March 13, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend the Church celebrates “Laetare Sunday.” Its name is drawn from what is the first word in Latin of the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, “Rejoice!” Lent is well underway. Easter is not that far in the future.

The reason for rejoicing is not so trivial as to say that the drabness and penance of Lent will soon end. Rather, it is a lesson about life. The drabness and trials of earthly life someday will end. The glory of heaven awaits—just as Easter awaits.

Once the Church required, and still allows, celebrants at Mass to wear vestments of a rose color. It is not as if the more somber violet of Lent today is diluted. Rather, the violet is brightened by the sunbeams of the approaching dawn. That dawn, of course, will be the brilliant flash of the Resurrection.

The Second Book of Chronicles supplies this weekend with its first reading. Once Chronicles was in a single volume. As time passed, and as editors and translators had their way, it was separated into two volumes. Thus it has remained, and thus it exists in all modern translations of the Bible.

It is part of the Bible’s historical set of volumes. While these volumes tell of the history of God’s people, their purpose is not so much to report history as to reveal developments in the people’s religious experience.

This reading recalls the bitter events that led to the Chosen People’s defeat by the Babylonians, and the removal of many Hebrews, their numbers now unknown, to Babylon. In Babylon, they were not exactly enslaved. Nor were they hostages, held to prevent rebellion by their kin people back home. Nonetheless, they led an unhappy life in a foreign and unwelcoming culture.

God ultimately freed his people through the human instrument of Cyrus, the Persian king who overwhelmed Babylonia.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is the source of the second reading. It is an eloquent proclamation of God’s mercy. Paul declares that humans were doomed to everlasting death before the coming of Christ. They attained everlasting life through the salvation offered by Christ.

St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading, recalling a moment in the Exodus, that long march by the Hebrews from Egypt, where they had been slaves, to the Promised Land. The march took them across the stark and unforgiving Sinai Peninsula. Trials were many, hunger and thirst among them. They lost their way. Another trial was the threat of venomous snakes.

Again, God supplied relief. He told Moses, the leader, to lift a bronze snake on a staff, and to hold this staff high. God promised that all who looked upon the serpent on the staff would survive.

The implication of the crucifixion is clear. The Gospel subtly reminds us that all who place their faith in the crucified Lord will live.

The Gospel continues. It is a moving description of God’s mercy. Humans can find joy, and they can find eternal life. But only in and through Jesus can they find joy and life.

Reflection

The Church gently, but firmly, leads us onward through Lent. It reassures us that Easter is not far into the future. In fact, it will come in only a few more weeks.

If Lent has been productive, Easter should be a moment of joyful, personal resurrection. In faith, we then also should rise, ourselves being raised by our identity with Christ from the death of sin.

Lent’s productivity and effectiveness, however, depend upon us. We ourselves, by our commitment to God, and then by our prayer and penance, decide the value of Lent personally for ourselves.

The Church today urges us to continue to make Lent effective, to look ahead to resurrection. †

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