(2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21)
Lent is the Church’s annual call to conversion. It echoes God’s call for a change of heart; from spiritual death or sickness to become whole and healthy again. Penance is not a way to make ourselves feel bad but a chance to know real spiritual peace and joy again. But this Sunday was a break in the old rather severe Lent and is called Laetare from the first antiphon: “Rejoice.” It celebrates the chance to choose life and wholeness, to be open to receive that undeserved, generous love we cannot earn but only accept as God’s gift to us.
Today in this passage from St. John’s Gospel we overhear part of a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee called Nicodemus. This man was attracted by the words and deeds of Jesus, but he was still unsure and, in the face of the opposition of some of his confreres, was still fearful about following Him. So he comes under cover of the darkness to find out more about this Rabbi. Jesus talks with him and we listen in.
Now, John’s Gospel is noted for highlighting the Signs - especially the seven miracles - which help one to have faith in Jesus. Today Jesus refers to the sign of the serpent uplifted on a pole. He was recalling a strange event during the Exodus. The Israelites had been bitten by desert serpents and some had died. Moses was told by God to mount a bronze serpent on a pole and all who looked upon it with faith would recover. (You probably have seen something similar to that serpent on the pole in your Doctor’s office. It is still a sign of healing ...... points us to the MD...the healer!) So when Christ is lifted up, Nicodemus will recognize the He is The Healer.
St. John is also well known for highlighting the signs of Light and Darkness. Whenever he uses Light it is always pointing to life, faith, and the saving wisdom Jesus is offering.(Nicodemus has come out of the darkness to Christ the Light) Jesus explains that He has come because God the Father loves this human world of His Creation and wants to give it Eternal Life. Jesus is the Light come into the world so that we might see ourselves, others and the world as it is....a world where darkness was the condition everyone used to cover up their sins and evil deeds,. In the darkness no one can recognize the good man from the criminal. One of the practical safety and anti-crime precautions is an abundance of bright lights in an area.
Today’s Liturgy reminds us that the Coming, the Presence of Jesus is The Great Gift of God to us. And once He has come into the world there are only two choices: either to believe in Him and move into God’s Light or refuse to believe and turn from the light into moral darkness where evil thoughts and actions are not so glaringly apparent. It is even possible to move so far away into the darkness of selfishness that the refusal of God’s offer of Light and Healing becomes permanent. And that is what is meant be eternal condemnation or hell; eternally fixed in one’s choice to refuse to love or to accept love.
Today’s Liturgy also reminds us that to do Penance; to learn to open, our secret, locked in hearts - to show the wounds to God and to welcome the Light and Warmth of His love. During these days of Lent we have the opportunity to take time out to consider the Good News, to recall what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to be prepared for a time of Surprising Grace. Here are some helpful hints to point you in the right direction in the remaining days of Lent:
Look about you every morning. God has given you this day and He wills to be with you as you go through it. It will not be important how much you will do for Him, but how much you are willing to let Him do for and through you. The thing that carried many people through the terrible experience of the concentration camps was Someone was concerned and was waiting! On a difficult day realizing that God is with you and loves you can be like the Light at the end of a dark tunnel.
Place a crucifix or picture of Christ in your home. Not hidden away in the bedroom but “lifted Up” in a place of honor to remind you and those who enter your home how much you are loved by God, your Savior and Healer.
Take advantage of appearing before God’s Mercy Seat in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not as an Easter DUTY but to receive a gift from God, to hear Him say through His priest: “I know your sins and failures, but even so you are My beloved and Chosen Child.”
This Laetare Sunday resolve to do such things and you will discover Lent is a time of joy and light. It will remind you of Who God is, who we are and what we believe. It can be a time of grace when your heart is changed and you become whole and spiritually healthy for God’s Love is a recognized, vital part of your life.
– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.