4th Sunday of Lent
Year B

Salvation through faith … God's gift

In the wars of religion that followed the Protestant Reformation, both Catholics and Protestants sometimes treated each other with a cruelty we would like to forget.

Especially cruel were a group of fanatical Calvinists who waged war upon the Catholics of Holland. They called themselves the "Ragamuffins." In 1572 these guerrillas rounded up nineteen Catholic priests and friars in the town of Gorkum, both because they despised their beliefs, and because they hoped they would confess where their church "treasures" were hidden. The captors made public mockery of their "hostages" and then put them "on trial," demanding that they deny the authority of the pope and the doctrine of the Real Presence. Meanwhile, the Prince of Orange, head of the Calvinist army, sent an order that the captives be released. The Ragamuffins ignored their leader's order. Herding the captives into a shed, they prepared to hang them from its beams, unless they would finally deny their Catholic faith. When all nineteen refused, they were hanged and their bodies were mutilated.

Now, although there were some saintly men among the victims, two of them did not have good records. James Lacops, a member of the Norbertine Fathers, had made light of the rule of his order, and when rebuked had resisted his superiors. Fortunately, he had made amends. But Andreas Wouters, a secular priest, had scandalized many by flagrantly ignoring his vow of chastity. Yet when these unlikely men had been asked to deny their faith, they had stood firm. Far from being "other Christs" in their lives, they had truly become "other Christs" in their death. With the rest of their fellow martyrs they were canonized as saints in 1867.

God's grace is always free. The human mind can never appreciate the extent of His generosity . . . Salvation … is not your own doing … neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished so let no one pride himself on it. (Ephesians, 2.8-9. Today's first reading).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

B208: All Christians "love the light" just by believing in Jesus, don't they? Is John's Gospel today (Jn 3:14-21) pointing in a direction other than towards me?

It depends on exactly what you believe and how you have informed your conscience. John points out that people who do "evil works" prefer darkness; people who do "wicked things" hate the light, and don't come near it or else they would be "exposed." The Roman Catholic Church has the promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit until the end of time, to preserve it from error in faith and morals. Therefore we do not stand "in the light" if we do not follow the official teachings of the Magisterium, readily found in the New Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A few modern examples of "wicked things" or "evil works" will help illustrate this. The Church teaches that some actions are objectively evil by their very nature and choice, such as procured abortions, vasectomies, contraception and euthanasia. These are choices against life and are gravely disordered behaviors. Other actions are objectively evil because they are offenses against chastity and are gravely disordered behaviors - examples are prostitution, masturbation, homosexual acts, fornication, and lust. There are many other choices that are objectively evil, and to accept them as "okay to choose" will place one in dire spiritual danger. "Pro-choice" positions are inherently dangerous by definition, and not acceptable because they allow, tolerate and even encourage objectively evil behavior such as the examples given above. It is to our disgrace as a Nation and as its Citizens that apparently we cannot see that we are "living in darkness" and are even driving out all reference to God in our schools, institutions, and society. One national party even has a plank in its platform defending one's right to choose this behavior, which is unacceptable to a Roman Catholic.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! You can find the Church's teaching in many places (CCC# 2271; 2277; 2351-70; etc). What about your behavior toward institutions that perpetuate these crimes: do you vote for those taking a stand against objectively evil behavior, or are you a passive onlooker? Such passivity puts you in the "darkness" rather than in the "light" of Jesus Christ! Do you need to do some Lenten soul-searching? Reflection: Do you think God hears prayers that ask for His protection of a society that encourages the wicked behavior above?

Rejoice, Be Joyful!

This Fourth Sunday of Lent used to be called Laetare Sunday because the Mass began with the word “Laetare” which means “rejoice.” The Liturgy of the Word gives us reasons for rejoicing. The introductory verse: “Rejoice Jerusalem, be glad for her…” is taken from the prophet Isaiah who rejoices in anticipation of God’s future restoration of his people and of the holy city. We see the fulfillment of that promise in the first reading when the Persian king Cyrus becomes the instrument of God’s redemption.
The Gospel gives us even better reasons for rejoicing. Moses lifted up on a pole an image of the serpent so that those bitten by the serpents might live. In the same way Jesus is lifted up on the cross so that we might live forever. With his fondness for double meanings St. John takes us farther. “Lifting up” can also mean “to be exalted,” to elevate in honor and power.” For John the crucifixion is the hour of Jesus’ glorification, the moment of his victory over sin and death, the throne of his glory, his coronation as king of the Jews and savior of the world. Jesus who came down from heaven begins his ascent back to the Father. For us too the cross is the road that leads to resurrection and glory.

Father, we fear the cross and shrink away from it. Give us the courage to take up our cross and the strength to carry it so that we too may come to share in the glory of your Son, Jesus the Christ.