March 18, 2012 - Fourth Sunday Of Lent

Today's Readings

Today is Laetare Sunday, which means “Rejoice Sunday”. Today is the first day of the fourth week of Lent. So, three weeks done is 21 days, and there are 19 days left until the Easter Triduum. We are halfway through! I hope these days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving have been fruitful. Do not stop or slow down. When a runner reaches the halfway point of a race, they rejoice, but they keep running. So we too should rejoice but keep running this race.

Another reason to rejoice today is because we see the work God is doing in our lives. If we have truly committed ourselves this Lent to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we should be starting to see the fruit of our labors, that the free gift of grace is able to do more. These forty days provide an opportunity for God, and he is always going to take advantage of an opportunity to save us. We are trying to listen to him. We are trying to love ourselves less and our neighbors more. We are trying to be perfect, and he, who wants us to be perfect, is using this effort to effect real change in our souls.

It is not we who are accomplishing this change, lest we should boast. But God cannot accomplish the change unless we are trying to be perfect. We try, and he accomplishes. God built the road, we are just driving on it. We are not saved by works, for our works are insufficient, but they are necessary.

Just as a car does not move because I push my foot on a pedal slightly: it moves because of the gas and the engine and the design, but until I do press down slightly, the car will not go anywhere, so too we do not actually accomplish our salvation by means of the little works we do, the fasting and the praying and the almsgiving, but without them we are not saved. So it is correct to say that this Lent we are saving ourselves because we are finally making use of the grace of God.

The goal of all this is effort is to believe in Jesus. God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. If you are looking for something to believe or someone to believe in, I can recommend Jesus, but it is not easy to believe in Jesus.

Whoever believes in Jesus will not be condemned, but everyone who does wicked things hates the light. If I believe in Jesus but do wicked things, will I not be condemned or will I hate the light? If someone hates the light, and Jesus is the light, then they cannot believe in Jesus. So clearly, it is not possible to believe in Jesus and still do wicked things.

But this is contradicted in reality all the time! O that it was true that every Christian acted righteously! We know for certain that there are wicked Christians, and not only people who are weakly associated with Christianity. There have been traitors and murderers and thieves and all kinds of other wicked people who have seemed to be strongly devoted to their religion.

Believing in Jesus must mean something other than going to Mass on Sunday and something other than saying the right words and even something other than a particular feeling of faith, for wicked people often appear to lack nothing of these normal religious attributes.

No, the kind of belief in Jesus that leads to eternal life must be something else entirely, something the saints had in common. I can say that I believe in someone and merely mean that I think that they exist, but I can also say that I believe in someone and mean that I trust them, that I put myself on their side and commit myself to their cause. That is what it really means to believe in someone.

If believe in Jesus, I believe that he will not fail me, I believe that his commands are true and good, and I believe that my happiness comes from him and nowhere else. If I have not merely faith about Jesus but faith in Jesus I am making a statement about how my whole life will be structured. It is this kind of faith that has the power to save.

If I believe in God, this faith has to change my whole life. The ancient Israelites forgot how important God was. They thought that he would not mind if they sinned. He sent them prophets to warn them, but they ignored the prophets, so he sent a different kind of messenger: the King Nebuchadnezzar, who came and destroyed Jerusalem, and carried the Israelites back as slaves.

We should not imagine that the situation is any different now. God does not expect less of us. He expects more from us because we have been given more grace. If he was not willing to preserve Jerusalem, his holy city, when the inhabitants had given themselves over to sin, he will not have any special protection for America or any other country. The citizens of Jerusalem thought they were safe because of their allies and their strong walls and their other defenses, but an empire arose from nowhere and conquered them easily.

We are being confronted by some difficult decisions: do we believe in America or do we believe in Jesus? This does not have to be a contradiction, but it slowly is becoming one. America has risen, and someday it will fall, but Jesus is forever.

Do we believe in the general opinion of society or do believe in Jesus? There are a lot of voices that call traditional morality “extreme”. And then there is a constant buzz that says that Jesus cannot be trusted, that we have to make certain allowances, certain indulgences, certain reasonable adaptations. We call it “updating” Christianity, but that is only because we live in a culture obsessed with have everything up-to-date. There has always been a voice opposed to Christianity. Do we believe in that voice, or do we believe in Jesus?

Believing in Jesus is not easy. It is a decision we make and a decision we fight for every day. In every action we say what we believe in and we decide what we will believe in.