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For God so loved the world

We started Lent with the imposition of ashes and the prayerful challenge, “Repent and believe the Good News.” Repentance is critical to a good Lent because it is critical to believe in Jesus. We can’t truly believe in Jesus if we are not keenly aware of sin in our lives and if we are not pained by how it injures God and neighbor. Real repentance flows from charity. So, the prophet Joel sets the tone for Lent on Ash Wednesday with the words, “Return to me with your whole heart.” The goal is to give our heart completely back to God.

The second Book of Chronicles provides us with a rather sad account of a very difficult moment in the life of God’s chosen people: “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.” We are all sinners and we all have our particularly difficult moments. This was a moment of darkness for a large number of God’s people.

There is something refreshing about the level of honesty that characterizes this admission of sin. There is no effort to justify the sin, to blame it on someone else or to excuse it in any way. How honest, humble and forthright am I being with my examination of conscience this Lent? Would the level of genuine sorrow in my heart be pleasing to the Lord?

Jesus refers to another moment when the people of God turn away from the Lord and commit grave sin. While traversing the desert after the Exodus, the people forget all of the wonders God had done for them and complain against God and Moses. They somehow fail to recall that God released them from bondage after 400 years of slavery in Egypt; God rescued them from Pharaoh’s wrath at the edge of the Red Sea and drowned every one of his soldiers before their very eyes; God provided for their daily needs with water, manna in the morning and quail in the evening. He remained present to them, traveling ahead of them each day in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

As a punishment for turning away from Him, God sent venomous serpents, “which bit the people so that many of them died.” The people came to see how they had sinned, repented of their folly and asked for mercy. The Lord told Moses: “Make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.”

This event was a great foreshadowing of God’s plan to redeem not just Israel, but the whole world. Jesus says to Nicodemus in today’s Gospel: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Everyone who looks upon Jesus nailed to the cross and believes in Him will be saved from their sins and granted eternal life. How grateful am I for the cross of Christ? Is that gratitude shaping my life?

The fourth Sunday of Lent is also called Laetare Sunday and is a day of particular joy for Christians. We rejoice in the beauty, generosity and depth of God’s mercy. St. Paul wrote in the letter to the Ephesians, “Brothers and sisters: 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 — by grace you have been saved … ”

We also rejoice because the day of Salvation, Easter morning, is fast approaching. The Day of Days is near when God chose to demonstrate His love in the most cosmic way by defeating Satan, destroying sin and crushing death through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Is your heart filled with joy as you ponder God’s generous mercy in your life and as we draw close to celebrating the events that brought you redemption?

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018