‘For God so loved the world’

There is a dual dynamic that marks our relationship with God. On the one hand, our broken and bruised human nature finds it too easy to turn away from God, slide into ugly self-centeredness and become proud and stubborn in our sin and selfishness. Yet, on the other hand, God remains remarkably patient with us.

It is God's patience and mercy that is the cause of a marked joy on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, also called Laetare Sunday (from the Latin laetor, to rejoice, be joyful). The Mass is marked by several signs pointing to our joy as we recall the good news of God's patience and mercy. We are invited to add flowers to the altar, use rose-colored vestments and include more instrumental music. Even during Lent, we can't hold back our joy at God's goodness and faithfulness.

Jesus makes note of our wayward hearts in the Gospel today: "And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil." How can we prefer darkness to light?

The second book of Chronicles is more direct: "In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations …" Additionally, as if our sins in times of weakness are not enough, we get stubborn about them. The writer goes on to note that God has compassion on His people and regularly sends messengers to them: "But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His warnings and scoffed at His prophets …" Why are we so obstinate?

Our seemingly natural tendency toward sin is the direct fruit of original sin. Our human nature was deeply wounded by the initial sin of the first man and woman. The built-in tendency to be in union with God, to desire to please Him and to always choose the good was damaged. Now, we live with a broken human nature that is inclined to self-absorption, pleasure, greed, anger and so on. In addition, there is a rebelliousness that makes us run away from God who created us in His very image and likeness and loves us more than we can imagine. We add the ugliness of pride to the weakness of our flesh.

Every one of us experiences this wound in our nature, traditionally called concupiscence. We do not want to do things that we know we should. We do things that we know we shouldn't. We desire things that we know are harmful. We hate it when God or neighbor tell us that we have gone astray.

This brings us to the good news of Christianity which is that God does not abandon us. We are His beloved children, and He exercises remarkable patience, even in the face of our stubbornness. His truth and His love are bigger than our selfishness and pride.

This good news is summed up in one line from our Gospel today: "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." Jesus is God's answer to our darkness.

The Father held nothing back and sent His only-begotten Son to manifest the depths of His love, to become like us in all things but sin, to forgive us our sins through His Passion, death and Resurrection and to bestow upon us new life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Why do we not surrender our hearts to him with reckless abandon?

Allow me to finish with a reflection from Jacques Fesch, a murderer who went through a profound conversion in a French prison. He came to God after a long battle with atheism and discovered a peace and a joy that was overwhelming. Not long before his execution, he wrote: "For the first time, I really have the feeling that I am beginning to live. I have peace, and my life has meaning, whereas before I was dead while still alive … Yes, it is He who loved me first, when I had done nothing to deserve His love… After some months in prison, urged on tirelessly by my lawyer, I tried to believe. Little by little, I was led to change my ideas. I was no longer certain that God did not exist. I began to be open to Him, though I did not as yet have faith. I tried to believe with my reason, without praying or praying ever so little. Then, at the end of my first year in prison, a powerful wave of emotion swept over me, causing deep and brutal suffering. Within the space of a few hours I came into possession of faith with absolute certitude. I believed and could no longer understand how I had ever not believed. Grace had come to me. A great joy flooded my soul, and above all, a deep peace. In a few instants, everything had become clear. It was a very strong, sensible joy that I felt."

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington and director of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015