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God offers us a lifeline: Jesus

Archbishop Wenski's homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent, at Pueri Cantores Mass

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the Vigil Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, celebrated during the Pueri Cantores Festival that took place March 10, 2018, at St. Mary Cathedral, Miami. The festival featured mixed voice choirs from grades 4 through 12 in the Archdiocese of Miami and neighboring dioceses.

This evening we celebrate the vigil Mass of what has long been called Laetare Sunday. Laetareis a Latin word meaning to rejoice. So today’s Mass has joy as its theme. And this evening we are grateful for the many youth choirs that bring so much joy to our worship not only today here at St. Mary’s Cathedral but also in your own parishes. Saint Augustine once said, when we sing we pray twice. So thank you for helping all of us to pray more and to pray better.

Why are we supposed to be joyful today? Well, first of all, Easter is getting closer. The darkness and gloom of sin gives way to the light of Jesus’ resurrection. (Today, our clocks even spring forward one hour giving us more daylight to enjoy in the evenings.) So the closeness of Easter is a reason to rejoice. We can start eating desserts again? But more seriously, at Easter many people will join the Church and we should be happy for them. And at the heart of our joy is what St. Paul tells us about God in the second reading: Our God, he tells us, is “rich in mercy.” When we lost our way, God didn’t abandon us he never gives up on us. Rather, looks for ways to enter into our world to redeem us. It’s not something he does because we deserve it; he does it because he loves us.

Look at the first reading: The Jewish people, God’s chosen people, had been unfaithful. They turned their back on God and fell into idol worship. They were exiled from the land. You would think that God would write them off but, in spite of their sins, he moves a pagan king to restore them to their land, and even rebuild their temple. God is rich in mercy indeed!

And this is what St. John tells us in the Gospel reading: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it. That’s reason for rejoicing. We are sinners we do wrong in many ways. Sometimes when a kid acts up, his mother might say: Wait until your father comes home. And when our father comes home we want to hide because there will be a reckoning.

Jesus is coming but he is coming in mercy, not to condemn us but to save us. Sometimes we blame God for bad things that happen to us: If I am a kid and I eat too much candy, I might get a stomach ache; or if I’m a grown-up and I drink too much beer I might get a headache and I think God is punishing me. God isn’t punishing you, you’re punishing yourselves. Our sins bring their own punishment and pain. God doesn’t want to punish us: he wants to save us, to heal us, to forgive us.

This is what St. John means when he says: 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.

It’s like a man who falls over a cliff and lands in the ocean. And he can’t swim. He’s thrashing in the water and someone up on the cliff sees what’s happened and throws down a rope; he yells at him telling him to grab onto the rope and he will pull him to safety. If the guy in the water refuses the rope, the lifeline, and drowns, it’s not the fault of the guy throwing him the rope. He condemns himself.

Today, we rejoice: God doesn’t want the sinner to die but to live; and he wants to save us from those punishments we inflict on ourselves when we sin. He offers us a lifeline: Jesus. Those who will be baptized at Easter vigil will have their sins washed away and, for us who are already baptized, Jesus forgives our sins in the Sacrament of Penance. (Remember next week all our parishes will have extended hours for confessions.)

God, rich in mercy, has offered us a lifeline: his son, Jesus. And throughout the Bible, God tries in different ways to convince us to grab onto the lifeline, to hold on to Jesus so that he can save us. That’s more than enough reason for us to rejoice.

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