RCIA – The 4th Sunday of Lent – Grace
Forth Sunday of Lent Grace March 18, 2012
Opening prayer: God of hope and love, we gather in your name today. Your everlasting love and the constant blessings you pour into our lives hearten us. Your presence among the exiled Israelites and the blessings you bestowed on them through the human instrument of Cyrus, the Persian king, gives us hope in our own exiles. When your beloved Son was raised up on the cross for our salvation, we were saved by no merit on our part. Open our eyes to see your continual blessings in the simple stories of our own lives. Through the revelation found in today’s scriptures teach us more of who you are. All this we ask through the grace and light of the Holy Spirit and the salvation won for us in Jesus. Amen.
We are half way through Lent. Today is called Laetare Sunday. Laetare is Latin for REJOICE. We are rejoicing because of God’s great love, which has saved us. We rejoice, because despite all that we have done God continually calls us back to Him.
“The unhappiest in all this world must be those who think they have no need to be forgiven.” ~~ Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
The readings today are a study in compassion. We see that God chooses to identify with the weak and the unfit, unlike the worldly view point where strength and success are applauded. Success and accomplishments aren’t the ultimate criteria for being God’s elect. We like to take credit for all of our successes and blame something else for our faults. But if we only take credit for one side of our actions, then neither can we ask for or accept forgiveness for our failings.
Reading 1 - 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
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.
Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. 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, where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons until the kingdom of the Persians came to power. All this was to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah: “Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.”
In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”
Our first reading shows us the covenant relationship between Israel and God, specifically showing God’s compassion for His people and His powerful acts of salvation. God kept sending prophets to the people again and again, yet the people mocked them and even killed them, and continued in their sinful ways. The people made their own choice to disobey God and He was forced to send invaders to show His people His displeasure of their behavior. Their infidelity to God resulted in divine punishment.
In exile for 70 years, His people did not forget Him, and God’s compassion is seen again in His mercy by allowing His people to return to Jerusalem through the actions of the good king, Cyrus of Persia (the Persians overthrew the Babylonian Empire). We see here God using a foreign king as an instrument of restoration. While the Israelites never forgot their God while they were in exile, it was the grace of God that brought them home. We don’t have the power to save ourselves, but at the same time we need to remain faithful to our God, and as the last line of the first reading shows us, God will generously bless us even though we don’t deserve it.
Responsorial Psalm 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6.
R. (6ab) Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. On the aspens of that land we hung up our harps.
R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
For there our captors asked of us the lyrics of our songs, And our despoilers urged us to be joyous: “Sing for us the songs of Zion!”
R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten!
R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, If I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy.
R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you
In this Psalm we hear the cries of the Israelites while they were in exile in Babylon. Similarly, we too are in exile while we are here on earth. Our daily struggles make us long for the peace of heaven. Repentance and obedience to God are constantly required during this earthly journey. And, by the grace of God, we too will one day join Him in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Typically throughout the Church year, the second reading has little connection with the first reading and the Gospel, which are related. In Lent, though, there is a connection between all three readings to reinforce the message of the season. Again, today’s message is Rejoice!
Reading 2 Ephesians 2:4-10
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-, raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.
In this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says “when we were dead in our transgressions.” The death implied here is our sinfulness, which Jesus overcame for us when He died on the cross. He brings us to life, raises us up, and seats us with Him in heaven, all free gifts from God.
It is generally understood that striving to live a good Christian life is in response to the gifts already received from God. God is not inclined to waste His grace on those who will use it badly. So we must move forward, with the knowledge that this grace and divine guidance is with us, and live fruitful Christian lives. We were created to do good works and bring others to Christ, but we don’t merit God’s grace by our works. God’s grace is free gift, pure and simple, a product of His great love for humanity.
The Gospel of St. John is a Gospel of encounters. Today Jesus meets with Nicodemus. He is a Pharisee who is open to Jesus’ message. Most of the time in the Gospels, the Pharisees get a bad rap because most of them don’t like that Jesus can see through the hypocrisy of the way they practice their religion. Nicodemus, on the other hand, is a good man; he represents the best of the Old Law (the Old Testament).
In this passage, Jesus challenges Nicodemus to look at everything in a new way. Jesus begins this passage by referring to Moses and the time of wandering in the desert, which can be found in the book of Exodus. The Israelites complained to Moses and God, wishing they could return to captivity in Egypt, rather than endure the trials of the desert. They were stricken with a plague of fiery serpents because of their grumbling, but Moses interceded with God to heal and relieve them. God instructed Moses to fashion a serpent out of bronze and lift it up on a pole in the midst of the people. As they looked at it they were healed. The serpent on a pole, even today, is the emblem of the healing profession. John’s gospel uses this commonly known symbol of healing to make the connection between the healing, saving action of Jesus lifted on the cross and God’s gift of eternal life. This passage follows the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus in which Jesus explains that we must be born again in water and the Spirit to have eternal life, i.e., baptism. This eternal life is possible because of the “lifting up” of Jesus, both upon the cross and to glory at the right hand of God. We cannot earn the gifts of rebirth, the Spirit, life in union with God, and the glory of eternity; they are freely given to us out of the incredible love of God for humanity.
Gospel John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “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.”
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. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God,
The Son of Man must be “lifted up.” This ironic phrase used by St. John tells us not only that Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross, but that he was lifted up to his glory. Jesus overthrew the power of death and entered into the glory of eternal life. And, we who believe in him share in his glory of eternal life!
JOHN 3:16 – We often see this phrase on signs at games or on the eyeblack of some football players or other public events. Today’s Gospel contains this hopeful, often cited passage, “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.” The hope contained in this verse is for you and me and the whole world. That we who believe might have eternal life!
The next verse includes, “That the world might be saved through him,” has many different interpretations in the Christian world. Some Protestant faiths believe that we are saved by faith alone. While this is true, we cannot secure our own salvation; the Catholic side of the argument is that we need to participate in our faith life, like living the Ten Commandments that we discussed last week. We can do nothing without God’s help, but we still need to be active in our faith, which includes attending Sunday Mass, living a good Christian life, getting closer to Jesus by studying the Bible and the tenets of our faith.
As was stated earlier, we have successes and failures in our lives, and God is with us through all of them. God participates in our earthly successes. Likewise, in our failures and our problems, God is there helping us along the way. Jesus’ cross is a symbol of all of the problems we face; we all have crosses to bear in this life. We join our cross with Jesus’ cross, as he carries his cross, we ask him for help to carry our own. Jesus didn’t come to condemn us or make life hard; he came to help us in our struggles in this fallen world.
In this dialog with Nicodemus, Jesus talks at length about coming into the light. Jesus is the light of the world and anything that is darkness is sin. Jesus is calling us into the light, towards his life. God’s life is grace, and it can have a positive effect on us if we let it. We either believe in Christ or we reject Him. It is our choice that brings us the judgment of heaven or hell. Choose light rather than darkness.
Catholic Teaching – Grace
How have you felt God’s incredible love in your life? Has God’s love enlightened your understanding of the decisions you make in your life?
We need to understand the sinful, fallen human nature that we all possess, and how we require God’s gift of grace in order to be saved.
Sin – original and social
- Humanity is radically and thoroughly flawed, drawn toward evil that widens the rift between the Creator, creation and humankind. That we are born into this situation is known as original sin. The effect of this sin impedes our capacity to choose salvation.
- This original alienation from God and creation has been redeemed by the saving action of Jesus. We are born again into this redeemed nature – a new creation – in baptism, through the overarching grace of God’s mercy and love.
- While we still struggle with the inclination toward sin, this wounded human nature, the mystery of grace is at work, accomplishing all that Christ intended. Both sin and grace are at work in the human spirit. We are indeed graced sinners.
- Social sin is the consequence of personal sins, which culminate in patterns of evil and injustice that become institutionalized and systematized.
- By the faith, hope and love given at baptism, we struggle to live out the grace of our salvation in Christ. Cooperation with the mystery of grace at work in the world is the continual responsibility of the baptized. Moments of triumph over evil systems are signs indicating the as-yet-to-be-completed victory of grace at work.
Do you see signs of God’s grace in the evil of today’s world?
- “Grace” encompasses a wealth of meaning, such as gift, favor, loving kindness, and gratitude. Simply put, grace is a form of God’s presence with us, God’s gift to us.
- Grace is undeserved, cannot be earned, and flows from God.
- Grace results in our participation in the life of God, through Jesus, whose death and resurrection made us adopted sons and daughters of God, sharing in God’s own divine nature, and heirs of eternal life.
- In baptism we are made holy – sanctified – making us a new person, a new creation. We call this sanctifying, or habitual, grace, that is, the grace of the sacrament that enables us to live out this new life. Actual grace describes God’s continual help throughout our lives.
- Grace demonstrates the tremendous love of God for us. Through God’s covenant with us, many graces, or gifts, are poured into our lives, empowering us to attain union with God.
- We are free to respond to God’s grace by leading a life of good deeds, or to reject the gifts God offers.
Based on your life experiences and your lessons here, how would you describe grace to another person?
Grace before meals
There is a traditional Catholic practice of saying grace before meals. We are thanking God for his gift of food. Yes, we till the soil, and get the food to market, and work to earn money to buy the groceries, but ultimately we believe that our food, and everything else, is a gift from God. This is our tradition prayer for grace before meals:
- Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Reflect on the crucifix as we meditate on this closing prayer: God, you are rich in mercy, giving us your only Son to become like us in everything but sin. Your great love for humankind extends beyond our imagination. Your gift of salvation was freely offered to us in lifting Jesus on the cross and lifting him to your right hand in glory. Your favor, manifested by your gift of Jesus, was not something we earned or merited. Strengthen and inspire us to respond to your unbelievable love by the good we do in word and deed. Amen.