Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rejoice! For God so loved me!

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT, Laetare Sunday, March 18, 2012:
John Smith was the only Protestant to move into a Catholic neighborhood. On the first Friday of Lent, John was outside grilling a big juicy steak on his grill. Meanwhile, all of his neighbors were eating cold tuna fish for supper. This went on each Friday of Lent until his neighbors just couldn’t take the temptation any more. So, they decided to try and convert John to Catholicism. They went over and talked to him and were so happy that he decided to join all of his neighbors and become a Catholic. They took him to Church, and the Priest sprinkled some water over him, and said, "You were born a Baptist, you were raised a Baptist, and now you are a Catholic." The men were so relieved--now their biggest Lenten temptation was resolved. Lent rolled around again the next year and on the First Friday, as supper rolled around and everyone was setting down to their tuna fish, the smell of steak cooking on a grill wafted through the neighborhood. Everyone ran to John’s house to see if he had forgotten it was the first Friday of Lent? The group arrived just in time to see John standing over his grill with a small pitcher of water. He was sprinkling some water over his steak on the grill, saying, "You were born a cow, you were raised a cow, and now you are a fish."

Today in our Lenten journey we celebrate what is called Laetare Sunday. Laetare is the Latin word for rejoice and it comes from the entrance antiphon prescribed for Mass today from Isaiah which says, “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her". In the midst of our penitential season, the Church invites us to rejoice; to be joyful. Our vestments reflect this sense of joy today. Precisely in the middle of our very serious Lenten attempts to turn away from sin; to make a change for the good, towards the holy in our life; our liturgy says, “Take a deep breath and rejoice a little bit.” Why?

Well, there is a story that took place in Germany in 1456 when Gutenberg was printing the first Bible that I think helps to give us some of the answer. The printer had a little daughter, Alice, who came into the printing press and picked up a discarded sheet of paper that had only one incomplete line printed on it. The line read: “For God so loved the world that He gave,” and it ended there. Now, these were times when popular religion was a matter of living in fear and trembling before the awesome wrath of God. So little Alice put the paper in her pocket and kept on thinking of the fact of God being so loving, and her face radiated with joy. Her mother noticed her changed behavior and asked Alice what was making her so happy and Alice showed her mother the sheet of paper with the one printed line. Her mother looked at it for some time and asked, “So, what did God give?” Alice said, “I don’t know, but if God loved us so much to give us something, then we don’t need to be afraid of Him.”

“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.” God so loved the world. What a powerful sentence. For God so loved you and me and everyone that ever has or ever will be. What is this “love” that God has for us? Love can be a challenging word for us in the English language. It is horribly imprecise. Just think we use the same word to say things like: “I love the Red Sox!” “Oh, how I would love a Shamrock Shake today!” (Happy St. Patty’s!) And the same word for love to express the way we love a spouse, a friend, a child, and yes, the way we feel about God. Surely the way I feel about God is different than the way I feel about the Red Sox or a Shamrock Shake!

Luckily, much of the Bible was written in Greek and the Greek language doesn’t suffer from our lack of linguistic precision. In Greek, there are three words that talk about love. There is eros which means romantic or sexual love; like the love between a man and a woman that leads to marriage. In English we get words like “erotic” from eros. Then there is philia which means a brotherly love or a type of fellowship. Think of the city of Philadelphia two Greek words that mean literally city of brotherly love. This type of love would be where the Red Sox come in. And, then there is agape which is unlike the rest. Agape is unconditional, all-encompassing, self-sacrificing love; like the love that makes a mother risk her own life for her child.

“For God so loved the world.” Now, you can probably take a guess at which Greek word is behind our translation of “love” in the Gospel today. God loves us with the love of agape. God’s love for us is all-encompassing, it is powerful, unconditional and it is obviously self-sacrificing. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…so that we might have eternal life” Our God not only loves; but He loves us so much that He gives; He gives His only Son; and He forgives so that we might not die, but might live forever with Him. This is the kind of love God has for each and every one of us. And, this is the kind of love we should have for one another. This is the kind of love that is lived in Heaven. And it is the kind of love that will get us to Heaven. And, this, my brothers and sisters, is why we rejoice.

A certain saint asked God to show her the difference between Heaven and Hell. So God sent an angel to take her, first to Hell. There she saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them was eating. They were all sad and hungry. The saint asked, "Why aren’t you eating?" And he showed her his hand. A long fork was strapped to their hands so that each time they tried to eat they could not get the food to their mouths and it ended up on the floor. "What a pity," said the saint. Then the angel took her to Heaven. There the saint was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in Hell: men and women sitting round a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with long forks strapped to their arms. But unlike in Hell, the people here were happy and laughing. Shocked, the saint to one of them, “Why are you so happy in this condition?" "You see," said the man in Heaven, "Here we feed each another." Agape, the love of God, the love we’ll find in Heaven is a love which gives without limit.

Today the Church invites us to reflect on God's love for the world and to be joyful because of it. God loves each and every one of us, so much so that He gave us His only son. Today we are invited to say yes to God's love. We may sometimes feel as though it is hard to believe that God loves even me, but we believe it because we know that God loves unconditionally. We can count on it. For God so loves us that we can say, like little Alice, “If God loved us so much to give us something, then we don’t need to be afraid of Him.”

Let us truly rejoice today and as we continue onward to Easter that, unworthy though we may be, God loves us with a love so powerful that it can bring us all the way to Heaven.

May God give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. Great!
    I really loved (philia) it!

    Praise be to God! :)