Homily for Mass – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa

Saturday 17 March 2012 – 4.15pm

[Readings: 2 Chr 36:14-17, 19-23;  Ps 137;  Eph 2:4-10;  Jn 3:14-21]


If you follow Mass using a Missal you’ll see that the first word of today’s Liturgy is “Rejoice” or in Latin: “Laetare.”  From that invitation, this fourth Sunday of Lent takes the name Laetare Sunday.  The Entrance Antiphon of Mass quotes the prophet Isaiah: Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful, all who were in mourning;  exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.

 The Church invites us to rejoice in the middle of our penitential season of Lent, at the half-way point on our journey to the celebration of Easter.

 The word of God today gives us reasons for this rejoicing.  The Second Book of Chronicles says that despite the fact that God’s people, including the leading priests, “were exceedingly unfaithful,” God “persistently sent his messengers to them, because he had compassion on his people.”  This persistent compassion of God reached its fullness when he no longer sent just any messenger, but His only Son.  Saint Paul, writing to the Ephesians, calls to mind that God – who is rich in mercy – made us alive together with Christ, showing this great love for us “even when we were dead through our trespasses.”  God does not wait for His people to be perfect before coming to them, in fact the opposite is true.  God comes to us, seeking us out, precisely because we are in such need of His mercy.

 Jesus himself expresses this love of God, as recorded in the Gospel, when he says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  Pope Benedict reflected on the theme of eternal life in his homily for Holy Thursday of 2010.  He said, “When Jesus speaks about eternal life, he is referring to real and true life, a life worthy of being lived.  He is not simply speaking about life after death.  He is talking about authentic life, a life fully alive and thus not subject to death, yet one which can already – and indeed must – begin in this world.  Only if we learn even now how to live authentically, if we learn how to live the life which death cannot take away, does the promise of eternity become meaningful” (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20100401_coena-domini_en.html).

 God’s persistent compassion, his continual reaching out to draw his people back to him, is not just about what happens when we die.  It’s about beginning to live a life worth living here and now.

 Our penitential practices of Lent, including our prayer, our fasting, our almsgiving, our works of mercy, our concern for our brothers and sisters in their physical, spiritual and moral needs – all of the things we do in Lent are ways that we try to re-orient our lives, so that we may begin living this “eternal life” – this “authentic life” – that Jesus came to bring us once and for all.

 Some central aspects of this life worth living are that Jesus wants to save and free us from our sins.  This is something that we become quite conscious of during Lent.  Many people I speak to agree that if you take Lent even somewhat seriously, it becomes quite difficult, because you come face to face with the reality of sin in your life:  the stubborn reality of sin, that binds and enslaves us.  Jesus saves us from our sin!  He provides a way out of sin and into freedom.  And this then points to a second aspect of the “eternal” life that we are called to start living in this world.

 God wants to transform our lives here and now by the power of his grace.  When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, and realize our dependence on God’s grace, then God can completely change the way we experience reality.

 One good example of this is Saint Patrick who is honoured throughout the Church today.  He was carried off from Britain, his homeland, at the age of sixteen in a pirate raid and sold as a slave in Ireland.  As a slave, he was made a swineherd, living in solitude on a mountain.  Cardinal Sean Brady, in his message for today’s remembrance of St Patrick, says that Patrick “successfully turned the adversity of six years of slavery into an opportunity to grow in his knowledge and love of the God who, in Patrick’s words, ‘protected and comforted me as a father would his son’” (Cardinal Brady, 16 March 2012, http://www.zenit.org/article-34472?l=english).  After Patrick had escaped slavery and returned to his homeland, his love of God impelled him to want to return to Ireland – once a place of captivity for him – to return there so that he could evangelize and convert people to Jesus Christ.  God’s grace completely transformed the way Patrick experienced life: even the challenge of being sold as a slave and carted off to a foreign land.  The invitation held out to us in Lent is to open ourselves more to the love of God, so that God – working in us – can transform our lives by his grace.

 On this Sunday of rejoicing, may the joy of the Gospel message touch our hearts … the message that God’s compassion persistently reaches out to us, even when (or particularly when) we’re in a sinful and wretched state.  God loves us so much that he has sent his Son to us, not to condemn us, but to save us and to bring us back to God.

 Let us ask our Blessed Mother for light, guidance and protection, so that we will not ‘forget Jerusalem’ (Ps 137), or prefer darkness to the light.  United with Mary, we can know the truth and truly be “God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it” (Eph 2:10). (http://www.clerus.org/bibliaclerus/index.html [Email service])