March 9, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Second Book of Chronicles provides Mass on this Lenten weekend with its first reading. Chronicles was written about 1,000 years before Jesus. The identity of its author is unknown.

As the title of this book implies, its purpose is to record the history of God’s people, but the most important aspect of their history always was religious.

A constant refrain and source of grief among the prophets and the devout of ancient Israel was the sinfulness of the people, and most particularly that of the kings. God caused or willed no distress or hardship. Rather, by disobeying God the people themselves upset the order of life, bringing trouble upon themselves.

This reading insists that God again and again has sent messengers to call the people to fidelity to their covenant with him. Inevitably, these messengers met rebuke.

As an example of all this, Babylon overtook the Holy Land because sin had weakened the Hebrew kingdoms. Then the conquerors took many Hebrews to Babylon where the Hebrews’ lives were miserable.

A pagan king, Cyrus of Persia, freed these sad people when he conquered Babylon. The Hebrews saw Cyrus as an instrument of God’s mercy.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians furnishes the second reading. It teaches critical facts about God, the source of all goodness. Salvation is God’s merciful gift. No one deserves it. God lavishly extends it to us as an expression of eternal, divine love.

St. John’s Gospel gives this Liturgy of the Word its final reading. In this reading, Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a prominent and pious Jew from Jerusalem. The Lord refers to an event that occurred during the Exodus when Moses lifted high a bronze serpent. All who looked upon this serpent were rescued from death.

Serpents were important in ancient iconography, although more important among pagans than among Jews. Serpents symbolized eternal life because they shed their hides and seemingly were re-born to new lives.

Jesus predicts that he will be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent. He was referring to the crucifixion. All who look upon Jesus will have everlasting life.

Even so, Jesus is not a conqueror of people despite their own choices. People must freely choose to follow Jesus by renouncing their own sin.

This is important. God “so loved the world” (Jn 3:16). God desires life for us, and therefore sent Jesus to lead us to life, even if we on occasion prefer darkness and, indeed, doom ourselves.


This weekend is traditionally called “Laetare Sunday,” taking its name from the Latin word, “laetare,” which means “to rejoice.” This is the first word of the original Latin text of the entrance antiphon for Mass on this weekend.

In the liturgies of this weekend, priests have the option of wearing rose vestments. Rose is not the toning down of a stricter purple. Rather, it is the subdued purple brightened by the golden light of the resurrection. Easter lies just a few weeks ahead.

This custom suggests the coming of dawn. Daylight does not initially appear in a burst of gold. Instead, it comes gradually. The first sign of dawn is a rose-colored sky.

Today reminds us that the sunburst of Easter is not far away. So, this weekend, the Church calls us to rejoice, even if we are in the fourth week of Lent, the season of austerity and penance.

The victory of Christ is near. Salvation is near! The Lord won salvation for us on the cross.

Beyond Calvary, Jesus, eternally victorious over death, stands before us as the “Light of the World.” For humanity, the blessed fact is that anyone who turns to Jesus and is obedient to God will share in the Lord’s victory over death and sin.

God gave us Jesus so that we might live. †

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