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User's Guide to Sunday, March 18.
BY Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, March 18, is the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Liturgical Year B, Cycle II).
On March 23, Pope Benedict XVI begins his visits to Mexico and Cuba.
2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23; Psalms 137:1-6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
Today’s Gospel reading includes John 3:16: “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.”
The great lesson here is that God is not somehow foreign to our experience. He is part and parcel with it and has entered into the world to show us the true meaning of the life he created for us here.
It’s a lesson we need because we so often feel out of place in the world.
Today’s Psalm is the famous lament of the Israelites, who have been exiled from Jerusalem, longing to be home: “By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”
It is a popular Psalm — and a song in Godspell — because it is evocative of the modern feeling of alienation.
Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer writes about the longing for home in terms of the five transcendentals: beauty, truth, goodness, unity and being. These are dimensions of being that we find in God and long for in our own lives.
Beauty calls to us when the stars or another natural wonder or a piece of music at church fills our souls and leaves us feeling in awe and happy. We want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We hunger and thirst for real goodness. We want unity with our loved ones, with our community and with God.
But what about being? To explain our longing for that most fundamental transcendental, Father Spitzer gives “being” a nickname. He calls it “home.”
We feel empty and lost sometimes, he said. “Many philosophers and theologians connect this feeling with a human being’s yearning to be home with totality — not merely home with myself, my family, my friends, or even the world, but to be perfectly at home, without any hint of alienation.”
When we are looking for our ultimate home, what we are looking for is being itself. And being itself is God, the God who, when Moses asked his name, answered simply: “I am.”
Today’s readings are an extended meditation on the “home” that God provides. The first reading, from Second Chronicles, describes what happens when Israel breaks its covenant with God: The House of God is destroyed, and the people are driven from their homeland. Once penance has been paid and the covenant honored, the Temple is restored and the king calls the people home.
Today’s second reading from St. Paul describes how we are welcomed into our true home by God.
Some scholars speculate that the reading is a commentary on the parable of the Prodigal Son. God is “rich in mercy,” like the prodigal’s father. He gives us our life back when we are “dead in our transgressions,” like the Prodigal Son. When the reading continues from what we hear today, the author explains how those who were “far off” are gathered close by Christ.
We are all in the place of the Prodigal Son at times, straying from God through sin, and only returning home when we return to God — “for we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”
So, when we learn that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” we know Christ wants to show us the way to a deeper home we all long for: with him.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.