Today we celebrate Laetare Sunday, Rejoice Sunday. Thus I wear this rose vestment which is a sign of joy. It allows for a modest halt in the penitential practices of Lent as we look with joyful anticipation to Easter and the Resurrection only a few weeks away. The Gospel reading raises up that about which we can be joyful.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God so loves us that if we believe in him we will have eternal life. Whether we truly believe is reflected in how we live His teachings. Lent is an opportunity to reflect on how well we live what we believe.
A woman came into the confessional and said, “Bless me Father for I have not sinned.” “Oh,” the priest responded with amazement. “No, I have not sinned. I’ve made it.” “Made it to what?” “I’ve made it to sanctity. I am a saint.” “So why are you coming to confession?” “Simply to inform you of the matter,” she answered and left. Most of us take a deep breath before we enter the confessional because we know we are not saints and are in need of God’s love and mercy as we journey toward sainthood.
In the 1970s a book was published entitled, “Whatever Became of Sin?” It suggested that in the culture then many did not know right from wrong and it resulted in many getting mired in unhealthy behaviors. The years since that book was published have not been ones of reassurance. The question of our day is even broader: whatever happened to God in our culture, whatever happened to the common good, whatever happened to our founding religious and more principles. It has resulted in the unhealthy moral and ethical environment of violence, dysfunction and incivility. It need not be so with us individually.
Certainly many things are not as black and white as they once seemed, with scientific and medical discoveries that help us better understand human nature and the human body. However for most of us deep down we know our faults, or as St. Paul put it: if “we are dead in our transgressions.” But St. Paul also noted we need not rest there for God is rich in mercy. He remains the same yesterday, today and forever.
Someone wrote that sin is not so much breaking God’s laws as breaking God’s heart, He loves us so much. We have the choice to accept His love and love Him back or not. It was true of ancient Israel as described in the 1st reading from Chronicles. Though warned by the prophets the Israelites continually violated the covenant God had made with them: I will be your God if you will be my people. Yet God’s mercy ultimately rescued them. He can rescue us all through His Church.
One of the challenges when we falter is that we may have a hard time believing we can be forgiven or being able to forgive ourselves, in part because we have a hard time forgetting. Memory however allows us to learn from our falls and avoid the deadly slope again.
Some of us are old enough to remember the potato chip commercial, “I bet you can’t eat just one.” As someone who craves salty food it is a real challenge for me. I tell myself I will eat just a few chips which becomes just a few handfuls. Then I close the bag but strategically place it within easy reach. Before long I am at it again. It would be better not to start at all. For most of us there are areas of behavior we learn we better not start. We need the humility to recognize that we need God’s help to deal with them. It takes more than personal will power, it takes God’s presence which is why a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is so important and helpful.
Yet we can rejoice in the truth our readings declare: God accepts us as we are. Even if we have fallen he will help us up. He does call us to become better than we were and we are reassured that he will not abandon us even if we wander away for a time. In the Gospel John makes clear that Jesus willingly lays down his life on the cross for our redemption, to give us another chance, to begin anew. That new life begins with baptism and is extended through confirmation, penance, and the Holy Eucharist. Before we receive Holy Communion we declare, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” We shall be healed. May we declare that belief with conviction.
Lent offers us a time to reflect especially on how the capital sins of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth have affected us. It also is a time to reflect on how strongly we are guided by the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. And then own up to those with which we have not measured up, let go of their heaviness and begin anew which God always gives us the grace to do.
Some college students were asked to think about things from the past that they felt ashamed about or regretted and then find ways to make amends. One remembered an incident from high school in a small town in Iowa. Many of the kids liked Sheriff Brown. One night this fellow and two buddies took some red paint, climbed the town water tower and wrote in bright letters, “Sheriff Brown is —“ well, it wasn’t nice. Within a couple hours the sheriff had the three of them in his office. The other two confessed but he denied any part in it. Now years later it still bothered him. To make amends the man called the Sheriff, and said, “This is Jimmy. I want you to know that I did it and I’m sorry.” “Jimmy,” the sheriff responded, “I always felt badly for you because your buddies got it off their chests and I knew you would be carrying it around all these years. Thanks for calling – for your sake.” What are we carrying around from the distant past or from yesterday which we need to take Lord? He is rich in mercy and offers to help us let go. It is a standing invitation.
The graphic symbol of how much God loves us is the crucifix. Whenever I pray before it I feel this sense of unworthiness yet also a sense of hope; I am not alone.
An athletic young man was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig disease. Over time he became bed ridden, had difficulty communicating, wasting away before his family. Someone suggested as is the popular notion in our day that it was cruel to keep him alive. He made clear however that he was not ready to die. He asked to have a crucifix removed from the wall and be mounted at the end of his bed so he could see it better. Contemplating it gave him strength. Finally after a few months he said he was time and died a peaceful natural death with Christ raised up at the foot of his bed.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. God so loves. May we rejoice in that truth, and believe in Him, living well what and in whom we believe.