11 March 20184 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
4 Lent
Fourth Sunday of Lent - Cycle B - John 3:14-21

The good news is the Bible is available in 2300 languages. The bad news is the world has 6700 languages. Two thirds of the world's languages have not yet seen the Gospels. Christ tells us we have to do a better job of telling everyone about Someone who can save anyone. I was driving out of New York City across the George Washington Bridge. My tank was empty. I almost had to push the car into a gas station in New Jersey. The attendant filled my tank. He gave me a leaflet titled "God's Plan of Salvation." Then the young man in fractured English asked me the question the Teacher asked of Nicodemus. "Are you born again, mister?" He did not wait for my answer. He told me, "Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:7, `You must be born again.'" As I put my refreshed car into drive, he shouted, "We'll praise the Lord together, mister." My gas jockey subscribed to the line that teaches "evangelism is one beggar telling another where to find bread." Happily there are people around who are saying yes to Jesus. The young man above accepted the invitation of Christ "to have eternal life in Him." Unhappily too many of us are zerox copies of Senor Nicodemus.

He is the timid disciple Jesus is chatting with in today's Gospel. Like him too, we hedge our bets with Jesus. We are afraid to place our lives on the table. We say, "Why not give me a call tomorrow, Lord?" We know we will be out tomorrow. And we have no answering machine. "Most people," said DL Moody, "talk cream and live skim milk." We should not be hard on Nicodemus. Christ enjoyed his company. (Can the same be said of us?) He relished His talk with the well-read gentleman. The apostles were hardly brain surgeons. Only a few of them could read and write. Chats of the type described in today's Gospel with them would have been an exercise in futility. Furthermore, through this gentleman Nicodemus, we receive a splendid outline of the job definition of the Master as He Himself understood it. What better authority is there?

After saying all that, the poor fellow was still a reluctant disciple. In a word, Nicodemus was a respectable person, who was shackled by conventions and fearful of great decisions. The opinion of the fellow next door was more important than that of Christ's. Do you get the feeling we are talking about ourselves? His conversation with the Lord was held at night. He was not anxious to be seen by friends in daylight with this strange preacher. He had much to lose. So, he was an after midnight follower. He would remain a closet Christian. Will that be our fate? Or will we be bold enough to break free of our restraints and take a genuine flyer on Christ? Will we "out" ourselves? Several months after my rendezvous with the disciple of Christ at the gas station, I pulled into a diner for a quickie hamburger and coffee. My waiter was about 20. He spotted my Roman collar and began talking volumes. He told me he had recently been converted to Christ through Mormons. He was giving away 10% of his income to the church. He was waiting for a call to be shipped out as a lay missionary.

I asked what country he would like to work in. He told me, "Whatever country Jesus sends me to." Even though the hamburger tasted like a hockey puck, I left impressed and ashamed. I was envious of the man's compelling faith. Nicodemus or Gilhooley he was not. A free spirit and genuine Christ follower he was. He had proved to me a line I had read. "You can give without loving, but you can't love without giving." I had lunch with a college student. He told me how our campus ministry program might be improved. I listened. Finally I rejoined, "But, Jon, in your four college years you have never once gone to Sunday Mass. In an emergency, you would not be able to find the chapel." Said he hotly, "So what? I am a good Catholic." That wonderful line of Kierkegaard came to mind. "It is so much easier to become a Christian when you aren't one than to become one when you assume you already are." Yet, for Jon and us there is hope in this Lent which means spring or new birth, for "in every winter's heart there is a quivering spring." Christ will not force us to grow, but He can love us into new life. Do remember the missionary's line: "The world begins where your front yard ends." 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
4 Lent
Fourth Sunday of Lent: God Is In Control

The historian who wrote the Second Book of Chronicles, from which our first reading for today comes, looked back at the Babylonian Captivity and saw the hand of God. The Jewish people had practiced infidelity after infidelity, abomination after abomination. The prophets had been persecuted or ignored. Finally, God permitted a foreign people, the Babylonians, to conquer Judah, sack Jerusalem, and destroy the Temple. The vast majority of the people were deported into slavery in Babylon. They were marched across the desert bound together with rings through their noses. A good time was not had by all. This all happened in 588 B.C. In Babylon the Hebrew people were completely powerless. The prophets had told them that God was only punishing them for a while, but they would be freed to return home. It seemed to be an impossible situation.

The Babylonians were certainly not going to let them go. The Jews had no way of rebelling. How could it happen that they could return to Jerusalem? Nothing changed for 60 years. But then God worked his wonders. The Babylonians were conquered by their Northern neighbors, the Persians. According to the Chronicler, Cyrus, King of Persia, saw his conquests as gifts from God. He therefore immediately released the Jewish people so they could return to their land to rebuild the Temple to God in Jerusalem and thank their God for King Cyrus. Throughout this whole account there is no doubt in the chronicler's mind but that God is in control of the world and of his people. This same thought is reflected in the 2nd reading for today from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. "God has made us his handiwork," St. Paul says. He has given us a place in the heavens. He has created us in Christ "to lead the life of good deeds which he has prepared for us in advance." Nothing is outside of God's grasp and power. He who is in control of the universe has called us to join him in his recreation of the world in Christ Jesus. Keeping this all in mind we can understand the significance of the gospel proclamation. God has sent his Son who will be raised up so that those who look upon him with faith may have eternal life.

The sign of their faith is that they will do their deeds in the light. The sign of God's power is the cross. The Son of Man is lifted up so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. Jesus died for us to restore us to God's intended place for mankind in the order of creation. At the same time, the cross is the sign of contradiction. Christ, put to death, is in control of the universe. What appears as defeat is really victory because the sacrifice of Christ initiates the reign of God. At his weakest, Jesus is the strongest. God is in control. He turns defeat into victory for those with a living faith in him. We need to recognize this in our own struggles in life. When in our weakness, we are united to Christ's cross, we are at our strongest. We may be full of pain. Perhaps we have lost a loved one. A son, daughter, brother, sister, mother or father, grandmother or grandfather dies. The grief comes upon us in waves. One minute we are numb, the next we are beyond consolation. But through it all we do believe in God. We call upon Him. We give Him our pain. And eventually we realize that He is carrying us through our sorrows. Our grief has become our prayer.

Through it all, we have become stronger. All because we let God take control. Maybe, we have had a terrible disappointment. A job we thought was untouchable comes to a sudden end. The college we had our heart set on does not accept us, or is more than our family can afford. We realize that a person we thought was a friend was really just using us. A relationship comes to an end, a marriage, a deep relationship of love, or a friendship we have valued over the years. Perhaps life is not turning out the way we expected. Blessed Mother Theresa once said, "If you want to give God a good laugh, tell Him your plans." It is easy to be disappointed in the world, in our lives, and particularly in ourselves. We have a choice, though. We can wallow in our grief, or we can take a huge step of faith and just ask God to make sense our of what appears to be nonsense.

We let Him take control. And He does. Life is too difficult to handle alone. We need help. All of us. He doesn't want us to be in grief. He wants to heal us with His Love. We have Him. We need to trust in Him. Through it all God will take control. When we are convinced that we can't handle things by ourselves and call upon God for help, we are at our strongest. Now we appreciate our need for Him in our lives. When we put all in His hands and act according to our consciences, even though this may be difficult and painful, then in our weakness we are strong. God is in control. We have to tell ourselves that over and over again. If only we would allow Him to be our strength, then nothing can defeat us. Not even the worst cross we could imagine can destroy Hi Love in our lives. Today we pray that we might have the humility and the courage to to trust God to be our strength.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
4 Lent
Finding Hope When Life Hurts Week 4: Believe (March 11, 2018)

Bottom line: Jesus invites you to believe, to say to him, "I trust in you."
Today's readings address a fundamental question: How are we saved? How do we obtain eternal life? If there's a bigger question, I don't know what it is. Lots of people think you get to heaven by doing good deeds, by helping others. Those things matter but they are not the bottom line. It may surprise you that good deeds do not provide the key to eternal life. If good deeds aren't the key, what is? St. Paul tells us: "By grace you have been saved through faith." To make it crystal clear he adds, "This is not from you; it is a gift from God so no one may boast." That's reason to rejoice isn't it? You notice I'm wearing rose vestments - the color for joy. We can see that reason for joy in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:: "Our justification (salvation) comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us..." (#1996) If that's the case does it mean we sit back and wait for God to act? Not exactly.

Grace implies a response. After stating that our salvation - our justification - is a free gift Paul writes that we are "created in Christ Jesus for the good works God has prepared in advance." We should, he says, *live* in those good works. And what precisely are the good works? In today's Gospel Jesus gives the most important work: to believe. Five times the Gospel uses the word "believe." Belief in this context is not so much intellectual, like 2+2=4. First and foremost belief means trust. Many of you are reading The Case for Jesus. Some of you tell me that Dr. Pitre is helping you clear up some doubts, to make you more confident about the faith.

Still, in the end each person has to face this question: Is Jesus Lord? Am I willing to say, "Jesus, I trust in you"? To say "Jesus I trust in you" and mean it implies a response. At the beginning of Lent I gave you a little booklet: Finding Hope When Life Hurts. That book indicates the hard work we have to do in order live in the hope Jesus gives us. Again the Catechism has this saying: "Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you." (#2834) We should understand that saying in light of what St. Paul says about being saved by faith - a free gift. By grace we have become God's handiwork created for the good works God has prepared for us.

At a recent Knights of Columbus meeting one member read a selection from the Gospel and each Knight had a chance to share. It was inspiring to hear those men talk about their love for the parish and for Jesus. They want to form families centered on Jesus. Jesus desires to bless and strengthen our marriages. He wants to help young people in their spiritual warfare. For them as they prepare for Confirmation and for adults preparing for Easter Sacraments we have the Second Scrutiny - right after this homily. The Scrutiny is an exorcism prayer invoking Jesus power in our spiritual combat. Jesus invites you to believe, to say to him, "I trust in you." Try to find a time today or this week when you can reflect on your life and no matter what difficulties you face, say "Jesus I trust in you." "God so loved the world," we hear, "that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Lent
Fourth Sunday of Lent,
Classic John 3: 14:21

Gospel Summary
In today's gospel selection, Jesus continues his discussion with Nicodemus on the subject of baptism. It is important to note this because there is no explicit mention of baptism in this passage. This does not mean that the author has somehow lost his train of thought. What it does mean is that, though the water ritual of baptism is important, what really matters is the quality of faith on the part of the one who is being baptized. Jesus gives us the wonderful good news that "? God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.? We are included in that world, and it should be most comforting to hear that we are loved by the One who is most capable of loving. But we must also notice that the liberating effect of that divine love will be available to us only to the degree that we believe. "Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned.? It is of the greatest importance, therefore, that we understand what this believing means in our daily lives.

Life Implications It is tempting to think that believing in Christ means simply that we affirm the creed, or that we agree that Jesus existed and worked miracles and died and rose from the dead. To accept these truths is important but this is not what is meant by "believing? in this passage. In fact, one can sincerely affirm all these facts theoretically and still live very selfishly. To believe in the One who was "lifted up? means nothing less than to make his self-offering part of our own lives through daily concern for others; it means to live unselfishly. This is the only kind of faith that will give us eternal life. Most of us were baptized as infants with no conscious awareness of what was happening. Our sponsors promised, in our names, that we renounced Satan and affirmed Christ. It was hoped that our sponsors and others will explain all that to us when we became old enough to understand the very serious commitment made for us.

Unfortunately, we usually expect our sponsors to do little more than to remember our birthdays ? and often less than that. The simple fact is that those baptized as infants must "claim? their own baptisms, as it were, as soon as they are old enough to do so, which usually means in early adulthood. The sacrament of baptism is not magic, and its graces become fully operative in our lives only to the extent that we accept and live the promises made years ago in our names. When we promise to renounce Satan, we are declaring our firm resolution to eliminate from our lives the "big lie? of Satan, namely, that we can achieve happiness by thinking only of ourselves. And when we commit ourselves to Christ, we firmly resolve to follow his example of unselfish, thoughtful concern for others. When we are thus "lifted up? like Jesus on the cross of love, we can be sure that we will also be "raised up? with him in the victory of resurrection. Some may think that this takes all the fun out of life, but in reality the people who love in this way are the only truly happy people in the world. But we won't know that until we try it! Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Modern
John 9: 1- 41

There's a temptation to explain why bad things happen to people as being a result of some sin in their lives. To view the bad thing as a punishment from God. This Gospel dispels this belief and teaches us to look at the sufferings of others as something other than punishments. The disciples asks a question that reveals his assumption that the man's blindness was a result of sin; "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?? This echoes the belief that Job's friends had who were convinced that he must have done something wrong. I've met numerous people who in the midst of tragedy or sickness wonder what they did that God is punishing them. Jesus response was unexpected, "neither he nor his parents sinned.?

It should be reassuring to us that God is not sitting on his Heavenly Throne waiting to pounce on sinners with sickness or tragedy. If this were the case all of us would be living miserable lives of sickness, for after all, we are all sinners. After Jesus makes it clear that is not a punishment from God for our sins, he heals the man who was born blind to the amazement of both his followers and detractors. To the followers this is another sign that they are following the Messiah. There are always those who doubt or refuse to acknowledge God's power even when it is right before them. They try to twist this around and question whether r the man truly was blind. When this is quickly rebutted by the testimony of his parents and neighbors, the Pharisees acknowledge that the man was healed, but claim it is not the work of God, but of the devil. This too is without success. The formerly blind man gives his brief testimony, "One thing that I do know is that I was blind and now I see.?

Why was it so difficult for the Pharisees to accept the miraculous nature of this healing? For one thing it took place on the Sabbath, and their interpretation of the Sabbath was so restrictive that it bound even the work of God. By healing the blind man on the Sabbath Jesus shows the power of God over human affliction, and the authority of God over misinterpretations of the commandments. All of this was too much for the Pharisees to see and accept. Even today, there are those who don't believe, and fail to see the miracles that take place. One wonders, who was truly blind, the man who couldn't see or the Pharisees? The man born blind could not see the world around him, but he was able to "see? who Jesus is. He had an interior vision of God's presence and power. The Pharisees were blind to God's presence in Jesus.

Unlike the man born blind who desired sight, they did not realize their blindness and so did not seek healing. Throughout the remainder of the Gospel they stumble in their blindness as they continually fail to see that Jesus is indeed Messiah and Lord. This Gospel calls on us to rejoice with the blind man who recognized Jesus and who was healed, and it challenges us to look within ourselves to see if there is a blindness in our lives that prevents us from seeing the power and presence of God. During Lent let us be mindful of the call we received on Ash Wednesday to fast, pray and repent. In doing this may our eyes be truly open to the beauty of God's work both in Scripture and in the Church. Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
4 Lent
Fourth Sunday of Lent

The readings today are all about salvation. The extract from the Book of Chronicles gives us an account of the great exile known as the Babylonian Captivity that occurred in 586 BC. This was a most extraordinary event. After over four hundred years of rule by the descendants of King David the Kingdom of Judah was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon and the majority of the population were taken into captivity. In many ways things in the Middle East haven't changed that much, there have been power struggles going on there down the ages right up to our own day. In the period we are thinking about the newly ascendant empire was that of Babylon. Their King, Nebuchadnezzar, was well aware of the riches owned by his weaker neighbour and soon decided to plunder Judah and enslave its inhabitants.

One sure way to keep a whole people in slavery is to destroy their hope. Since the hope of a nation is often expressed in its religion Nebuchadnezzar lost no time in destroying the Temple in Jerusalem. He was convinced that this would send the people into despair and they would become more easily manageable. Nebuchadnezzar thought that the Israelites would conclude that their God was weak and powerless since he could not even defend his own Temple. But, of course, the very opposite happened. The Prophet Jeremiah had foretold these events and the people came to understand that the destruction of the Temple and their enslavement was not a result of the weakness of God but due to their own infidelity. They interpreted the Captivity as appropriate punishment by God for disobeying him rather than viewing it as constituting any inadequacy on his part. The Captivity lasted seventy years and then God moved the heart of the new ruler of Babylon, the Persian King Cyrus, to release them and to rebuild the Temple. And it is this restoration that we are told about in our first reading today. This must have seemed quite incredible to the People of Israel.

They had been lamenting their lot in Babylon as is so eloquently expressed in the Psalm given to us today. And then this new pagan king suddenly expresses his belief in their God and says that he has been instructed by him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. This was surely a most extraordinary miracle and a profound vindication of the God of their fathers; a faith strengthened and renewed rather than extinguished by seventy long years of captivity. Just imagine their rejoicing as they returned home to freedom. This can only be described as a profound experience of salvation. We should remember that this wasn't the first time that the People of Israel had experienced captivity and exile. You will remember the Exile into Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs and how Moses led the Chosen People through the Red Sea and then through forty years in the desert until they reached the Promised Land of Canaan. These experiences of salvation were deeply ingrained in the history and culture of Israel. You could not think of a better way of preparing a race of people for the definitive saving event of all time ?the salvation won by Jesus Christ.

The only trouble with us humans is that we have a tendency to forget. We continually forget even the most important lessons in life. And, as a people, the Jews were no different in that they continually forgot the lessons of the deepest experiences they had collectively endured. Jesus explains this to Nicodemus. He tells him how what Moses achieved was going to happen once again but in a greater and more definitive way. This time there would be no exile into slavery, no journey through the desert, no glorious entry into the Promised Land. There would be no captivity in Babylon, no sudden change of heart by a pagan Emperor. No, this time the circumstances would be almost banal. A squalid betrayal by a once loyal brother, an arrest in a garden in the middle of the night, a trumped-up trial, the exchange of his life for that of a rebel and the crucifixion by the Romans on behalf of a corrupt Jewish priesthood. What we have been speaking about is mostly the memory of things long past but we know that there are different kinds of memory. We are all familiar with short-term memory. We remember where we left our car in the supermarket car park. But we don't retain this information for long otherwise our minds would be clogged up with a lot of unnecessary data. Then there is long-term memory.

This is more difficult; we often remember scenes from our childhood or significant events. Sometimes events flood unbidden into our minds, things that we thought were long forgotten. And there is collective memory. This is the memory of a whole nation or community. It is about the significance of their history. A good example would be the memory of the holocaust for the Jews of today, and indeed also in an opposite way for the German nation. Keeping these events alive is important in order to maintain the identity of the community concerned. The events of the Exodus and the Captivity have been highly significant for the Jews down through the ages. They were demonstrations of their chosenness by God which was precisely what they considered made them different from all the other nations of the earth. These were extremely strong experiences of salvation which affected a whole people for many generations. They were powerful demonstrations of God's love despite the infidelity of a considerable proportion of the nation.

And yet, by the time of Jesus, these things were being forgotten. The priests especially were caught up in a highly clerical religion which exploited the people and which ensured places of privilege from themselves. This was accompanied by highly inappropriate collusion between them and the Roman invaders. Jesus tells Nicodemus what is about to happen. He reveals to this important member of the Jewish hierarchy that God is now going to intervene in a most spectacular way and is going to definitively bring about salvation not merely for the Jewish people but for the whole human race. Memory remains important, because it is our collective memory which communicates this extraordinary intervention of God in the history of the world to future generations. We keep this memory fresh by constantly reading the scriptures and by gathering together to celebrate the Eucharist each week. These are the means by which the Good News of the Kingdom is kept alive in the world today. In the words of consecration Our Lord says: Do this in memory of me. It is his memory we keep alive, it is his salvation that we celebrate, it is his Kingdom that we look forward to so much.

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