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Saturday, March 17, 2012

God loves us...and....

Go to any sporting event or a concert and you may spot someone flashing a sign that simply reads:  John 3;16.  Perhaps the most quoted biblical passage, this section of St. John's Gospel account reads:  "for God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost."

These are certainly powerful and profound from Jesus.  However, if we simply stop at the fact that God loves us, we have missed the point of his messge entirely.  We hear this famous passage in this weekend's Gospel account for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.  But, the Church gives us the rest of the story, to borrow a line from the late Paul Harvey.  Here is the rest of the text:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up: [15] That whosoever believeth in him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting.

[16] For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. [17] For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. [18] He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [19] And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. [20] For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved.

[21] But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God.

If we casually read this text, we might detect a bit of a paradox.  God loves the world and that is why He sent His only begotten Son to save it; however, those who do not belive in Christ will be condemned.  While some might read Jesus' words as harsh, we should step back and examine these words in light of salvation history  From the onset, God gave us a free will.  What we do with it is our choice.  Scripture shows us what has happened down through the ages.  Beginning with Adam and Eve, all the way down to our age, we have not made the best of choices.  This weekend's first reading from the Second Book of Chronicles, reminds us what happened when Ancient Israel chose to disobey God rather than offer Him fitting worship and keep his commands.  Because of their disobedience, Ancient Israel subjected itself to the Bablyonian Exile.  It was only after 70 years that they were able to return to Jerusalem.

What was the big deal about Jerusalem, one might ask?  According to the cultic sacrificial worship of Ancient Israel, sacrifices could only be offered in the Temple and the Temple was in Jerusalem, the City of David.  King Solomon had built an incredible Temple for the Lord, but, Ancient Israel, despite the warnings from God (via the prophets), turned its back against Him.  He wanted to spare His people from the punishment, but, they freely chose to abandon Him.  Because of this, God allowed the Babylonians to lay waste to Jerusalem, including burning down the Temple.  A good many people were taking to Babylon as captives.  For seven decades, Ancient Israel mourned their sins and the loss of Jerusalem, especially the Temple.  That is the message behind this weekend's Responsorial Psalm.  The people longed to worship God once more in the Temple.  They lamented their sins and they grieved the separation from God and Jerusalem.

In this weekend's Gospel reading, Jesus gives us the same warning through Nicodemus.  Yes, God loves us.  However, while He can heap on all of the love that He wants on us, our free will gives us the right of refusal.  If we do not accept God's invitation to love and a deep relationship, then, we are condeming ourselves.  As a wise prelate once said, "God loves us all, even the devil.  However, he cannot make us love Him.  God cannot make Satan love Him.  Satan outright rejected God; hence, he has condemned himself."  

And what of us?  We are in the same position as our ancestors in the Faith, Ancient Israel, only, instead of sending us people like Isaiah and Jeremiah, the Father has sent us His only begotten Son, Christ Jesus.  Christ communicates to us through the Church, through the pillars of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  He also gives us the means to learn how to make the right choice, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The wise prelate I quoted earlier once said that every Mass affords us the opportunity to experience a foretaste of the final judgment.  Yes, God loves us, but, that is only half of the matter.  During the Mass, we experience the Holy Exchange.  God declares His love for us, through the Sacrifice of His Son.  We are not pew potatoes.  For our part, we (hopefully) declare our love for God in return.  Perhaps the most powerful way of declaring that love is when we approach to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion (if we are properly disposed to do so).  At that moment, we are saying Yes to God.  We are choosing to let Him into our hearts.  Even if one cannot receive Holy Communion, he can still make a committed yes to God by making a Spiritual Communion, asking Jesus to come into his heart. 

God lays out His proposal before us ever anew; however, it is up to us to accept it.  God so loved the world that He sent us His only begotten Son; however, it falls to us to be willing to accept God's  love ever anew.  Let us choose, then, to love God in return.

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