Medicinal suffering and virtues needed to live the truth – Fourth Sunday of Lent

If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten! May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, If I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy.

Central idea: Medicinal suffering. Doctrine and practical application: Virtues needed to live the truth.

To view Lectionary 32, click here.

Central idea: Medicinal suffering

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!”

  • Looking back at the terrible events that must have seemed incomprehensible when they occurred, this sacred writer sees the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity as consequences of Israel’s sin. And he sees their return as God’s mercy.
  • The Chosen People—princes, priests, and people—wanted to live like every other people on earth. That is, they wanted to do whatever they wanted to do, which meant to sin freely, if what they wanted to do was sinful. And so, finally, God let them also suffer the fate of every people on earth, which was to be used by physically stronger sinners who killed them, or enslaved them, or used them for their entertainment, and who plundered their goods.
  • The sacred writer shows God’s punishment to be medicinal. The Chosen People’s suffering caused them to turn back to God who was merciful. The Chosen People collectively did penance for some seventy years—“Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths,” that is, until the people had made up for their disobedience to the Covenant.
  • Our penance only makes sense if it, too, is medicinal. This is to say, we should see both our involuntary suffering and our voluntary penances as ways for ourselves and others to be healed of the effects of sin and to grow in virtues.

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

R. 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.

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!”

How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!

May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem
ahead of my joy.

  • The Chosen People in exile, enslaved in Babylon, were right to never want to forget their true homeland, Jerusalem. They wanted more than anything to go back there.
  • Many persons experience something similar: there was a time back when things were right, but things are not right now, and they would give anything to go back to the time before, and start over.
  • Every child enters the world with the greatest hope for every good thing, but that hope is relentlessly attacked by evil, both moral evil in sin and natural evil in suffering.
  • We can’t go back to our first beginning, but we can begin again and again, in Christ, to live lives of goodness until our new beginning with Christ in heaven.

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.

  • God “is rich in mercy,” as shown in his great love for sinners while they are in sin.
  • In Baptism, God joins us with Christ and brings us to life, raises us from death, and seats us with him in heaven. This will happen definitively in heaven but it is true in a hidden way even now.
  • This salvation (the forgiveness of our sins) and sanctification (interior renewal and transformation by grace) is a gift from God. We don’t earn it by our works. Rather the good works we do now are our way of corresponding to his grace. Because God has saved us, we strive to live lives of goodness by cooperating with the graces God sends us.

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.

  • John 3:16 in isolation seems so beautiful and welcoming, but in context, Jesus’ words are shocking. At the same time they are good because they are true.
  • Apart from Jesus Christ we are on the way to perishing, not in mere oblivion, but in condemnation, because our works are evil.
  • Horses, cows, pigs, and chickens are not the only animals that live in barns. When it is dark outside and the farmer switches on the lights in his barn, the rats run for cover and the birds nesting in the rafters begin to sing.
  • What category do you prefer to be in:
    • a person who prefers darkness to light because your works are evil and you don’t want them exposed;
    • or a person who comes to the light because your works have been done in God and so you are happy for them to be clearly seen?
  • All of us are sinners and sinners want to hide that their works are evil. But God gave his only Son to us who are sinners to save us.

Doctrine and practical application: Virtues needed to live the truth

  • Perhaps three virtues are particularly needed today among adult Catholics, especially those in leadership in Catholic institutions, Catholics who operate their own businesses according to the moral law, and ordinary Catholics in the world of work who may be pressured to cooperate in morally evil acts. These virtues are justice, prudence, and fortitude.
  • Justice demands that we speak and live the truth. A Catholic institution must tell the truth to its members and those affected by its policies.
  • Prudence makes it possible to live the truth effectively and appropriately.
    • If it is not necessary to speak or act, one can be silent. There is no need to tell everyone everything on you mind.
    • In explaining the reasons for your opposition to cooperation with evil there is a difference between apologetics and an appeal to one’s rights.
      • Apologetics is the ability to explain why you believe and act the way you do. The aim is to show that your beliefs and actions are reasonable. This is certainly needed as Catholics engage others in our culture. For example, we will need to explain and defend again and again why we believe that marriage is the permanent and exclusive union of a man and a woman for their good and the good of any children they may be blessed with.
      • Standing up for one’s rights means naming the right in question, repeating the rationale for that right, and then acting accordingly. For example, if my boss tells me I ought to or must attend a baby shower at work for a same-sex colleague who has gotten a child through a surrogate, it should be enough to reply (1) that celebrating this event is against my religion and (2) (if I am in the U.S.) that free exercise of religion is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. If my boss is just, that should be the end of the matter.
    • Fortitude is the courage and strength to stand up for the truth in the face of the harm we can suffer for living our Catholic faith. God may be calling us to give up a lot.
      • You may be labeled a bigot or hater.
      • You may be kicked off the internet.
      • You may not get a job or lose your job.
      • You may be taken to court, fined, and imprisoned.

The Homiletic Directory also offers the following Catechism points and themes for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

  • CCC 389, 457-458, 846, 1019, 1507: Christ as Savior
  • CCC 679: Christ the Lord of eternal life
  • CCC 55: God wants to give man eternal life
  • CCC 710: Israel’s exile foreshadowed the Passion
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