Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 15, 2015 Cycle B
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E.

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today’s first reading tells us about the exile in Babylon endured by the people of God. The people and their leaders had not been listening to God’s word. They had stopped searching for the Lord and consequently fell into immorality. The reading says: “In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem” (2 Chr 36:14).

God called the people to conversion but they did not heed his messengers: “[…] they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets […]” (2 Chr 36:16). The people’s continual apostasy led to their ruin: “Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon […]” (2 Chr 36:19– 20).

The catastrophe was not due to God’s failure but the failure of his people to remain faithful to their covenant promises. Exile was a punishment but also a new opportunity created by God’s mercy. Exile was a process of purification, a time the people needed in order to return to God with a new purity of heart.

There is also spiritual exile. When we sin, we are exiled from our true selves. Thus, we lose our identity as children of God. Sin really affects us. Not doing God’s will has a price. It is not the same to do or not do what God commands. When we do not obey our Creator, the price has to be paid. To return to Our Lord, we need to purify our hearts. We need to detach ourselves from whatever prevents us from doing God’s will. At every moment, we have the options of choosing or rejecting God: “[…] the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light […]” (Jn 3:19).

After 70 years of exile, the people of God once again experienced the liberating power of God. They had the joy of returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple. On their way back, the exiles were singing: “When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouths  were filled with laughter; our tongues with joyful shouting” (Ps 126[125]:1–2).

In our own spiritual journey, we, too, can pass through periods of trial and purification. However, such periods are transient. We can see them as means to reach the joy of the renewal of our encounter with God: “Those who go forth weeping, carrying sacks of seed, will return with cries of joy, carrying their bundled sheaves” (Ps 126[125]:6).

In the second reading, St. Paul says: “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ” (Eph 2:4–5). God is constantly trying to bring us back to himself. When speaking about confession, Pope Francis has declared: “Let us not forget this word: God never ever tires of forgiving us! […] the problem is that we ourselves tire, we do not want to ask, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness. Let us never tire, let us never tire! He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all” (Pope Francis, 3/17/13 Angelus).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Christ wants to bring us back from the land of exile, which is where we put ourselves when we forget God. He loves us to the point of giving himself for us. He died for each one of us in order for us to reach the Promised Land, eternal life.

Lent is a time given to us to help us become more aware of God’s love. Let us return to God with our whole hearts. Let us experience his mercy. Let us allow his peace to embrace us.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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