that way by getting people’s attention. The people of Judah couldn’t see their spiritual destitution, so God gave them material destitution. It was easier to recognize. But God didn’t leave them there. It wasn’t His purpose to destroy their hope, but rather to teach them to put their hope in the only One Who would never fail them. As their spiritual prosperity developed, He could restore their material prosperity too–with a new sense of realism.

Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, speaks of this foundation of our hope in God too. We have no cause for boasting. We don’t earn God’s favor. That’s pure gift. And even the good deeds we do were prepared for us in advance (Ephesians 2:10)! On the Cross, Jesus earned all our good resolutions for us, along with everything we would need to carry them out (see St. Francis de Sales’ _Introduction to the Devout life_, chapter 13). All that’s left for us to do is to accept this free gift of the good deeds He’s prepared for us to do, to take up the tools and resources He’s given us and to carry them out. That’s how we walk in the light. If we reject the good things God’s prepared for us to do, all we have left are deeds of darkness. We won’t want those to be revealed in the light, so we will keep them (and ourselves) hidden. Thus we judge ourselves. Jesus did not come into the world to judge us. He didn’t have to. We’d already judged ourselves. He came into the world to be the Light that would strip away the pretenses and reveal what our judgment really was.

This brings us back to our own lives. Can we bring them into the broad daylight of God’s Light, of His Truth, without flinching? Do we find ourselves hedging, tucking certain thoughts, words and actions into dark corners to keep them from view? We’re judging ourselves. The good news is that we don’t have to stay in the darkness. We can choose to agree with God, to bring these shameful things into His purifying light in the privacy of the Confessional, and to be cleansed from all unrighteousness (see I John 1:9). Then we will be able to walk freely in His Light because our new deeds, deeds of repentance, will be good. Although our sins were as scarlet, they will become white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

St. Frances de Sales speaks to this when he recommends the Sacrament of Confession:
“I entreat you, be not troubled by any sort of fearfulness. The scorpion who stings us is venomous, but when his oil has been distilled, it is the best remedy for his bite;–even so sin is shameful when we commit it, but when reduced to repentance and confession, it becomes salutary and honorable. Contrition and confession are in themselves so lovely and sweet-savored, that they efface the ugliness and disperse the ill savor of sin. Simon the leper called Magdalene a sinner, [St. Mark 14:3-9 and St. Luke 7:36-50] but our Lord turned the discourse to the perfume of her ointment and the greatness of her love. If we are really humble, Philothea, our sins will be infinitely displeasing to us, because they offend God;–but it will be welcome and sweet to accuse ourselves thereof because in so doing we honor God; and there is always somewhat soothing in fully telling the physician all details of our pain. When you come to your spiritual father, imagine yourself to be on Mount Calvary, at the Feet of the Crucified Savior, Whose Precious Blood is dropping freely to cleanse you from all your sin. Though it is not his actual Blood, yet it is the merit of that outpoured Blood which is sprinkled over His penitents as they kneel in Confession. Be sure then that you open your heart fully, and put away your sins by confessing them, for in proportion as they are put out, so will the Precious Merits of the Passion of Christ come in and fill you with blessings. Tell everything simply and with straightforwardness, and thoroughly satisfy your conscience in doing so. Then listen to the admonitions and counsels of God’s Minister, saying in your heart, ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant is listening.’ It is truly God to Whom you hearken, forasmuch as He has said to His representatives, ‘Whoever hears you, hears Me.’ [Luke 10:16]” -St. Frances de Sales, _Introduction to the Devout Life_

May we walk always in the Light of the One Who came to be our Way, our Truth and our Life.

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