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Rejoice Sunday

“A body in motion tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” I’m sure many of you have heard that phrase used in an often repeated TV commercial that has been airing recently. The phrase has caught my attention especially when I have been a couch potato watching more TV than I should. It’s the “staying at rest” that I am talking about because I am so often afflicted with laziness and lethargy. I resist getting in motion.

Well, you may ask, what do those words and that thought have to do with the readings from the scripture passages that we just heard on this Fourth Sunday of Lent- also known as Laetare Sunday?

Joy is its theme, joy because we are halfway through Lent and thus very close to the joy of Easter when our Elect will be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Communion and our Candidates will be received into our Communion of Faith and likewise receive Holy Communion. There is joy, too, because in spite of our sins God in His love has acted to enter our sinful world and redeem our sinful souls. God has not remained passive in the face of our failures and sins. He has taken action, decisive action. He has been in motion… perpetual motion… and we are the recipients of His energy, His energetic love.

In 2nd Chronicles (36:14-16, 19-23) we learn that God inspired a non-Jew, Cyrus, King of Persia, to release the Jews from their captivity in Babylon and allow them to return to their native land. Not only that, but Cyrus was also inspired to rebuild God’s house in Jerusalem! This was quite amazing, even more so when we learn that the Jews had been unfaithful to God. Today’s reading from Chronicles began with these words:

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…

The Jews had suffered from their own infidelities because sin brings with it indifference toward God. Sin makes the soul lazy. Sin stops movement toward God. It causes us to wallow in our own darkness of soul. Sin makes us spiritually flabby.

God’s love, however, is a fire that cannot be extinguished and so in our second reading we hear St. Paul exhorting Christians in Ephesus:

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 Christ…

We rejoice because this gift which God has given us, given to us even when we have been sinners, has united us to Christ, and has given us the right to share in His glorious resurrection and inherit heaven with Him and through Him.

All of this brings us now to today’s Gospel account (Jn 3:14-21) in which we find Jesus speaking to Nicodemus saying:

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.

What has been our response to all that God has done for us? That question is the big question of Lent, the question we must all face and answer. If you are anything at all like me, you feel uncomfortable in answering that question. I know I am uncomfortable because I have not been in motion. To paraphrase the quote that began today’s homily: A soul in motion tends to stay in motion, while a soul that is wallowing in indifference tends to continue in simply not caring.

Isn’t that what sin does? Doesn’t sin simply not care about God and the things of God? We know that it does. And so a sinful attitude continues by using a lot of lies… lies like: “I’m too busy,” or “The Church is filled with hypocrites,” or “there is no life after death,” or “God is going to save me anyway,” or other such seductive lies. The greatest lie of all, the lie that is becoming more popular in our culture each day is: “There is no God anyway.”

This is Laetare Sunday, “Rejoice Sunday.” We have much about which to rejoice. I realize that there are many voices telling us that the world is in a mess, that dreadful things are upon us, that our Church has much within it that is wrong, and that the Second Vatican Council was a bad mistake. Many want to take the Church back to its pre-Vatican II state. I disagree with them. I disagree with them because the voice of Pope John XXIII still speaks to my heart and soul.

Allow me, therefore, to quote Good Pope John’s words that he spoke in his opening address to that great Council held back in the early 1960’s. In his opening talk he declared:

In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.

We feel that we must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.

Good Pope John’s vision was a vision of hope, a joyful vision of hope, hope for the world and hope for the Church based on his unshakable faith in the love of God and his awareness of God’s active and powerful hand at work in our world.

And so I repeat the words of the antiphon for beginning today’s Mass: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy…” The Church is God’s New Jerusalem, loved by Him and renewed over and over again in the power of His unconquerable love.

And so I close using St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians (4:4-8):

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

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