13 March 2018

Homily - The Fourth Sunday of Lent - 11 March 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we approached the altar of the Lord this morning, we implored him for the grace of “prompt devotion and eager faith” (Collect). Just two Sundays ago, we considered what it means to be devoted, how being devoted means to be dedicated by a vow, to have sacrificed oneself, and to have made a promise in a solemn manner. How often are we prompt in our devotion to the Lord? How prompt are we to keep the vows made at our baptisms and to hold fast to the promise we received? How prompt are we to make a sacrifice of ourselves to God each day?

It sometimes happens that, by a sudden inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the notion pops into our head that we should pray the rosary, that we should pick up our Bible, or even that we should make a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. After recognizing the goodness of this thought, we frequently decide there are more pressing matters requiring our attention and put off this holy inspiration. Sometimes we return to it, but more often we forget about it. At other times in our conversations with others, we realize we should say something about the goodness of the Lord and his action in our lives, but we become concerned about offending someone and remain silent. If we are honest with ourselves and with the Lord, we are not always very prompt in our devotion or eager in our faith.

Whenever we are not prompt in our devotion to the Lord and fail to keep our promises to him, we can be certain of one thing: we will grow distant from him and our love for him will fade. As the distance between us and the Lord grows, as the fire of our love for him dies down, our faith becomes weak and we risk separating ourselves from him. “How can this be?”, you might ask; “how can we be separated from God?”

There is a difference between saying. “God is with me.” and saying, “I am with God.” Reflecting back on his sinful past in his Confessions, Saint Augustine said to the Lord:

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I have loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you.”[1]

We see something of this in the reading from the Second Book of Chronicles in which the Israelites “added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s Temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem” (II Chronicles 36:14). The Lord was with his people, but his people was not with the Lord.

In response to their repeated infidelities brought on by their lack of devotion, the Lord allowed them to fall under the power of the Babylonian Empire to shake them back to their senses. When their homes were destroyed and their possessions taken as spoils or war, they, too, were carted off to Babylon where they sat by the streams and wept, remembering Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord that their conquerors destroyed (cf. Psalm 137:1). In their grief, they cried out, “May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy” (Psalm 137:6). The Lord allowed them to remain under the Babylonian Captivity until they again grew eager in their faith and renewed their devotion to God.

When they sang of placing Jerusalem ahead of their joy, what did they mean? Jerusalem was more than the capital city. Jerusalem was home to the Temple, to God’s dwelling among men. Jerusalem was, therefore, the location of contact with God, where praise was given to God, where sacrifices were made and sins forgiven, where God and Israel communed together. To place Jerusalem ahead of their joy meant to keep things in right order, to keep their relationship with God first and foremost in their thoughts and deeds.

The Lord Jesus Christ came among us “even when we were dead in our transgressions” and “brought us to life” by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection (Ephesians 2:5). In his Incarnation, we see that even “if, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts … this is never the case with God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.”[2] Even now, he calls us to keep the Heavenly Jerusalem ahead of our own joy – to keep our relationship with God first and foremost - so that his joy might be in us and our joy might be complete (cf. John 15:11).

Just as at the beginning of this Holy Mass we asked God for “prompt devotion and eager faith,” so, too, at the end of this Mass will we ask him to “sustain the weak” so we might “reach the highest good” (solemn blessing). It is impossible to reach the highest good apart from the Cross, for it was on the Cross that the highest Good – Christ Jesus - was himself lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). He was lifted up upon the Cross to heal us and make us whole, and it is from his Cross that his light shines forth, beckoning all who turn to toward the light.

It is not hard to see that “people preferred darkness to light, because their works were [and are] evil” (John 3:19). So often we know our sin and yet we refuse to humble ourselves before the Lord to seek his mercy and receive his absolution. We hide from him, thinking somehow that if we stay in the darkness we will be at peace, but our experience proves this false. The more we hide from his light, the greater our pain becomes. It is only by stepping into his light, by seeking his forgiveness, that our hearts find peace.

Pope Benedict XVI once said, “In the heart of every man, begging for love, there is a thirst for love.”[3] Are we not all beggars for love? Saint Augustine said, “Only the lover sings.”[4] Given that both are true, let us not leave our harps on a tree in our anguish; let us not abandon or song of love. Let us, rather, look to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and see there the depth of his great love so freely given and “sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 96:1). Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.27. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 201.
[2] Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2018.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 29 March 2007.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 336.

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