11Mar 11 March. Fourth Sunday of Lent

2 Chron 36:14ff + Psalm 137 + Ephesians 2:4ff + John 3:14-21

For a fine choral version of “God so loved the world” (Jn 3:15) click here.

1st Reading: 2 Chronicles (36:14-16, 19-23)

The sinful people are exiled to Babylon; but God’s mercy will bring them back

All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abomination of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy.

They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.”

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 137)

Response: Let my tongue be silent, if I ever forget you!

By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept
remembering Zion.
On the willows that grew there
we hung up our harps. (R./)

It was there that they asked us
our captors for songs,
our oppressors for joy.:
“Sing for us” they said “the songs of Zion!” (R./)

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./)

May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem
ahead of my joy.(R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10)

We are saved not through our own efforts but through the mercy of God

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Gospel: John (3:14-21)

God sent his only Son, not to condemn but to save us

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever 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 may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


God’s Work of Art

A grimy painting hung for decades in the dining room of a Jesuit house in Dublin. Nobody paid it much attention until a visitor, an art expert, recognized it as a work of great value. Under close investigation, it turned out to be the work of  the great Roman painter, Caravaggio. His painting of the arrest of Jesus now hangs in our National Art Gallery, and is one of the Gallery’s great treasures. All those years when it hung in the dining room, it was no less a masterpiece, but its real value went unrecognized. In today’s reading Paul says that “we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life.” Like that Caravaggio painting, our worth can go unnoticed even to ourselves. We hardly think of ourselves as works of art; yet God sees us as works of art, in progress. Like the person who spotted the painting’s value, God knows our true worth, and through the inspired words of Isaiah says, “You are precious in my sight, and I love you.” If we know ourselves as precious in God’s sight, it gives foundation to our hope.

We can think of others as works of art too, in this way. These are people whom we value, whom we treasure, whose worth to us is beyond price. When someone is precious to us, we don’t treat them as customers or clients. We will do anything we can for them. We will travel a distance to see them; we will stay up half the night with them if they are ill; we will defend and protect them as best we can. We keep faithful to them, even at cost to ourselves. We value them, simply, for who they are.

Our experience of loving others gives us a glimpse of how the Lord relates to us. God loves us in a way that does not count the cost. The gospel says it wonderfully: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Or as Paul puts it, “God so loved us that he was generous with his mercy.” We are so valued that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to save us all. So it is not surprising that the cross became Christianity’s dominant symbol. It is not that we glorify suffering, but that we recognize in the cross just how far God is prepared to go for love of us.

Love Lifted Up

Have you noticed the kind of words we use to describe something wonderful? People use phrases like being ‘over the moon’ or ‘on cloud-nine’ – or recently, as “incredible.” A friend talks about being in the ‘seventh heaven!’ I can’t help thinking that our deepest experiences are those that have a power to lift us up. Such experiences take us out of ourselves. They raise us up so that we perceive life differently.

The Gospel is always inviting us to see things differently. When Nicodemus sought out Jesus, he was in the dark ” both really and symbolically. He couldn’t see clearly. In the years that followed this late night conversation, Nicodemus became a disciple and, step by step, was drawn to see things differently. At last he finally did see. When at the end, Jesus was really and truly lifted up, Nicodemus was not too far away, and reverently helped prepare our Lord for burial.

When we meditate on the crucifix and join in the Eucharist we also see Jesus lifted up. Perhaps today as I lift my eyes to the cross, I might see the link between suffering and exaltation and wonder at the love that is lifted up and draws us ever closer, raising us as well.

These brighter days

By now we feel that the snow is over and the days are getting longer. We are half way through March and already there is light in the evenings beyond six o’clock. We have longer daylight to look forward to, especially when the clock goes forward next weekend.  With the increase in light, there is also an increase in growth. The first blossoms of spring have already come out. Nature is coming to life after a time of hibernation.

Today’s gospel echoes what is happening in nature, for ‘light has come into the world.’ The light refers to God’s revelation brought into the world by Jesus. Both St Paul and the gospel declare that God’s light is the light of love. For Paul, God “made us alive together with Christ”. The central gospel truth is that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. In the light of Jesus we find mercy, compassion, great love, kindness, infinite grace.

There is a certain kind of light that can expose us mercilessly, like the light of the interrogator’s lamp. But Jesus brings a light that need hold no fear for us; it is a divine light that lifts us up, just as the Son of Man was lifted up, to save our human race. Here is a light that assures us of our worth and that helps us to see the good we are capable of doing. It is a light that helps us see that ‘we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live a good life.’

We long for a light that is strong and enduring, a light that is  more resilient than all the darkness in this world. We may struggle from time to time with the darkness of illness or depression, with a sense that we are worthless and that life is not worth living. That darkness of spirit finds expression in today’s Psalm, composed during the exile in Babylon. ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, remembering Zion.’ Our Scriptures for today affirm that in whatever  darkness we encounter, the light of God’s enduring love is greater, so that we may have life and have it to the full. As Jesus said, ‘God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’

Welcoming the Light

[José Antonio Pagola]

It really seems that people can live for years without realizing what is most true of ourselves. We can go on living day after day without wanting to see what is it that reallly motivates us and spurs our decisions. It’s not stupidity or lack of intelligence, but as Jesus said: “Whoever does wrong hates the light and avoids it, to prevent their actions from being shown up.” We’re afraid to seeing ourselves just as we are. We don’t want too much light to penetrate our life. We prefer to continue blindly, unwilling to change.

There are times when, though blind, we believe we see everything clearly. It seems easier to live without  ever asking: “Who am I?”. We assume that reality is just as I see it, without being aware that the outer world I perceive is for the most part a reflection of my inner attitudes and the desires  that I foster. I may be relating not to real people, but to the image or labels that I’ve fabricated for myself of them. That is what Hermann Hesse understood in his small book My Credo: “The man that I contemplate with fear, hope, greed, propositions, demands, isn’t a man, he’s only a cloudy reflection of my will”.

When we want to transform our lives by directing our steps in more noble paths, what’s most decisive isn’t our effort to change. First we must open our eyes, asking what it is that drives us, becoming more aware of the interests that move our existence, discovering the basic motives of our daily living.

Why not take a moment to face this question: Why do I flee myself and God so much? Why would I prefer living without seeking the light? We need to listen to Jesus’ words: “Everybody who does the truth comes out into the light, so that what he is doing may plainly appear as done in God”.

Machtnamh: Obair Ealaíne Dé

Crochadh pictiúr dorcha le blianta fada ar bhalla seomra bia i dteach na nÍosagánach i mBaile Átha Cliath. Níor thug aon duine aird air go dtí lá amháin go bhfuair saineolaí ealaíne amach go bhféadfadh luach iontach bheith ag an bpictiúr. Faoi dhlúth-imscrúdú, d’éirigh leis a aimsiú go raibh an obair déanta ag Caravaggio na Róimhe. Tá a phictiúr (faoi ghabháil Íosa sa ghairdín) ag crochadh anois inár nDánlann Náisiúnta Ealaíne, agus tá sé ar cheann de na seoda iontacha sa Ghailearaí. An t-am ar fad a bhíodh sé crochta sa seomra bia, níor aithnídh éinne a fhíorluach. i léacht an lae inniu, deir Naomh Pól “gur saothar ealaíne Dé muidne, cruthaithe in Íosa chun saol maith a chaitheamh.” Cosúil leis an bpictiúr sin, tugtar neamhaird ar luachanna, uaireanta ar ár luachanna féin fiú. Ní thagann sé linn smaoineamh orainn féin mar shaothair ealaíne. Ach féachann Dia orainn mar shaothair ealaíne, saothair a bhíonn de shíor ag dul chun cinn. Cosúil leis an té a chonaic an pictiúr de chuid Caravaggio, tá ár bhfíorluach ar eolas ag Dia. Tríd na focail spreagtha a dúirt Isaiah deir sé linn, “Tá tú luachmhar i mo radharc, agus tá grá agam duit.”


(Saint Aengus, abbot)

Aengus (760 -824?) , a monk in Clonenagh, Co Laois, came for spiritual direction to Maelruain in the monastery at Tallaght. He is also called a “Culdee” – a term of honour, used about prayerful hermits. Aengus is credited as author of the Feliré, or Festology of the Saints of Ireland.

3 Responses

  1. Pádraig McCarthy

    2 Chronicles:
    Many were killed, their temple and their homeland destroyed, and others exiled to Babylon. The situation was entirely hopeless. They were finished. And yet it was not so.

    Psalm 136 (137):
    By the rivers of Bablylon. Don McClean set it to music. Boney M had a hit with their version. Great Tragedy leads to song, even though they say: “How could we sing?” The depth of anguish is expressed in the final verse, not included in the reading today: “Babylon: A blessing on anyone who seizes your babies and shatters them against a rock!” How could we have such a line in Scripture? And yet it is truth: the truth of deep feeling, of desperation. Imagine the anguish of a woman who would never dream of harming a child; and yet in absolute desperation comes to see the only remedy for her situation as being found in the termination of her pregnancy, the termination of the child she bears. This is the great challenge for us in Ireland this year: to change whatever it is in society that would lead any woman to experience such desperation, to build a new society of compassion where she will never need to feel desperate and alone. The support of our friends and families sees us through many a situation when all seems dark and hopeless.

    John 3:
    “Eternal life.” In Greek, “the life of the aeons, of the ages.” Not so much life without end, although that too. Rather, imagine all the life you lived in the past week. Can you imagine now having all of that life experienced in one day, in a moment, such a fullness of life? The all the life you have lived in the past year? Since the moment of your conception? It’s beyond imagining. Yet being fully alive is why Jesus came: to have life in Jesus. A life beyond our wildest dreams or imagination.

  2. Pat Rogers

    Great reflection, Padraig. Kep them coming, please.

  3. Paddy Ferry

    As I listened to 2 Chronicles this morning and heard and read the words “Thus speaks Cyrus king of Persia, ” The Lord of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; ……” “, I could not help but wonder was this the inspiration for the famous –or infamous even –Donation of Constantine. It is hard not to become cynical the more you learn of our beloved church. Dishonesty, deceit and corruption, I suppose, has always been with us.

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