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Gospel according to Saint 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.


Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries

Rome, March 10, 2024 | Fourth Sunday of Lent

2Chr 36:14-16.19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21

We have all heard stories about the power of love. Some of them we know well, and perhaps some of us have been the beneficiaries of the person who is the protagonist of that story. Some of these stories are captured in literature or movies. Others are literally true, such as the following.

In an Asian country in the midst of a civil war, a young woman was struggling along a village street, about to give birth to a baby boy. She begged passersby: Help me! Help me, please. My baby.

No one paid any attention. A middle-aged couple walked by. The woman pulled the young mother aside and sneered: Where’s the father?

The couple laughed and walked on.

The young woman doubled over in labor as she watched them go. Please, she begged.

She had heard of a missionary who lived nearby who might be able to help. Hastily, she made her way to that village. If only she could help her baby. Shivering and in pain, she struggled along the icy road. But the night was very cold. It was snowing. Realizing that the time was near for her to give birth to her baby, she took shelter under a bridge. There, alone, her baby was born.

Worried about her newborn son, she took off her clothes, wrapped him up and held him in the warm circle of her arms.

The next day, the missionary braved the snow to visit several people. As he was walking, he heard a baby crying. He followed the sound to a bridge. Under it, he found a young mother dead from the cold, still hugging the cry of her newborn child. The missionary tenderly lifted the baby from her arms.

When the child was 10 years old, his adoptive father told him the story of his mother’s death. The child cried as he realized the sacrifice his mother had made for him.

The next morning, the missionary got up early and found the boy’s bed empty. Seeing some fresh footprints in the snow, he bundled up warmly and followed the trail. It led to the bridge where the young mother had died.

As he approached the bridge, the missionary stopped, astonished. Kneeling in the snow was the boy, naked and shivering uncontrollably. His clothes lay beside him in a small pile. Approaching, he heard the boy say, as he shivered: Mom, did you pass this cold for me?

Of course, this story is reminiscent of a similar one, when Jesus was born in the cold of a manger and no doubt, as a man, learned from Mary and Joseph the lesson of what it means to leave everything for Him.

Today’s Gospel also reminds us of a Father who gives up his only Son for us Why doesn’t this story move us to the core and make us change? It is too intense; a typical reaction is not to delve into it and look for a rational excuse: it is a legend, fake news from the past. Another frequent mechanism is to feel moved, even shaken by this sacrifice, but we do not enter into it; it is like a memory that even makes us shed tears, but we do not go beyond the emotion, even if it is intense, even if it is repeated from time to time.

In both cases, today’s First and Second Readings can be very helpful. In the First Reading, the author of Chronicles reminds us that all human beings need a very specific form of love: mercy that frees us from the effects of our infidelities and abominable customs, in which we do not believe, because we consider ourselves superior to the “naive” ancient peoples or perhaps we are skeptical about the possibility of change. In the Second Reading, St. Paul makes us see the effects of that merciful and redeeming love, and he does so with expressions that may seem unrealistic to us, clearly exaggerated, for he tells us that Christ Jesus has seated us in heaven with Him.

Are we going to let ourselves be confused by the language of the Old Testament and the expressive vigor of St. Paul?

Even if we do not understand many things, even if there are too many mysteries, we should learn from Nicodemus, to whom it must have been difficult to understand the words of Jesus, telling him that the Son of God was to be “lifted up on high” as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert. Nevertheless, he came to Jesus, because, he said to him: Teacher, we know that God has sent you to teach us; indeed, no one can perform the miracles that you do unless God is with Him (Jn 3:2).

I do not need to see the lame walk or the dead rise from the dead, but, like Nicodemus, I must draw close to Christ ABOVE ALL because he has succeeded in making changes in my life. Perhaps I am not an example of merciful love, but I have no doubt that He has sown in my life something indestructible, which must bear fruit, as St. Paul tells us today: that my works may be made manifest that they are done according to God.

Like the boy in the story we recalled at the beginning, who decided to go out in the cold and follow in his mother’s footsteps, I must be sure that my works will speak of God. If I am faithful, because the virtue I have inherited will be manifested. If I am unfaithful, because it will be visible in my life that, in reality, there has been no change and I am still just as sad, just as confused as the one who has just sinned.

This is exactly what the First Reading relates about the Israelite people. Despite the wisdom of the prophets, the warnings given by Yahweh and the advice of the elders, they chose the idols of other tribes and fell victim to the greed of the world. The whole Book of Chronicles is an impressive account of all this.

With my grateful reception or without it, the work of God will be visible in me. Of course, Providence will not abandon me, whatever I do. Just as St. Matthew insists on the eternal consequences of my actions, St. John underlines how God responds right now, in an unforeseeable way, to what I decide to do, whether I am wise or foolish.

Everything is decided in an instant, in every moment where I can say YES or NO to Christ’s personal trust, to that truth, which is more than a title, that describes his love for you and for me, completely filled with that undeserved trust:

From now on I will no longer call you servants, for a servant is not aware of his master’s secrets. I call you friends, because I have made known to you all that I have heard from my Father (Jn 15: 15).

That explains why this Lenten Sunday is called Laetare, which means Rejoice! It is not that it is a parenthesis in our Lenten endeavor, but a celebration for having received that love from God. Of course we are encouraged to do good works, but without forgetting that the forgiveness and love received are not “payment” for our good deeds, as one might think in the Old Testament mentality; rather they are pure grace that should fill us with joy:

Neither that which is above, nor that which is below, nor any other creature, will be able to snatch from us this love that God has for us in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8: 39).

Last week, during the homily at Mass, I asked the catechism children if they remembered telling any lies. Several of them answered bravely before all the parishioners and one of them, after telling that he had broken a mirror and had denied it to his parents, added that his father had called him, invited him to some cookies, sat on his knees and at the same time said to him with affection: You broke it, didn’t you? The boy then understood that his father really loved him.

Certainly, there is no greater motivation for conversion than the realization that our salvation is ultimately a free gift from God and not by our doing or by our merits. Without this conviction that God loves us unconditionally, it would be impossible for us to love unconditionally. While it is true that man is not saved by his own good works, it is equally true, however, that these are the necessary response to God’s love. They are the signs that God’s grace has been received and has begun to bear fruit.

As the story of Israel and our personal history teaches us, God the Father and God the Son know how to send the Holy Spirit for our comfort and correction. Today is a good day to meditate on the meaning of Inspiration, that presence of the Holy Spirit with an abundance of signs that confirm two truths: that we are not alone in our pain, in our miseries and that the Father gives us a mission at every moment.

This Inspiration comes to us through our neighbors, through nature and through events in our own lives. But God continues to send authentic prophets, who neither wish nor pretend to be prophets and yet, despite their possible weaknesses, their fear and their faults, they become chosen instruments for one, two or thousands of us to discover that our Father expects something from us.

Nicodemus was a Jewish intellectual. He sought Jesus in the dark of night to better understand his message, because he feared that others, especially his fellow rabbis, would mock him. Like Nicodemus, perhaps we too hesitate to open ourselves to God’s gift, afraid to take the leap of faith into his love and mercy. Today we are exhorted to open our eyes and see God’s love in the death and passion of Jesus and in our own lives. I came not to judge the world, but to save the world (Jn 12: 47).

We are called to spend this Lenten Season contemplating his love on the cross, the paradox of receiving light and strength precisely from one condemned by human justice.  Slaves ended up on the cross, only slaves. From the Cross, Jesus proclaims that the man fulfilled according to God is the one who has voluntarily made himself a slave out of love, servant of his brothers to the point of dying for them.


In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,