Fr. Paul's Homily
We have all seen the encounter or been there ourselves. The first grandchild has arrived and Grandma has the job of babysitting for the first time. She cannot wait to have her grandchild to herself for a whole evening. Sometime during the evening, grandpa peeks into the nursery where grandma is rocking the child. And grandma is saying to the infant, “You know, Grandma loves you soooooo much!” This is usually said with an exaggerated expression and big eyes!
“Grandma loves you so much!” It seems that when we are expressing love, that little word, “So”, is often used to give emphasis. And often times it is extended, so that many “O”s follow the “S”.
Today in our Gospel the little word, “So”, appears with God being like the grandma. What did God say? “God sooooo loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever should believe in him may not perish, but have eternal life.” If we can understand the love of a grandma, maybe we can get a glimpse of the love of God for us, the people of his world. Let’s talk about God’s Love.
In our first reading from the Old Testament Book of Chronicles, the focus at the beginning is not on God’s Love, but on the people of Israel in their infidelity. The sexual overtone to the word, “Infidelity” is not lost because in fact the Israelites have polluted the intimate love relationship with God by choosing to worship other gods. Even when God sent prophets to call the people back to Him, these were often ignored, mocked or killed. Finally, God allowed the enemy to conquer them and many were carried off into slavery in Babylon. But now, after seventy years in exile, God’s Grace and Mercy is felt by the Jewish people through Cyrus, the new ruler over the Babylonian Empire, who has declared that the Jewish slaves are free to return to Jerusalem and that he has agreed to help rebuild their Temple!
IN this story, God’s Love is given freely and undeservedly! In a sense, God cannot help himself since he loves his people sooooo much. St. Paul, in our second reading, says this in a slightly different way, “Brothers and sisters, God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us…brought us to life with Christ.” Why does God show mercy? Because of this great love that God carries in his heart for us.
Pastor Lee Strobel tells the beautiful story of a young woman who was being baptized in his church. He encouraged those being baptized to write a few of their sins on a piece of paper and nail the paper to a large wooden cross he had placed in the sanctuary, to emphasis that Christ died for their sins.
This young woman was scared to death to write her sin down. Taking a piece of paper, she wrote in the smallest letters possible, “Abortion,” and nailed in to the cross. She was scared to death that someone might read the paper and connect it with her. As she stepped toward the pastor for Baptism, she was so afraid that she would see condemnation on his face, but instead, as she looked at the pastor face she felt God saying to her, “I love you. It’s okay. You’ve been forgiven.” In her words, she said, “I felt so much love for me, a terrible sinner. It’s the first time I ever really felt forgiveness and unconditional love. It was unbelievable, indescribable.” God’s love heals, it never destroys.
In our Gospel we find the scripture that I quoted at the beginning. This is perhaps, the most quoted scripture in the New Testament, John 3:16. For many years there was a man at many NFL football games, with multi-colored hair that always held the sign, “John 3:16.” Do you remember this? Allow me to share those words again; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not parish, 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.”
You cannot love someone and condemn them at the same time! The stories of Jesus are filled with examples of him facing a sinner, but refusing to condemn them: 1) the woman caught in adultery when he said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Of course they all walked away, leaving Jesus to say to her, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more.” 2) Remember Samaritan woman at the well who had been married five times and was living with someone who was not her husband. Jesus did not condemn her but called her to new life! In neither example did Jesus condone the behavior, the sin. But he looked upon them with such compassion and love, that the door to new life was opened to them.
Jesus is God’s Love put in the flesh. He is the tangible sign of God’s Nature being expressed. The power of this love is fully expressed in the sacrificial act of dying on the cross for us. This is the key moment when God’s Love became certain for us.
Do you have moments when a sacrificial act confirmed the love of someone for another? Were you the giver or receiver? Often when I do the funeral of an elderly parent, the adult children will talk about the sacrificial love of a father or mother. Perhaps Dad worked three jobs to put the kids through Catholic education; or Mom’s total dedication to her children. Sacrificial love is often the proof that we are truly important in the eyes of another. “And God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
Recently I was speaking with a catholic school religion teacher and I asked, “How do you know that God loves you?” She responded, “Well, I know this through other people in my life; through nature around me; and through reflection upon myself and seeing God working in my life.” I image each of us could say the same thing. When you look at your life, is there a person who has been a true blessing from God for you? A person who makes God’s love feel more real and tangible?
Or, perhaps you are more of a nature person. Can you picture a place in nature where you feel the presence of God by just being there? Maybe you have a vacation area you always return to because it puts you in touch with God. Maybe you are a gardener and being in the midst of your flowers and plants is your personal cathedral.
Or, maybe you can look at yourself and see how God has slowly molded you, bringing you along, maybe even against your will. Maybe you can look back over the last 10 years and you can see how God has been there; helping, consoling, directing, healing, and enlivening your hearts. Maybe you have found in yourself a peace that had alluded you before.
This same religion teacher pointed out to me that when you take the three ways God’s Love is revealed…Self, Others, Nature, you will notice that the first letter of each spells the word, “SON”! The Son! Jesus is the Son of God and he remains the greatest sign that we are loved by God. “God so loved the world that whoever might believe in him, may not perish, but may have eternal life.”