Message for the 4th Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2020
Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.”
This is the traditional entrance antiphon for this Sunday, from which comes the Latin name “Laetare Sunday”. The word “Laetare” means “rejoice”.
Nevertheless, at this point public worship, the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, has been prohibited throughout the United States and through much of Europe and throughout the world. This is wholly unprecedented. The fear induced by a global pandemic and the directives of the world “sanitary dictatorship” have achieved something that the worst dictatorial or totalitarian regimes never did.
The pandemic certainly seems real and the need for severe measures may be required, but at the same time the attitudes and priorities of a godless world have been revealed. There is such urgency about the health of bodies destined for death, but what about the salvation of immortal souls? Such drastic measures, severely limiting fundamental freedoms, have been taken to insure the public health, but this is after decades of measures, taken in the name of “liberty”, that have systematically destroyed the public morality. Instead of seeing public worship as part of the solution, it is seen as part of the problem, on a par with sports and concerts. There is no wisdom that sees the whole of reality, not even the whole of man, body and soul, directing the decision-making processes of the world rulers. Only mathematical calculations, based on statistics and relying on limited data. Man has taken the place of God, but he does not do a very good job of it.
Still, this is what God has allowed because of our sins, just as in ancient times he allowed his people Israel to be carried off into exile in Babylon.
So where is the joy as we enter this 4th Sunday of Lent, the joyful Sunday, the Sunday of rose colored vestments, with Easter services already suspended?
First, while public worship has been suspended, it is important to know that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is still offered by priests throughout the world. Perhaps now priests are rediscovering the importance of their simply offering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls.
Second, the suspension of public worship has actually brought an end to widespread liturgical abuses. To put the matter simply, in recent decades the Holy Sacrifice has rarely been offered with fitting reverence and dignity. The faithful has come to accept and even embrace casualness, sloppiness, and irreverence at Mass. It has often been more a matter of 45 minutes of Sunday entertainment than true worship. Holy Communion has been given out like candy in a cafeteria, leading to countless sacrilegious communions.
Third, the faithful, if they are to remain faithful, are now obliged to discover true prayer and deepen the interior spirit without which their participation in the Mass has been often fruitless. Families must learn to pray together. Parents must begin to learn their faith so as to pass it on to their children.
During the Babylonian exile, when the Jerusalem Temple, the only Temple of God in all the earth at the time, had been destroyed, three young men who were cast in the blazing furnace because they refused to worship the king’s idol. Nevertheless, in his great mercy, God delivered them from all harm. The three young men, in their prayer from the midst of the furnace, taught us the true interior spirit: For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins. We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no holocaust, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; as though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly, for those who put their trust in you cannot be put to shame. (Dan 3:37-40)
In the mysterious designs of divine providence this passage appeared as part of the 1st reading for the Mass this past Tuesday, the first day in which Mass was no longer offered publicly in this Diocese. Through the prayer of the three young men, God has given us our marching orders for these times.
The move from public worship to the true interior spirit of worship follows the path of people of Jerusalem of old, who had profaned the Temple with their idolatry and so had been carried off into exile in order to discover the offering of the contrite heart and humble spirit. Only then were they able to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, and rejoice together in the public worship of God.
Rejoice, Jerusalem. In reality Jerusalem is above all the heavenly city, the city of the vision of God, the goal of God’s eternal design. The heavenly city of Jerusalem, the true city of God, was manifested symbolically – as a sort of living parable – in the Middle Eastern city of the Old Testament. The heavenly city of Jerusalem is made present visibly and sacramentally – most of all in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – through the Church of Jesus Christ, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The heavenly city of Jerusalem is also built up interiorly in every soul that lives in a state of grace, in those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells as in a temple. This is most true of the Blessed Virgin Mary, full of grace.
Grace, sanctifying grace, as I have been repeating time and again, is God’s life in our souls, or our very real participation in God’s own life and nature, the life of the Holy Trinity, through which we truly become children of God, in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.
While the lay faithful have now been deprived of the sacramental nourishment of the Body of Christ in holy communion, they can still be restored to the life of grace through a sincere and humble confession and be cleansed of the obstacles that impede the life and growth of grace through a truly devout confession.
With contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received. The sacrament of penance, confession, is the best way to cultivate that contrite heart and humble spirit that is so pleasing to God. If we make the most of this present opportunity, we will be ready as never before when Jesus returns to us in holy communion.
Jesus, the light of the world has not abandoned us.
After the man born blind received his sight, Jesus said to him, Do you believe in the Son of Man? He did not ask, Do you believe in the Son of God, but do you believe in the one you can now see and who is speaking to you. The man believed and he worshipped, because the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary and the Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, are one and the same divine person. Still, he has become the light of the world by becoming the Son of Man, one of us. He has become our mediator with the Father by becoming the Son of Man, one of us. We must now turn the gaze of our faith upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made the Son of Man. We must get to know him. Now is the time to read and meditate on the Gospels. Now is the time to pray the rosary, which truly a meditation on the life of Jesus Christ.
Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.