|3/15/2012 9:01:00 AM|
Pause on the journey
BY REV. ANTHONY BARRATTDuring our Lenten journey, we have traveled a great deal in our Sunday readings and reflections: in the desert, on a mountain and now to the temple in Jerusalem. In our travels, we have reflected on many things and we discovered or re-discovered much.
On this fourth Sunday in Lent, we are past the halfway point in our journey and we are invited to rest and take stock. As we rest and reflect, we have Jesus with us, but we also meet Nicodemus in the Gospel reading (John 3:14-21).
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a learned and devout man of faith. He admires Jesus - but secretly, because of his prominent position in society. (Later, when religious leaders plot to murder Jesus, Nicodemus pleads for a fair trial according to the law.)
Nicodemus wants to know more about the Kingdom of God. He is attracted to Jesus' message, yet he has doubts and questions. Jesus makes things clear and sums up everything that really matters when He says, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son."
We, too, have questions and doubts. Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus can help us as we pause and reflect on our Lenten journey. Notice what Jesus first says: "God so loved the world" - not that God just liked or felt sorry for the world. God loved the world (and the strongest form of the several words in the Scriptures for love is used).
This statement of a simple yet profound fact should be enough to transform anyone's life. As St. Paul joyfully says in the second reading (Eph 2:4-10), "Nothing can undo God's love for each of us."
But there is more. Jesus adds that God so loved the world that He did something: God's word, His love, became action and a reality. His love is a practical, real sort of love rather than something just romantic or soft-focus. He gave His only Son.
God didn't lend His Son or pretend to give Him. It was a total gift. As St. John Chrystosom puts it, "The vastness of God's love is reflected in the vastness of the gift. God gave not a servant, nor an angel or even archangel, but His Son - and His only Son."
Why did God do all this? Jesus continues, "...so that we might have eternal life." This is the ultimate gift, freely given and totally undeserved.
So far, Jesus' words have been all about what God has done for us. Jesus adds something further: He tells Nicodemus that this gift needs a response when He adds, "if we believe in Him." We are invited to respond to God's promise and His gift.
Did you notice in Jesus' words that it is not God who condemns as such? We condemn ourselves. Condemnation does not so much come from God's action, but from people's inaction or lack of response.
How do we respond? We have a choice. In the Gospel, St. John uses the image of light vs. dark to help us understand. Each day, we make hundreds of choices - some less important, some life-changing. We also make many spiritual choices. Do we pause to pray each day, or do we make excuses that we're too busy or will pray later?
An event in our day could be an invitation to change and grow. Do we ignore it and carry on as before? Perhaps there is something inappropriate on the TV or the computer. Do we choose to move on or watch it? Perhaps there is gossip at school or work. Do we choose not to indulge or do we join in - or, worse still, initiate it?
We all face these choices: between light and dark, good or bad, to respond to God's love or reject it. Our life is an accumulation of the choices we have made. As St. Augustine reflects: "Remember that many little drops of water coalesce to make a river."
There is one last part of the conversation that we can take to heart as we reflect on our journey of Lent. In the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, the rather chilling word "evil" ("phaul" in the original language of the Gospel) is used. It really means something that is cheap, inadequate, shoddy or second-best.
Hopefully, none of us chooses to live in absolute darkness - but we might choose not to live in full light, either. The full light can be searching, revealing all those things that are hidden!
Instead, we can choose to live in a sort of spiritual twilight, giving a half-hearted response to God's love and invitation to love. It might be said that someone did not hurt anyone, for example; but did that person do some good?
As we rest and take stock on our journey of Lent and as we listen in on the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, let us renew our deep joy in what God had given us and what He has done for us: the gift of His only Son and the possibility of life eternal.
Let us take this to heart and believe that nothing can take away this gift - but let us also respond to this gift by making choices for the good, by living not in the dark nor in a spiritual twilight zone, but in the full light that we will celebrate at Easter.
(Father Barratt, who holds a doctorate in theology, is pastor of Annunciation parish in Ilion and Our Lady Queen of Apostles in Frankfort.)
A series of Lenten homilies, including this one, are being posted on the diocesan Amazing God website.
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