Fourth Sunday of Lent


Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS 
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Posted for March 15, 2015

The readings today are all about salvation. The extract 
from the Book of Chronicles gives us an account of the 
great exile known as the Babylonian Captivity that 
occurred in 586 BC.

This was a most extraordinary event. After over four hundred years of rule by the descendents of King David the Kingdom of Judah was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon and the majority of the population were taken into captivity.

In many ways things in the Middle East haven’t changed that much, there have been power struggles going on there right down the ages to our own day. In the period we are thinking about the newly ascendant empire was that of Babylon. Their King, Nebuchadnezzar, was well aware of the riches owned by his weaker neighbour and soon decided to plunder Judah and enslave its inhabitants.

One sure way to keep a whole people in slavery is to destroy their hope. Since the hope of a nation is often expressed in its religion Nebuchadnezzar lost no time in destroying the Temple in Jerusalem. He was convinced that this would send the people into despair and they would become more easily manageable.

Nebuchadnezzar thought that the Israelites would conclude that their God was weak and powerless since he could not even defend his own Temple.

But, of course, the very opposite happened. The Prophet Jeremiah had foretold these events and the people came to understand that the destruction of the Temple and their enslavement was not a result of the weakness of God but due to their own infidelity. They interpreted the Captivity as appropriate punishment by God for disobeying him rather than viewing it as constituting any inadequacy on his part.

The Captivity lasted seventy years and then God moved the heart of the new ruler of Babylon, the Persian King Cyrus, to release them and to rebuild the Temple.

This must have seemed quite incredible to the People of Israel. They had been lamenting their lot in Babylon as is so eloquently expressed in the Psalm given to us today. And then this new pagan king suddenly expresses his belief in their God and says that he has been instructed by him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

This was surely a most extraordinary miracle and a profound vindication of the God of their fathers; a faith strengthened and renewed rather than extinguished by seventy long years of captivity.

Just imagine their rejoicing as they returned home to freedom. This can only be described as a profound experience of salvation.

We should remember that this wasn’t the first time that the People of Israel had experienced captivity and exile. You will remember the Exile into Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs and how Moses led the Chosen People through the Red Sea and then through forty years in the desert until they reached the Promised Land of Canaan.

These experiences of salvation were deeply ingrained in the history and culture of Israel. You could not think of a better way of preparing a race of people for the definitive saving event of all time –the salvation won by Jesus Christ.

The only trouble with us humans is that we have a tendency to forget. We continually forget even the most important lessons in life. And, as a people, the Jews were no different in that they continually forgot the lessons of the deepest experiences they had collectively endured.

Jesus explains this to Nicodemus. He tells him how what Moses achieved was going to happen once again but in a greater and more definitive way.

This time there would be no exile into slavery, no journey through the desert, no glorious entry into the Promised Land. There would be no captivity in Babylon, no sudden change of heart by a pagan Emperor.

No, this time the circumstances would be almost banal. A squalid betrayal by a once loyal brother, an arrest in a garden in the middle of the night, a trumped up trial, the exchange of his life for that of a rebel and the crucifixion by the Romans on behalf of a corrupt Jewish priesthood.

What we have been speaking about is mostly the memory of things long past but we know that there are different kinds of memory. We are all familiar with short-term memory. We remember where we left our car in the supermarket car park. But we don’t retain this information for long otherwise our minds would be clogged up with a lot of unnecessary data.

Then there is long-term memory. This is more difficult; we often remember scenes from our childhood or significant events. Sometimes events flood unbidden into our minds, things that we thought were long forgotten.

And there is collective memory. This is the memory of a whole nation or community. It is about the significance of their history. A good example would be the memory of the holocaust for the Jews of today, and indeed also in an opposite way for the German nation. Keeping these events alive is important in order to maintain the identity of the community concerned.

The events of the Exodus and the Captivity have been highly significant for the Jews down through the ages. They were demonstrations of their chosenness by God which was precisely what they considered made them different from all the other nations of the earth.

These were extremely strong experiences of salvation which affected a whole people for many generations. They were powerful demonstrations of God’s love despite the infidelity of a considerable proportion of the nation.

And yet, by the time of Jesus, these things were being forgotten. The priests especially were caught up in a highly clerical religion which exploited the people and which ensured places of privilege from themselves. This was accompanied by highly inappropriate collusion between them and the Roman invaders.

Jesus tells Nicodemus what is about to happen. He reveals to this important member of the Jewish hierarchy that God is now going to intervene in a most spectacular way and is going to definitively bring about salvation not merely for the Jewish people but for the whole human race.

Memory remains important, because it is our collective memory which communicates this extraordinary intervention of God in the history of the world to future generations.

We keep this memory fresh by constantly reading the scriptures and by gathering together to celebrate the Eucharist each week. These are the means by which the Good News of the Kingdom is kept alive in the world today.

In the words of consecration Our Lord says: Do this in memory of me. It is his memory we keep alive, it is his salvation that we celebrate, it is his Kingdom that we look forward to so much.

Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
March 15, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B—March 15, 2015
Once, in Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Moses put a bronze serpent on a pole and lifted it up for the healing of God’s people. Why does Jesus compare Himself to that serpent?

Gospel (Read Jn 3:14-21)

Today, we read the last part of a conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had come to Him at night to talk. Most Pharisees were suspicious and contemptuous of Jesus, but not Nicodemus. He recognized Him as “a teacher from God” because of the miraculous works He did (see Jn 3:2). Jesus understood right away what this man was looking for, so He began a discussion with him about the need to be “born anew” to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3). This completely baffled Nicodemus, of course, because he knew a person cannot re-enter the womb for a second birth. Jesus pressed the point: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). When Nicodemus continued to struggle with this idea, it was Jesus’ turn to be baffled: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?” (Jn 3:10)

Fourth Sunday of Lent: We Are God’s Work of Art
I was blessed as a child to be exposed to good art.  My Mom worked for a book distributer who dealt with Harry N. Abrams among other publishers.  Abrams was then and still remains one of the main publishers of books on art and artists. When I went to high school, I took a course on art appreciation and as part of the class went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where I still hold a membership.

The Trinity: Source of All Mysteries
The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is, as stated in the General Catechetical Directory, “the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.” The unfathomable nature of the Trinity beckons us to the highest reaches of the human intellect and beyond to that real understanding only possible by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and even then at best we will bask in what remains a glorious mystery. In paragraph 234 of the Catechism we are instructed that “the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.” To know with our hearts what has been revealed to us about the Most Holy Trinity, we must commit to arduous intellectual work which is best carried out with the help of a learned tutor.

The Gravity of the Father’s Love in Heaven and on Earth
The Lord taught us to call on our heavenly Father not because God is distant or inaccessible, but because the Father is awaiting for us with love. This means that heaven is near and dawning on us even now.   This means that we are the objects of a particular joy, a special and un-repeatable delight that has lived in the Heart of God from the beginning. He respects our freedom but no power from above or below can thwart the hidden purpose of His exceeding love. He is making His will on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Jesus, Mary, and the Saints
I would like to present to you in a few words five of the most beautiful jewels in the heart of Mary: her simplicity, her abandonment, her love for the Cross, her thirst for souls, and her love.

The Gospel tells us nothing about the childhood of Mary. It seems that God willed jealously to hide this dia­mond of greatest beauty. And Mary, all her life, kept her love of reticence, of self-effacement, of the hidden life, under the veil of simplicity, like a marvelous treasure.

How did Saint Thérèse Conquer Satan and Attain Perfection?
There is a story from the Early Church Fathers that relates how a monk was slapped on the cheek by a young girl possessed by a demon. The monk in turn simply turned his other cheek in obedience to the Lord’s command. The demon could not take it and immediately left the girl. Those who witnessed what happened said, “The pride of demons must fall before humble obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ.” (Manual for Spiritual Warfare, 181)

Learn to Recollect Yourself to God
There is a distinction to be made at the outset that will throw a strong light upon the problem of thinking always of God. We must be on our guard to avoid confusing the act of prayer with the state of prayer. Further on we shall see in what consists the state of prayer.

An act of prayer may be either vocal or mental, ac­cording as it is formed of words recited by the lips, or is the inner cry of the soul expressed in formulated or unformu-lated transports of love, or in the silence of union with God. In these two cases, our thoughts are occupied or try­ing to be occupied with God.

Bogged Down in Lent? Here Are Five Prayer Pointers
We’re supposed to pray more in Lent.

So pray more why dontcha?

Here are  some ideas for kickstarting your Lenten Prayer life.

Looking for modern St. Josephs
The Church will celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph , the second greatest saint after Mary, on March 19 and that has me thinking about the need our Church and society has for strong men, especially fathers.

Man’s purpose was given to him in the Garden of Eden, when God entrusted Adam—the father of all men—with guarding and cultivating the garden. The Jewish people believed that the Garden of Eden represented all of creation, and so man’s mission in the garden had universal implications.In a 1958 radio message to American Catholic schoolchildren for Lent, Pope Pius XII offered a wonderful reflection on how these qualities were present in St. Joseph.

What Are Passive Purifications and Why Are They Needed?
Have you undertaken certain Lenten practices or abstinences to assist you growth in holiness? If so, you do well. Practices such as these are included in what are known as “active purifications.” Active purifications consist of our holy works and efforts and our mortifications, which, by the grace of God, help to purify our mind, our heart, and what is called our “sensitive appetite.”

On Mistaking Morality
In a lecture I listened to recently via podcast, a distinguished evolutionary biologist asked the question, “What is goodness?” In developing his answer, he distinguished between two views of goodness: the absolutist and the relativist. The absolutist view holds that goodness is a “formula” or “rule” that can be applied, always and everywhere, to whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. The relativist view says simply that there is no single, “one-size-fits-all” rule of goodness for human beings. The good is simply the name we give to the collection of our preferences.

Just the Moral Facts, Ma’am
As I write this article, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is giving some young cyberpunks a much-needed lesson in moral facts.

Here’s the story: Last week, Schilling’s daughter Gabrielle was accepted by Salve Regina University on a baseball scholarship. (According to Wikipedia, Schilling is a “born-again Christian”.) As proud daddies want to do in the twenty-first century, Schilling tweeted his joy to his followers.

No fighting God
Some months after my son-in-law, Rob Susil, died, a longtime friend asked me, in a gentle but point-blank way, “Are you still fighting God?” The only honest response was, “Yes.” At which my friend said, simply, “You’re not going to win, you know…”

I think back on that exchange now, during the Lent following the fifth anniversary of Rob’s death, because Lent is the “acceptable time” [2 Cor 6:2] to ponder the mystery of suffering and death, and what it teaches us about God’s ways, our ways, and the incalculable difference between the two.

Boys will always be boys, even in heaven
I remember vividly how happy I was when my little brother Sergio was born. I was seven, and until Sergio came along, I was the only boy and the middle child out of five. My two younger and two older sisters would play in pairs, while I had to play with mom. Not that it was bad playing with mom, but it is not hard to imagine how the arrival of a little brother was the best thing that could happen to a seven-year-old.

I remember time and again going to my little brother’s crib to pray to God repeatedly, “Make him grow fast! I promise you that he will be my pal and I will never leave him!”

The Treasure of Silence
One perfect Word, and a world full of noise; one perfect proof of love, yet millions of lonely-hearted souls; one perfect God, and a bewildering number of imposters adored —this is the world in which we live, sorely in need of silence, love, and truth.

The chatter never ceases, in spite of the eternally perfect speech. Everyone has something to say — some in words, some in music, some in writing. Voices and music blast from iPods and headphones, from stereos and CD players. Speakers in stores and gas stations and shopping malls fill every available second with auditory stimuli. Television, via cable and satellite, brings a mind-boggling supply of noise, too — music and unmusic, art and unart, edifying and damning digital entertainment, provided in every imaginable form all day and all night. Some of these things are not fit to wake the dead, let alone entertain the living.

Five Ways to Practice Forgiveness
The renowned English poet Alexander Pope stated: “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” How true this statement, but how difficult it can be! Holding on to resentment indeed is interior slavery. Whereas, to forgive is truly imitating God Himself, but also setting the captive free and that captive is me.

Frequently and in unequivocal terms Jesus has reaffirmed the indispensable obligation of all to forgive those who hurt us, to pray for our enemies, and to do good to those who hurt us! Once again, easier said than done! Actually without God’s grace to forgive those who have wounded us and to love and pray for our enemies far transcends and supersedes our natural powers. In sum, we need Gods’ grace to forgive our enemies.

Three Words of Advice From Saint Faustina on Spiritual Combat
“Strengthen yourself for combat.” – Words of Jesus to Saint Faustina Kowalska (Diary, Notebook I, 145).

Saint Faustina was certainly a gifted soul. She had such great wisdom in the spiritual life and she received it all from the hand of God.

St. John Paul II had a great devotion to her and used all of his influence to further the cause of her canonization. He knew that her writings and example would be a beacon of hope in a world clouded in darkness.

In particular, Saint Faustina was a great spiritual Warrior and encourages us today to prepare for the spiritual battle that rages for our soul. She gives us three words of advice that will greatly help us win the war: trust, prepare, pray.

What is the meaning of the 12 and 7 baskets left over from the feeding of 5000 and 4000?
What is the meaning of the 12 and 7 baskets left over from Christ’s feeding of 5000 and 4000 in the Gospels? The Evangelists often omit details but they always specify the numbers in these episodes. Christ Himself asks them plainly:

“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”

“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (St Mark 8:19-21)

Christ’s childhood home found?
The “historical Jesus” is only of passing interest in comparison to the Lord of Salvation.

The Daily Mail has a piece about how archaeologists, reading medieval manuscripts, have identified a likely place …

‘The Confessional Is a Place of Victory’
Father Mike Schmitz is the director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., the chaplain for Newman Catholic campus ministry at the University of Minnesota at Duluth and a popular speaker.

As the chaplain, he makes the sacrament of reconciliation available every day and has written about this sacrament from his priestly perspective.

A Child Is Never a Burden
The stories of heroic mothers rarely appear on the nightly news, even when they include prominent figures like Genevieve Shaw Brown, Travel and Lifestyle Editor for ABC News. Genevieve recently wrote about her infant son, William Michael Brown, who has Down syndrome. The Browns knew prior to his birth that he would be born with Down syndrome, and of those months leading up to his birth she writes,

Marks of True Devotion
“I now know how devoted you are to God.”

The Patriarch Abraham is praised for being a devoted servant of God: “I now know how devoted you are to God.” What makes him merit this praise of being truly devoted? Is it just because he was willing to sacrifice his only son, the son of God’s promise, in obedience to the Lord’s command? On a level deeper than the greatness of Abraham’s obedience to God, the patriarch can be said to be truly devoted to God because he gave like God.

Is Confession Dead?
The confessionals are empty. The sinners have gone away. Or should I say, “sin has gone away.” Not to be judgmental, but rather to be observant, I sense poignantly a lack of what I would call “sin awareness” among modern Catholics. We seem to have assimilated the secular notion that the concept of sin places outdated, even psychologically damaging restraints on people, or that the feeling of guilt for wrongdoing (or wrong-thinking) is emotionally debilitating. Thus, we see in society the virtual elimination of the word “sin.” We don’t want to hurt anybody’s self esteem. Catholics, perhaps innocently, have bought into this nonsense.

Twenty-Four parables that will make you feel uncomfortable
Anyone who has read any of the essays, books or articles of Fr George William Rutler, a parish priest in New York, knows they have a treat in store: a feast of sharp wit, erudition and insight, seasoned with irony. The temptation is to read him merely for these qualities, without realising that his prose style conceals an old-fashioned priest who believes that saving souls is more important than public standing or popularity.

A Way Everyone Should Pray
Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of what Jesus felt at times. For instance, I can understand a little of what he must have been thinking when his disciples asked: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

He could have responded with amazement: “How can you not know how to pray? I have been with you all this time. You have heard me as I prayed. You know that when I pray, I simply communicate with the Father. Are you so dense that you can’t even imitate a little of my prayers?”

Instead, he was gracious, gentle and insightful. He taught them from the depths of his heart and soul.

“Our Father, who art in heaven …”

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