A Passion Which Transforms

(Homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B)

One of our neighboring churches had this message on their billboard: “God so loved the world…that he did not send a committee.” Well, committees have their place and we have plenty of them at Holy Family, but all of us recognize that things happen not so much because people sit around a table, but because of some person’s passion. The committee itself only succeeds because one or two members have a burning care in their heart. Last Sunday I gave the example of William Wilberforce as a man whose passion transformed our modern world. We can all think of other examples: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Blessed Theresa of Calcutta. But the greatest example of transforming passion is found in today’s Gospel:

“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.”

St. Paul describes Jesus’ passionate care in his Letter to the Ephesians. He tells how we were “dead” because of our poor choices. But God does not want us to sink into depression and despair. For that reason he sent Jesus – the only Son. We have no more reason for gloom because ultimately our salvation does not depend on us. We have been “saved by grace.” We are “God’s handiwork.”

Perhaps you have seen a piece of gold ore. To me it did not look impressive. I could walk over chunks of gold ore and not know they were different from any other stone. But an expert could spot them immediately and know that they could be transformed into something wondrously beautiful – like the chalices we have on our altar. That is what God desires to do for us in Jesus Christ. The world might consider us of no particular value, maybe even a nuisance. But God is different: He gave his only Son so that we could become something of great worth: not because of our puny deeds, but because of his grace. We are his handiwork.

At the Rite of Election a few weeks back, Bishop Eusebio gave an inspiring homily. He mentioned how he became a citizen of this country during the past year and how he has noticed the importance of our elections. We not only carefully count people’s ballots – but very often re-count them! Sometimes the future of our nation – or of our state – depends on just a few votes. Then Bishop Eusebio stopped. He turned to the candidates for the Easter Sacraments and said to them, “I want to congratulate you. You have won an election. Really the most important election of all. And you have triumphed by a single vote. Jesus has cast his ballot for you – and his is the vote that counts.”

You and I have been elected by Jesus. Not because of our good looks, not because of our sparkling personalities, not because of our brilliant insights, not because of our great achievements – but because of his mercy. Now, I do not want you to misunderstand the divine mercy. It does not mean that from now on everything will be sweetness and light. This Sunday we heard some strong words addressed to our spiritual ancestors – the ancient Jews. Their nation came to a terrible end because they scoffed at the prophets God sent them. The Chronicler explains that they cannot blame God for their suffering. He did, however, allow those awful things, precisely because of his mercy.

From our human perspective, suffering almost always seems unfair. Why should fatal disease strike a young person? Why do human relationships involve so much pain? Why does God allow people to do such horrible things to each other? I have no ready answer to these questions. You can find those questions in the most ancient literature, including the Bible. And if you read contemporary literature, you will realize the questions have not gone away. Still, today – so close to celebration of Holy Week, we can say this: God did not spare his only Son, but gave him up – to the cross – that we might have life in Him.

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Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2012: Everthing Matters - Except Everything
2009: The Beauty of Humility
2006: A Passion Which Transforms
2003: No Refuge from the Love of God
2000: The Memory of God

Year A (RCIA):
Small Gesture with Enormous Promise (2008)
Seeing and Knowing (2005)
Men Who Went Blind (2002)
Fatal Blindness (1999)

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