First Reading (2 Chronicles 36: 14-17, 19-23)
In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD’S temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon, where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons until the kingdom of the Persians came to power. All this was to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah: “Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.” In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”
1) By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion;
On the aspens of that land we hung up our harps. (Refrain)
2) For there our captors asked of us the lyrics of our songs.
And our despoilers urged us to be joyous: “Sing for us the songs of Zion!” (Refrain)
3) How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten! (Refrain)
4) May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy. (Refrain)
Brothers and sisters: 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 him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. 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.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who 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 might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
Days of the Lord, Volume 2, pp. 145-151. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN., 1993.
The Gospel of John, Volume 1, by William Barclay, pp. 134-140. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA. 1975.
The Cultural World of Jesus, by John J. Pilch, pp. 58-60. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 1996.
Bringing the Word to Life, by Michael R. Kent, pp. 31-32. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT. 1996.
The Word Encountered, by John F. Kavanaugh, pp. 44-46. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1996.
More Telling Stories, by William J. Bausch, pp. 38-43. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT 1993.
Six-year-old Brandon decided one Saturday morning to fix his parents pancakes. He found a big bowl and spoon, pulled a chair to the counter, opened the cupboard and pulled out the heavy flour canister, spilling it on the floor. He scooped some of the flour into the bowl with his hands, mixed in most of a cup of milk and added some sugar, leaving a floury trail on the floor which by now had a few tracks left by his kitten. Brandon was covered with flour and getting frustrated. He wanted this to be something very good for Mom and Dad, but it was getting very bad.
He didn't know what to do next, whether to put it all into the oven or on the stove and he didn't know how the stove worked! Suddenly he saw his kitten licking from the bowl of mix and reached to push her away, knocking the egg carton to the floor. Frantically he tried to clean up this monumental mess but slipped on the eggs, getting his pajamas white and sticky.
And just then, he saw Dad standing at the door. Big crocodile tears welled up in Brandon's eyes. All he'd wanted to do was something good, but he'd made a terrible mess. He was sure a scolding was coming, maybe even a spanking. But his father just watched him. Then, walking through the mess, he picked up his crying son, hugged him and loved him, getting his own pajamas white and sticky in the process!
That's how God deals with us. We try to do something good in life, but it turns into a mess. Our marriage gets all sticky or we insult a friend, or we can't stand our job, or our health goes sour. Sometimes we just stand there in tears because we can't think of anything else to do. That's when God picks us up and loves us and forgives us, even though some of our mess gets all over Him.
But just because we might mess up, we can't stop trying to "make pancakes" for God or for others. Sooner or later we'll get it right, and then they'll be glad we tried...
I was thinking and wondered if I had any wounds needing to be healed, friendships that need rekindling or three words needing to be said, sometimes, "I love you" can heal and bless! For God so loved the world...
- One day a little girl asked her father, "Daddy, what is God like?" The question sounded innocent enough--until the father actually tried to put his answer into language that a five-year- old could relate to. Finally, he gave the answer for which fathers are famous: "Go ask your mother." She went to her mother with the question, "Mother, what is God like?" The mother soon realized that she had no adequate answer for her daughter either. She said, "Honey, why don't you ask your Sunday School teacher?" The little girl went to her Sunday School teacher with the same question, "What is God like?" The teacher said simply, "Why don't you ask your father or mother?" The little girl thought to herself as she left, "If I had lived with God as long as my father and mother and Sunday School teacher, I think I would be able to tell a little girl what He is like." (1)
Actually, any one of us should be able to answer the question posed by the little girl in this story. We should know what God is like because, as today's gospel passage points out so well, God gave us his only Son.
Now the first thing that strikes me about this verse is that God first loved us. It is not that we first loved God and thus can make some demands on God because "he owes us" for all the good things that we have done. Rather, it is the gift of God's grace which has first brought us to love him. Paul puts this so well in today's second reading: "I repeat, it is owing to (God's) favor that salvation is yours through faith. This is not your own doing, it is God's gift; neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished, so let no one pride himself on it. We are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance."
So what are these good deeds of which Paul is speaking? In last week's gospel, we heard how our Lord was angry with the money changers and animal sellers, not only because they were charging exorbitant fees for their services to the poor who could least afford them, but also because taxes and animal sacrifices were not the most important things to God. The Jews felt that once they had paid their tax and offered their sacrifices, that their obligations to God were satisfied. But those duties were only the beginning. As had often been stated in the psalms and by the prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Micah, God did not want animal sacrifices, but rather a change of heart.
Today, we need to be careful that we do not fall into the same trap as the Israelites did, that we do not mistake the means for the end. What's important to God is not the number of times we come to church, or the number of services we have attended, or the number of prayers we have said, or how much of the Bible we have read. Don't get me wrong. All of these things are good but they are meaningless if they do not lead to what God really wants from each of us, that is, a change of heart, a true repentance - or metanoia - away from sin and towards God. That is what God wanted then, and it is what God wants from us now.
So that brings us to the big question in all of this: what is the change of heart which God is looking for from each one of us? Of course, there are as many answers to that question as there are people here today. If I can, I would like to suggest one direction for your thoughts. As John has put it so well: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. Christ became one like us to tell us about the Father's love for us. The image of God which the Israelites had was one of a stern disciplinarian who would severely punish those who strayed from his ways. But this was not the big picture. So he sent his Son to teach us about the Father, a Father who was not the stern disciplinarian of the Israelites but the loving and forgiving Father of the Prodigal Son.
God expressed his love by sending his son. How do we express our love for one another? Or do we?
I read the following story this week which I believe speaks to this situation. The author says:
- I met a man who had come to Tampa to visit his father. They hadn't seen each other in years. In fact, according to the son, his father had left when he was a boy, and they had had little contact until about a year earlier, when his father had sent him a birthday card with a note saying he'd like to see his son again.
After discussing a trip to Florida with his wife and children and consulting his busy schedule at his office, the son tentatively set a date to visit his father two months later. He would drive his family down when school was out for vacation. He scribbled a note and with mixed emotions, dropped it in the mail.
He heard back immediately. Written on lined paper torn from a spiral notebook, such as a schoolboy would use, were words of excitement penned in a barely legible scrawl. Misspelled words, poor grammar and incorrect punctuation bounced off the page. The man was embarrassed for his father. He thought twice about the upcoming visit.
It just so happened that the man's daughter made the cheerleading squad at her school and had to go to a camp conducted for cheering techniques. Coincidentally, it started the week after school was out. The trip to Florida would have to be postponed.
When he told his father, he said he understood, but the son didn't hear from him again for some time. A note here or there, an occasional call. They didn't say much--muttered sentences, comments about "your mother," a couple of clouded stories about the man's childhood--but it was enough to put together a few of the missing pieces.
In November the son received a call from his father's neighbor. His father had been taken to the hospital with heart problems. The son spoke with the charge nurse, who assured him his father was doing well following a heart attack. When he finally spoke to his father, his father said, "I'm fine. You don't have to make a trip down here. The doctor says there was minor damage, and I can go home day after tomorrow."
He called his father every few days after that. They chatted and laughed and talked about getting together "soon." He even sent money for Christmas.
In February, the man decided once again to visit his father. As luck would have it, however, his boss's wife had to have an operation, and the man had to fill in and work some extra hours. He called his father to tell him he'd probably get to Florida in March or April.
I met the man on Friday. He had finally come to Tampa. He was here to bury his father. He was waiting when I arrived to open the door of the funeral parlor that morning. He sat in the chapel next to his father's body, which had been dressed in a handsome, new, navy blue pinstriped suit and laid out in a dark blue metal casket. He cried. I put my arm around his shoulder and he collapsed in my arms, sobbing. "I should have come sooner. He shouldn't have had to die alone." We sat together until late afternoon. He asked if I had something else to do that day. I told him no.
No one else came to honor the life of the man's father, not even the neighbor he spoke of. It cost nothing but a few hours of my time. I told him I was a student, that I wanted to be a professional golfer and that my parents owned the funeral home. He was an attorney and lived in Denver. He plays golf whenever he can. He told me about his father.
That night, I asked my dad to come and play some golf with me the next day. And before I went to bed, I told him, "I love you, Dad." (2)
As I mentioned earlier, what God wants from us is a change of heart, a change of direction in the course of our lives through good works. And good works do not begin overseas somewhere in Africa or Asia, or even in some poor inner city area. Good works should begin in our own families, in our own neighborhoods and in our everyday lives. They begin with the little things-- the kind word, the encouraging pat on the back, or doing what the author of our story did, being willing to listen to someone pour out his heart. These small acts of kindness are of far more weight than an envelope in the offering plate or a prayer for a missionary overseas. How often we long to do the great things for Christ, but overlook these daily critical signs of faith that should be our way of life.
Last week, I quoted another of my favorite verses in all of the Bible from the book of Micah: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. And last week we discussed specifically how we must "do justice" to one another. This week I think we are reminded to love kindness and make it second nature. We can respond to the love which God has for us by following the example which his Son gave to us in loving others as we love ourselves. Yes, God so loved the world that he sent his son. And not only did he send his son, but before time began, he saw what would be demanded of his son: namely, death on the cross. And then he saw each of us and decided that "Yes, I will love each of you to death".
1. Reprinted with permission from Amusing Grace, copyright 1993 and 1996 by King Duncan. Seven Worlds Corporation, Knoxville, TN.
2. I Love You, Dad, copyright 1996 by Nick Curry III. Reprinted with the author's permission from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, copyright 1997 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Kimberly Kirberger. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.
(Copyright 2018 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Lord Jesus, you are the Son of God who was sent by the Father. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you were lifted up and died on the cross to redeem us from our sins. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you became one like us so that all who believe in you might have eternal life. Lord, have mercy.
The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord AND one another.
Celebrant: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that all who believe in him might have eternal life. With faith in his Son, we can confidently bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, teach us how to love".
That the leaders of the church will be examples of God's love in the lives of their communities, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world may be rich in mercy to all those entrusted to their care, we pray to the Lord.
That the sick, the terminally ill and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one will always believe in God's love for them, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those who are preparing to receive their first sacraments, their families and their sponsors will come to a deeper appreciation of the meaning of the Gospel in their lives, we pray to the Lord.
That the Lord will guide us to use our gifts to give witness to others, just as he led St. Patrick to use his gifts to convert the people of Ireland, we pray to the Lord.
That all of our brothers and sisters will be treated as our equals in the sight of God regardless of their race, color, nationality or religion, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those who have contracted the Corona virus will be healed, that those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior who suffered for them and that their grieving families will find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant:Merciful Father, you sent your Son to show us the love that you have for us. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to reflect your love for us through our love for one another. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.