Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Lent

   March 18, 2012
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
          Parishes with catechumen who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil celebrate the Second Scrutiny today. (An alternate set of readings for Year A can be used: 1 Samuel 16, Ephesians 5, John 9.)
          The book of Second Chronicles gives a commentary on Israel's national status as a disobedient people. Because of their excessive infidelity and their defilement of the Lord's temple in Jerusalem, they are sent into exile to Babylon where they became servants of the Chaldeans. The walls of Jerusalem are torn down, the house of God is burned, all the palaces are set afire, and all precious objects are destroyed. The people remain in exile (in modern day Iraq) for seventy years until King Cyrus of Persia (modern day Iran) set them free. Cyrus hears the words of Jeremiah who tells them the Lord asks that a house be built for him again in Jerusalem by the captive Israelites who are to resettle their once-forsaken land. The sweeping history lesson shows that the Lord will raise up his people after their period of purification.

          Paul's Letter to the Ephesians also gives the eagle eye's view of salvation history. He tells us God will bring us to life with Christ, not because of any good words we have done, but because of his great and generous love. Like the ancient Israelites, our transgressions kill us, but God saves us through grace through the gift of faith. We are not to boast for our good fortune because the initiative rests entirely with God. The good works are do are a result of our faith. They show to the world that we are friends with God and we do these good works as a response to God's special care of us.

          The theme of being "lifted up" appears again in the Gospel. Jesus tells the inquiring Nicodemus that Moses lifted up the serpent so that all who gaze on it will have life - even if bitten by a venomous snake. Likewise, God will "lift up" on the cross Jesus, the Son of Man, so that believers will have eternal life by gazing upon him and coming to belief. The moral of the story is the same one: Because of God's great love for his people, he will continue to raise up those he loves. God has always done this and will continue to do it because God's love is stronger than life itself. God remains steadfast, even though we falter.
          With stories of God's constant offer of abundant love throughout scripture, it is awkward to hear so many church-going people remark that they are afraid of God and that their notion of God is as a strict, unforgiving judge. Any reading of scripture will present a contrary perception. It strikes me that two factors may be at work. First, a person with a poor self-image will have a poor image of God. The person's interaction with authority may not be at its healthiest. Second, a person may not be developing his or her relationship with God - whether in prayer or through one's understanding of Scripture. A person who earnestly evaluates his or her relationship with God will arrive at an understanding that God desires the best for every person. God communicates in tender, gentle ways. Unconditional love and steadfast solidarity are essential aspects of God's message. History repeatedly tells us this; History is our story of collective experiences.

          The Gospel tells us of the unhappy situation with human experience. Many will recoil when they see the light of goodness. They are afraid that their choices will not measure up to the goodness of God and of the righteous ones and they reject this offer rather than being exposed. They think this exposure will bring about rejection and condemnation. They are unable to see that God brings life and abundant goodness, not harsh exacting judgment. Our part in helping others come to know the true nature of God is to let others see our happiness in living in the goodness of God. We treat everything as gift and we imitate God's righteousness. Everyone marvels at the one who is truly loved and freely returns that love in response. People are joyous when they see the effect love has upon them. Love always moves outwards.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  An angel brought the prophet Ezekiel to the Temple where water flowed forth from the sanctuary. This water brought new life wherever it flowed. In Isaiah, the Lord tells the people all the ways he will honor the covenant – caring for the lowly and needy, restoring fortunes, and providing good health and long life for the Lord will remember his children as a mother will always remember hers. In Exodus, when the Lord tells Moses that he will wipe out the people for they have become stiff-necked, Moses interceded for them and asks the Lord for mercy. In Wisdom, wicked persons decide to attack the righteous ones who make them feel worse than they are. They will deride and chastise him because he is a son of God. Jeremiah also knows of the plots against him. Like a trusting silent lamb, he is led into the hands of those who will destroy him.

Gospel: Jesus comes to a man at a pool near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem who was ill for 38 years. The man could not insert himself into the pool and he had no one to help him get in. Jesus made the man get up, take up his mat, and walk - which violated Jewish custom. After Jesus declares himself to be the Good Shepherd and an equal to God, the Jews look for a way to do him in. He gives testimony about his good works that can only come from the Father. He does his works for the glory of his Father, not for human praise. Jesus moves throughout Galilee speaking openly about the kingdom. He says that he comes from the Father who sent him to do good works. The authorities debate his origin because the Messiah will not come from Galilee. He is supposed to come from David's family. No one could arrest him because they have never heard anyone speak in such a manner before. Nicodemus comes to the defense of Jesus, but the leaders remain divided.

Saints of the Week

March 19: Joseph, husband of Mary is honored today for his support of Mary in their marriage. He is portrayed as a righteous man who obeys the will of God. Therefore, his ancestry is upheld as a virtuous stock through which God’s promises come true. We seldom contemplate his marital relationship to Mary and his responsibility to love and raise Jesus as his son. He was a descendent of King David and a carpenter or builder by trade. In Matthew's dream sequence, Joseph was embarrassed by Mary's pregnancy before their marriage, but went through with the wedding because he was a righteous man. He considered dissolving their marriage because of Mosaic Law, but is told in a dream to take Mary as his wife and to raise Jesus as his own. He is honored as the earthly father of Jesus.

March 23: Toribio of Mogrovejo, bishop (1538-1606) was a Spanish law professor in Salamanca who became the president of the Inquisition in Granada. As a layman, he was made the Archbishop of Lima, Peru and became quickly disturbed at the treatment of the native populations by the European conquerors. He condemned abuses and founded schools to educate the oppressed natives. He built hospitals and churches and opened the first seminary in Latin America.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Mar 18, 1541. Two letters arrived from Lisbon from Francis Xavier. One was addressed to Ignatius, the other to Frs. LeJay and Laynez. They were written just before his departure to India.
·         Mar 19, 1836. By imperial decree, the Society was allowed to re-enter the Austrian dominions.
·         Mar 20, 1602. The first "Disputatio de Auxiliis" was held before Clement VIII. The disputants were Fr. Gregory de Valentia SJ and Fr. Diego Alvarez OP.
·         Mar 21, 1768. In Spain, at a special meeting of the Council of State in the presence of King Charles III, the Suppression of the Society was urged on the pretense that it was independent of the bishops, that it plotted against the State, and that it was lax in its teaching.
·         March 22, 1585: In Rome, the three Japanese ambassadors were received by Fr. General with great solemnity in the Society's Church of the Gesu.
·         March 23, 1772: At Rome, Cardinal Marefoschi held a visitation of the Irish College and accused the Jesuits of mismanagement. They were removed by him from the direction of that establishment.
·         March 24, 1578: At Lisbon Rodolf Acquaviva and 13 companions embarked for India. Among the companions were Matthew Ricci and Michael Ruggieri.