Sunday, March 10, 2024

Laetare: 4th Sunday of Lent - God's Mercy

We are now on the 4th Sunday of Lent or Laetare Sunday.  Laetare means to rejoice and comes from the introit of the extraordinary form of the mass.  On this day, priests can wear rose to show a relaxation of Lenten penance in anticipation for Easter, the resurrection of Christ.  The readings today remind us of God's mercy and His commitment to making things new. 

Laetare Sunday is a day of joy and hope in the midst of Lent, a season of penance and conversion. The name comes from the Latin word for "rejoice", which is the first word of the entrance antiphon for the Mass of this day. The liturgical color for this Sunday is rose, a sign of joy and light. The rose color symbolizes the dawn of a new day, the anticipation of Easter, and the glimpse of glory that we have in Christ. It also reminds us of the joy that Mary, the mother of Jesus, experienced when she heard the angel's announcement that she would bear the Son of God.

The readings for this Sunday invite us to reflect on God's love and mercy, which are revealed in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. The first reading, from the second book of Chronicles, recounts the history of Israel's sin and exile, but also God's compassion and forgiveness, which led him to restore his people through Cyrus, the king of Persia. The second reading, from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, reminds us that we were once dead in our sins, but God made us alive with Christ, by his grace. The gospel, from John, tells us the famous verse: "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." (Jn 3:16)

These readings challenge us to examine our lives and see how we have responded to God's love and mercy. Have we been faithful to his covenant, or have we turned away from him and followed our own ways? Have we accepted his gift of salvation in Christ, or have we preferred the darkness of sin and death? Have we shared his love and mercy with others, or have we been selfish and indifferent?

In the first reading from Chronicles, we read of the destruction of the kingdom which was established by God via the covenant with David. This would be the last covenant in the Hebrew Scripture or Old Testament (2 Samuel 7). As usual, the "chosen people" went haywire and disobeyed God.  They "added infidelity to infidelity" and did every abomination imaginable, completely ignoring God and desecrating the Lord's temple with their sins.

God out of love and concern sent messengers to rescue them, but the people did not listen to them and mocked them (Luke 4:24Isaiah 66:4Psalm 95:10). The people were just out of control. This sin and licentiousness led to the destruction of the house of God and the walls of Jerusalem.  Everything was destroyed.  The Israelites were then taken captive in Babylon and were made slaves to the king of the Chaldeans.  However, despite the people of God ignoring God and wanting no part of Him, God was still concerned and wanted to restore them. In order to do this, He inspired Cyrus who was a pagan king, and anointed him to rebuild the temple and shepherd His people (Isaiah 44:28-45). Cyrus would then issue a decree stating that all of the kingdoms of Earth were given to him by God. This was a signal showing that the salvation God began with the Hebrews would extend to the rest of the world (1 Timothy 2:42 Peter 3:9). Many times atheists and others describe the "God of the Old Testament" as vindictive, jealous, and evil; however, we see how these human attributes used to describe God indicate how passionate He is with the human race that He tries everything to save them even if He has to show some "muscle," so to speak (Deuteronomy 4:31Psalm 116:5). We must not forget God because He has not forgotten us. This brings us to the responsorial Psalm.

In the responsorial Psalm, we read the cries of God's chosen people suffering "by the streams of Babylon" weeping and remembering Zion.  We read this Psalm of their lamentation and repeat, "Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!" If we forget God, then nothing good will come about from this rejection (Ezekiel 6:9Deuteronomy 32:18Ezra 8:22Leviticus 26:27-28). We must not be like the Israelites who followed God only when it suited them. When we turn away from God, nothing good comes. The atheist mantra "good without God" is not realistic because all good comes from God. God is the one who declares what is good (Genesis 1:31). Sin forces us to turn from God. We become insensitive and open to all kinds of evil. This kills us spiritually and psychologically.  The second reading from Ephesians reminds us of this.

The reading from Ephesians reminds us that our sins bring about death (Romans 5:12). However, God is always merciful; rich in it. He has such a great love for us that He brought us back to life with Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). It is in Him that the image of God in us is restored (Genesis 1:26).  Jesus is the image of the Divine Mercy who came to redeem and save all those who are open to Him. In Jesus, we see how far God will go to rescue His people who seem to be fond of going astray (Exodus 32:9).  

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Covid-19 Coronavirus onset as a pandemic on March 11thin 2020 .  I still remember that week and the months that followed like it was yesterday.  This virus truly brought the world to its knees.  New York City is often called the "city that never sleeps;" well, the coronavirus put the city to sleep!  Never in my life would I thought I would never see New York City so quiet and lifeless.  

I remember going outside and seeing the empty streets and busses.  It felt like a zombie apocalypse movie like Resident Evil or the television series The Walking Dead. There was an eery feeling in the air, so to speak. I recall going to the Our Lady Queen of the Universe Shrine (see: in the north Bronx to pray.  It was surreal.  I felt like I was alone in the world with no soul in sight, but I was not.  At the shrine, I felt God's and Our Lady's presence strongly. I prayed for the world and asked God for mercy.  Covid-19 reminded me that we need mercy from God.  Was this virus a sign or a warning from the heavens?  Was it a punishment?  We cannot know for sure. However, we do know that it woke us all up.  We must ask God for mercy. This month is the month of St. joseph.  What a wonderful saint to ask to show us how to be closed to Jesus!  He was the foster-father of Christ and protected Him.  We can ask St. Joseph to plead to His Son Jesus for mercy.   Jesus brings mercy to each one of us but at a high price as we read in the Gospel.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus that He will be lifted up like Moses lifted the serpent in the desert (Numbers 21:9). God had commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent. Anyone who looked at this serpent would be healed. Ironically, what made them sick were serpents (Numbers 21:6).  This symbol is still used today in the medical profession.  God is so powerful that He uses the same thing that brings bad and brings good from it. Similarly, Jesus being lifted on the Cross is something that is not good per se.  Being crucified was the capital punishment at the time of Jesus.  No-one lined up to receive it. Nevertheless, God uses this bad to bring about good: redemption and salvation. God uses death to bring life. This is only something God can do because He can do anything.  By being nailed to the cross, lifted up, and then dying, Jesus draws all peoples worldwide back to God (John 12:32). Once again, God demonstrates His mercy.

Pope Francis years ago declared that starting December 8, 2015, a jubilee year of Mercy would begin. Today's readings are a good way to reflect on the mercy and how God does everything to try to bring us back to Him, even sparing His own Son on the Cross who He sent not to condemn the world but to save it.  We must be merciful ourselves with others (Matthew 5:7James 2:13). None of us are perfect, so we should not treat others who fall as if they are lesser than us. We must hate what is evil and seek what is good.  As children of God, we must be children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5). In light, we can see better.  Our eyes work to their full potential.  With light, we appreciate the beautiful things around us. When we are in the light of Christ, we see the world as it truly is and enjoys the beauty of it.  We see others as God sees them; not as we see them now which many times forces us to be uncharitable, impatient, and rude to others because we do not see them as God does.

Laetare Sunday is an opportunity to renew our commitment to follow Christ, the light of the world, who came not to condemn but to save. It is also a time to rejoice in the hope of his resurrection, which is the source of our joy and peace. Let us pray that this Lent may be a fruitful time of conversion and grace for us and for the whole world.

During this Lent, recall how merciful God is and that He will do anything to bring you back. He wants us to be saved and enjoy eternal life with Him. Make use of the sacrament of Penance and turn away from sin. Focus on Christ lifted up on the Cross and let Him draw you in.  The Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic showed us that we need God.  Man with all his technology, education, and science cannot defeat nature.  To think that a microscopic organism can do this to the "most advanced" species on earth is very humbling.  We need God's mercy.   May Jesus Christ be praised!

Readings: Fourth Sunday of Lent | USCCB

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