Today we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Lent – so called LAETARE Sunday, meaning “Rejoice, O Jerusalem.” It is sometimes called “Laughter Sunday” or “Holy Humor” Sunday. We are past the halfway point of our Lenten season, glimpsing the joy that is coming at Easter, now near at hand. So, on this particular Sunday, we rest – we reflect on what we have done – what we intend to do – what we are called to do - and most of all, to recall the Joy of the Lord in the midst of our Lenten Pilgrimage. We always rejoice in the Lord – for He is with us every step of the way – through our darkness into Light. As today is “humor Sunday”, let’s being with some humor..
After presiding at a Station of the Cross service at a far distant parish, Deacon Joe found himself lost - driving home on a rainy Friday night. Seeing a light shining in the dark, he stopped his car and found himself parked in front of a Monastery. He rang the bell, after a few minutes the door opened. He was greeted by the Porter, who he asked for shelter. Fortunately, he was just in time for dinner and was treated to the best fish and chips he'd ever had. After dinner, Deacon Joe went into the kitchen to thank the chefs. He was met by two brothers, "Hello, I'm Brother Michael, and this is Brother Francis." "I'm very pleased to meet you. I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful dinner. The fish and chips were the best I've ever tasted. Out of curiosity, who cooked what?" Brother Michael replied, "Well, I'm the fish friar." Deacon Joe turned to the other brother and said, "Then you must be...." "Yes deacon, I'm afraid I'm the “chip monk”..." A true story of generosity – and where generosity reigns, there is the Kingdom of God.
Last Saturday, myself, and many of my parish cornerstone brothers, attended the Archdiocesan Catholic Men’s Conference at Seton Hall U. It was a joyful day, beginning with the perfect “blue sky” weather. I was happy to be with my Brothers in Christ – all with one heart and one mind. Yes – we all were struggling with similar and different issues, yet we all hoped for a bit of God’s grace to rain on us that day.
There were many conference speakers – the most profound being Bishop Arthur Serratelli , of the Diocese of Paterson. Bishop Serratelli is full of the Spirit – unafraid - he speaks the Truth plainly. He spoke about the present government assault on Mother Church – and on other faith traditions as well – and the role of the Catholic Christian in the midst of a subtle persecution. This is the darkness Christians are experiencing today – it is the same darkness that covered Judah so many years ago – when infidelity was added to infidelity, when abominations of all kinds were rampant – when the people polluted the Lords temple – as they do today - from within and without. The people’s sin brought on indifference towards God. Pope Benedict says “It is our very sleepiness to the presence of God that renders us insensitive to evil: we don’t hear God because we don’t want to be disturbed, and so we remain indifferent to evil.”
Brothers and sisters, we cannot afford to be insensitive to evil. In the words of the new Cardinal of New York, Timothy Dolan, “We are in a freedom of religion battle - an unwarranted, unprecedented, radical intrusion” into “a church’s ability to teach, to serve and to sanctify on its own.” The Cardinal is speaking about Mother Church – the Body of Christ – you and me.
Let us pray for strength – and let us live in hope, for history has taught us that in the midst of persecution, the Church grows stronger. God’s love is a fire that cannot be extinguished – as St. Paul exhorts the Christians in Ephesus:
“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 Christ.”
We rejoice because the most wonderful gift grace, even in the midst of our darkeness, has united us to Christ.
In our “holy humor” story, Deacon Joe was lost – looking for shelter from the storm.
So too was that notable teacher of Israel, Nicodemus, who was living in a darkness of unbelief. He sought Jesus in the night. Jesus enlightens him about the importance of Baptism, - of water and the Spirit. Jesus continues the conversation, revealing to Nicodemus that he, the Son of Man, will be lifted up on to the wood. Just as all who were restored to health as they gazed upon the serpent that was raised on a stake by Moses, all who gaze on the raised Christ and believe in Him – will be gifted with everlasting life.
This holy act is the greatest gift ever bestowed on mankind – a gift from the heart of the Father – the very heart of the Gospel “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”
This gift has huge ramifications for us, we who are made in the Image of God. How wonderful it is to now that God loves us more than we love ourselves. Mother Teresa says “if we remember that God loves us, and that we can love others as He loves us, then we can become a sign of peace for the world.”
Joyful and accepting of the gift, we Praise God and say thank you. God’s gift is an offer of “mercy.” And this “mercy” is our light. Our season of Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to seek this “light” by our celebration of the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation. We need not stay in the dark – walk into the light - ask for his “mercy.”
This Gift requires our response of Faith in Jesus. We follow him, both in his words and in his example. This gift requires us to unite ourselves spiritually with Jesus, by sharing in the power that comes from the cross. We walk under the power of Jesus, under his light, for he is the one who gives us strength and sustenance – and this power is especially needed for today’s battle against darkness. This power or light is none other than the love of God in Christ who, in his mercy, made us alive.
As we move through the second half of our Lenten journey, entering the life filled season of spring, towards that great Feast Day of Easter, remember that we live by the mercy of God. Let us renew our determination that the GRACE he has so generously lavished upon us will not be received in vain.
Father of peace, we are joyful in your Word, your Son Jesus Christ, who reconciles us to you.
Let us hasten toward Easter with the eagerness of faith and love.
Deacon Brian J. Murphy