Third Sunday in Lent – B

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“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.”

OPENING PRAYER

Prayer to St. Joseph by Pope St. Pius X

Glorious St. Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honor to employ and to develop by labor the gifts I have received from God, to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulty to work; above all, with purity of intention and unselfishness, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I have to render of time lost, talents unused, good not done, and vain complacency in success, so baneful to the work of God. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O patriarch St. Joseph! This shall be my motto for life and eternity.

COLLECT

O God, who through your Word

reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way.

Grant, we pray,

that with prompt devotion and eager faith

the Christian people may hasten

toward the solemn celebrations to come.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity

of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen

READING I

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2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23

In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people

added infidelity to infidelity,

practicing all the abominations of the nations

and polluting the LORD’s temple

which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers,

send his messengers to them,

for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.

But they mocked the messengers of God,

despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets,

until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed

that there was no remedy.

Their enemies burnt the house of God,

tore down the walls of Jerusalem,

set all its palaces afire,

and destroyed all its precious objects.

Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon,

where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons

until the kingdom of the Persians came to power.

All this was to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah:

“Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths,

during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest

while seventy years are fulfilled.”

In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia,

in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah,

the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia

to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom,

both by word of mouth and in writing:

“Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia:

All the kingdoms of the earth

the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me,

and he has also charged me to build him a house

in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people,

let him go up, and may his God be with him!”

APPLICATION

When this world of ours shall end and we shall see the complicated and multicolored tapestry that the history of men on earth has woven, we shall clearly recognize the hand of God putting the varied and intricate strands of that history into their proper place. “The old order changeth giving place to the new and God fulfills himself in many ways,” says the great poet Tennyson. Yes, even those who now think that they are running this world themselves, without any assistance or what they call interference, from God, will see who moved them–for his own long-distance purpose. The history of the Chosen People of the Old Testament is evident proof of God’s big part in the regulating of their world. He worked extraordinary miracles to bring them into Canaan, the land he promised Abraham. But on the way and during their sojourn there, again and again, he used their enemies, and his, in order to make them realize their dependence on him. God’s plan was that the future Messiah would come from his Chosen People in the land of Canaan, yet he allowed the northern tribes, because of their disloyalty, to lose all ownership of their part of the territory. As we saw in today’s reading, Judah (Benjamin) and Levi almost suffered the same fate. “Almost only,” for here God’s plan steps in. While they had to be punished for their infidelities, the punishment was to be a purification, they would be chastised. In later days, we see Cromwell of England and Bismarck of Germany unwitting doing more to spread the Catholic Church in the western continent than all the zealous Catholic missionaries who had gone there up to that time.

The history of the Christian era is no different. God’s Chosen People of the New Testament have often, been disloyal to him. They have often provoked his wrath, and God allows their enemies and probably his own enemies to purify and cleanse them. There have been times too When God allowed sinful despots to torture and kill innocent Christians for their own criminal motives, but out of the sufferings of his faithful ones God built a bigger and more loyal following. Nero, Caligula and Diocletian, for instance, sent more martyr saints to heaven than even the great Apostle St. Paul–saints, perhaps, who might otherwise not have got there.

What holds true of people and nations is true also in the life of each individual. God is working in our lives in a way that we do not always realize. He has an active interest in each one of us from the cradle to the grave. The devout Christian family which was ever loyal to God is suddenly deprived of the bread-winner, the mother of a young family is called away leaving a helpless father to face the difficult future. The young boy or girl in whom the parents had set their hopes and on whom they had spent much of their limited income, and most of their love, is stricken down as he or she graduates from college. These do not look like the doings of a loving and benevolent God when seen from our side of eternity. But when we shall see the tapestry of our life on the last day, we shall then see why such “misfortunes” had to happen. In fact, we shall see that they were blessings from God in disguise–someone or other of the actors in the scene would not have reached heaven had these so-called misfortunes not occurred in the family.

God is looking after us, he can write straight with “crooked” lines, the crookedness indeed is the result of our angle of view. When the whole picture is painted we shall see how necessary it was for our salvation that we should take the rough with the smooth. Fair-weather sailors are not fit for long and difficult voyages. Our journey to heaven is a long and often stormy voyage we need to be trained in dealing with storms if we are to arrive safely in the place that God has destined for us. While very often we can attribute the storms of life to the wickedness of evil neighbors or anti-religious governments, let us not forget it, God is using these crooked lines and these worldly agents to write for us that beautiful sentence: “well done, thou good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of the Lord.” So may it be for all of us!

RESPONSORIAL PSALM

Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6.

Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.

On the aspens of that land

we hung up our harps.

Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

For there our captors asked of us

the lyrics of our songs,

And our despoilers urged us to be joyous:

“Sing for us the songs of Zion!”

Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

How could we sing a song of the LORD

in a foreign land?

If I forget you, Jerusalem,

may my right hand be forgotten!

Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

May my tongue cleave to my palate

if I remember you not,

If I place not Jerusalem

ahead of my joy.

Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

READING II

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Eph 2:4-10

Brothers and sisters:

God, who is rich in mercy,

because of the great love he had for us,

even when we were dead in our transgressions,

brought us to life with Christ -by grace you have been saved-,

raised us up with him,

and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,

that in the ages to come

He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace

in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith,

and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;

it is not from works, so no one may boast.

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works

that God has prepared in advance,

that we should live in them.

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)

CCC 211 The divine name, “I Am” or “He Is”, expresses God’s faithfulness: despite the faithlessness of men’s sin and the punishment it deserves, he keeps “steadfast love for thousands”.1 By going so far as to give up his own Son for us, God reveals that he is “rich in mercy”.2 By giving his life to free us from sin, Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will realize that ”I AM“.”3

CCC 654 The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”4 Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace.5 It brings about filial adoption so that men become Christ’s brethren, as Jesus himself called his disciples after his Resurrection: “Go and tell my brethren.”6 We are brethren not by nature, but by the gift of grace, because that adoptive filiation gains us a real share in the life of the only Son, which was fully revealed in his Resurrection.

CCC 1003 United with Christ by Baptism, believers already truly participate in the heavenly life of the risen Christ, but this life remains “hidden with Christ in God.”7 The Father has already “raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”8 Nourished with his body in the Eucharist, we already belong to the Body of Christ. When we rise on the last day we “also will appear with him in glory.”9

CCC 1073 The liturgy is also a participation in Christ’s own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal. Through the liturgy the inner man is rooted and grounded in “the great love with which [the Father] loved us” in his beloved Son.10 It is the same “marvelous work of God” that is lived and internalized by all prayer, “at all times in the Spirit.”11

CCC 2796 When the Church prays “our Father who art in heaven,” she is professing that we are the People of God, already seated “with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” and “hidden with Christ in God;”12 yet at the same time, “here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling.”13

[Christians] are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their lives on earth, but are citizens of heaven.14

1 Ex 34:7.

2 Eph 2:4.

3 Jn 8:28 (Greek).

4

5 Cf. Eph 2:4-5; I Pt 1:3.

6 Mt 28:10; Jn 20:17.

7 Col 3:3; cf. Phil 3:20.

8 Eph 2:6.

9 Col 3:4.

10 Eph 2:4; 3:16-17.

11 Eph 6:18.

12 Eph 2:6; Col 3:3.

13 2 Cor 5:2; cf. Phil 3:20; Heb 13:14.

14 Ad Diognetum 5: PG 2, 1173.

APPLICATION

The holy season of Lent ends with the great drama of the “Triumph of Failure” on Calvary. On that first Good Friday the Son of God as man died the most shameful and painful death on the cross. He did so that we men might live forever. It is, therefore, most fitting that in our preparation during Lent for the worthy commemoration of that world-shaking event, we should be reminded of the immense and almost incredible love of God for us which caused this to happen. Think on it as we may, and meditate on it as often as possible, we could still never fathom the depths of pure, unalloyed love which made God go to such lengths for our sakes. But we can see and understand enough of that divine love to make us utter frequently a heartfelt and sincere “thank you” to our heavenly Father.

Having created us and having given us the intellectual gifts which raise us above all other created things on earth, God could have left us in that natural state. We could have a certain amount of happiness, mixed with suffering of course, and we should be grateful for this, but could we really have any true happiness, any real contentment in a life which moved irrevocably and swiftly toward its eternal end in the grave? The merciful and loving Creator saw this before he ever created us. We were never intended for a mere natural life on this earth. The special faculties that he intended giving us deserved and, one could say, almost demanded something immensely greater than a few fleeting years of joy mixed with sorrow on this little planet. Therefore, our loving Creator ordained from eternity that we should share his eternal happiness with him.

That God could have found many ways of doing this, there is no sound reason to doubt, but the way he chose–the uniting of our human nature with the divine in his incarnate Son—was surely the way that expressed his true and fatherly love in the most emphatic manner possible. This is what our heavenly Father has done for us. He did so, as St. Paul says today: ” out of the great love with which he loved us.” The superior intellectual faculties which he gave man in creation can now have, as their object, infinite love and happiness, infinite truth and beauty. Multiply any earthly joy and happiness you have ever experienced, by infinity (if that can be done) and you have some vague idea of what your future life in heaven will be.

To help us appreciate how privileged we are–God’s friends on our way to God’s home–let us think often during Lent of our unfortunate neighbors, who have no such faith, no such hope, no such consolation in their day after day struggles. This may be their own fault or that of their parents or grandparents, but it matters not who is responsible, these neighbors of ours were created for heaven, God wants them there and unless they get there, their life on earth has been a dreadful failure. We can help them in many ways and if we really appreciate all that God has done and is doing for ourselves, we will gladly do a little bit for him in return, by assisting his prodigal sons on the road back to their Father. This act of true charity toward our fellowman in need will not impede us on our journey to heaven. It will be an immense help to keep us closer to God and more faithful to our Christian calling. A very special additional joy for us in our eternal life will be to have with us in heaven those whom we helped to bring there with us.

GOSPEL

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Jn 3:14-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,

so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

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.

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.

And this is the verdict,

that the light came into the world,

but people preferred darkness to light,

because their works were evil.

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light

and does not come toward the light,

so that his works might not be exposed.

But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,

so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031118-year-b.cfm

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)

CCC 219 God’s love for Israel is compared to a father’s love for his son. His love for his people is stronger than a mother’s for her children. God loves his people more than a bridegroom his beloved; his love will be victorious over even the worst infidelities and will extend to his most precious gift: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”1

CCC 444 The Gospels report that at two solemn moments, the Baptism and the Transfiguration of Christ, the voice of the Father designates Jesus his “beloved Son”.2 Jesus calls himself the “only Son of God”, and by this title affirms his eternal pre-existence.3 He asks for faith in “the name of the only Son of God”.4 In the centurion’s exclamation before the crucified Christ, “Truly this man was the Son of God”,5 that Christian confession is already heard. Only in the Paschal mystery can the believer give the title “Son of God” its full meaning.

CCC 458 The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God’s love: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”6 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”7

CCC 678 Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching.8 Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light.9 Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned.10 Our attitude to our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.11 On the Last Day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”12

CCC 679 Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son”.13 Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself.14 By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.15

CCC 706 Against all human hope, God promises descendants to Abraham, as the fruit of faith and of the power of the Holy Spirit.16 In Abraham’s progeny all the nations of the earth will be blessed. This progeny will be Christ himself,17 in whom the outpouring of the Holy Spirit will “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”18 God commits himself by his own solemn oath to giving his beloved Son and “the promised Holy Spirit. .. [who is] the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.”19

CCC 1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.20 Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful:21

Whoever confesses his sins. .. is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear “man” – this is what God has made; when you hear “sinner” – this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. .. When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.22

CCC 2130 Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.23

1 Jn 3:16; cf. Hos 11:1; Is 49:14-15; 62: 4-5; Ezek 16; Hos 11.

2 Cf. Mt 3:17; cf. 17:5.

3 Jn 3:16; cf. 10:36.

4 Jn 3:18.

5 Mk 15:39.

6 I Jn 4:9.

7 Jn 3:16.

8 Cf. Dan 7:10; Joel 3-4; Mal 3: 19; Mt 3:7-12.

9 Cf Mk 12:38-40; Lk 12:1-3; Jn 3:20-21; Rom 2:16; I Cor 4:5.

10 Cf. Mt 11:20-24; 12:41-42.

11 Cf. Mt 5:22; 7:1-5.

12 Mt 25:40.

13 Jn 5:22; cf. 5:27; Mt 25:31; Acts 10:42; 17:31; 2 Tim 4:1.

14 Cf. Lk 21:12; Jn 15:19-20.

15 Cf. Jn 3:17; 5:26. 588 Cf. Jn 3:18; 12:48; Mt 12:32; I Cor 3:12-15; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-31.

16 Cf. Gen 18:1-15; Lk 1:26-38. 54-55; Jn 1:12-13; Rom 4:16-21.

17 Cf. Gen 12:3; Gal 3:16.

18 Cf. In 11:52.

19 Eph 1:13-14; cf. Gen 22:17-19; Lk 1:73; Jn 3:16; Rom 8:32; Gal 3:14.

20 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1680; CIC, can. 988 # 2.

21 Cf. Lk 6:36.

22 St. Augustine, In Jo. ev. 12, 13: PL 35, 1491.

23 Cf. Num 21:4-9; Wis 16:5-14; Jn 3:14-15; Ex 25:10-22; 1 Kings 6:23-28; 7:23-26.

APPLICATION

This man Nicodemus had a half-open mind as regards Jesus. He was moved by his teaching and miracles. He defended him when his companions were out to have Jesus arrested. He helped to have him properly buried when his enemies had him put to death, but that was as far as he went, apparently. There is no mention of him in the first Christian community of Jerusalem. What held him back, what kept him from giving himself fully to Jesus who spoke so kindly and told him so clearly that he himself was indeed a teacher who had come from God, that he had been offered by God as the sacrificial victim who would save the world? All Nicodemus had to do was to accept his word, “believe in him” and be baptized and he too would have eternal life.

Why did he not do this? The answer is given in the beginning of his story: “He came to Jesus by night.” He was one of the leading Pharisees and evidently was afraid of what they would think of him had they seen him associating with Jesus. How much more so did he dread what their reactions would be had he become a follower of him whom they called “this impostor.” Nicodemus had only half of his mind open to the truth, the other half was closed and barred by his fear of what his own class–the leaders of the Jews–would think of him. He risked his own future happiness in order not to lose the present respect of his sinful associates.

What a foolish man we would all say! Yet, are not many of us often like Nicodemus, when it comes to living up to our following of Christ? There are Catholic men who would like to, and should, go much more often to Holy Communion but are afraid of what their fellow-parishioners, who receive but rarely, would think of them. There are many, far to many, Christians who will not defend or stand up for their religion when it is insulted and attacked in their place of work or in a saloon. There are Christians who stand idly by, and give at least implied, approval, when grave injustices are being carried out by individuals or by local or national groups. These and many more like them are Christian types of Nicodemus, who through fear of losing the approval, the worthless esteem, of their sinful associates, are prepared to forfeit the esteem of God and their own eternal welfare.

Nicodemus probably thought he had made reparation for his lack of openness to Jesus when he assisted at his burial. What value, however, had that work of mercy for one of his frame of mind? There are amongst us today, humanists, most of them ex-Christians, men and women who make assisting their neighbor, while excluding Christ and God, the essence of religion. While the, assistance the neighbor receives will benefit him materially, what spiritual or religious value can it have for the humanist who excluded God and our Savior Jesus Christ? Humanism or concentrating on our neighbor to the exclusion of God, is an imitation of religion and a very false imitation at that. Helping our neighbor because he is a son of God is part of our true religion, and the second of the two great commandments of love; but helping a neighbor from whom we have effaced the image of God has not and cannot have any religious value or significance whatever. It is as meaningless as lighting a candle before the photograph of a wife one has deliberately deserted.

Thank God, we have accepted Christ with our whole heart and our whole mind. It is through him that we have been made sons of God. It is through him that we have learned to love God and learned of God’s infinite love for us. Because all men are God’s sons also, and our brothers in Christ, we will gladly help them whenever and wherever we can because God has commanded us to do so. This is true humanism which sees in the neighbor the workmanship of the almighty Creator, and what is more important the elevating effects of the divine Savior, as well.

Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission from Franciscan Press.

BENEDICTUS

We are Meant to Rely on Receiving

Man is redeemed by the cross; the crucified Christ, as the completely opened being, as the true redemption of man – this is the central principle of Christian faith… in the last analysis of man, it expresses the primacy of acceptance over action, over one’s own achievement… Accordingly, from the point of view of the Christian faith, man comes in the profoundest sense to himself not through what he does but through what he accepts. He must wait for the gift of love, and love can only be received as a gift. It cannot be “made” on one’s own, without anyone else; one must wait for it, let it be given to one. And one cannot become wholly man in any other way than by being loved, by letting oneself be loved. That love represents simultaneously both man’s highest possibility and his deepest need, and that this most necessary thing is at the same time the freest and the most unenforceable means precisely that for his “salvation” man is meant to rely on receiving. If he declines to met himself be presented with the gift, then he destroys himself. Activity that makes itself into an absolute, that aims at achieving humanity by its own efforts alone, is in contradiction with man’s being… The primacy of acceptance is not intended to condemn man to passivity; it does not mean that man can now sit idle. On the contrary. It alone makes it possible to do the things of this world in a spirit of responsibility, yet at the same time in an uncramped, cheerful, free way, and to put them at the service of redemptive love.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

CLOSING PRAYER

O gracious Master, infuse in our hearts the spotless light of Your Divine Wisdom and open the eyes of our mind that we may understand the teachings of Your Gospel. Instill in us also the fear of Your blessed commandments, so that having curbed all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life, both thinking and doing everything to please You. For You, O Christ, our God, are the enlightenment of our souls and bodies; and to You we render glory, together with Your eternal Father, and with Your all holy, life-creating Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Please pray for the Catechumens and Candidates as they prepare for the sacraments this Easter

Father of love and power,

guide our catechumens and candidates in the days and weeks ahead:

strengthen them in their vocation,

build them into the kingdom of your Son,

and seal them with the Spirit of your promise,

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

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About Benedicamus Domino

Let Us Bless The Lord - A Benedictine oblate's weekly study of the Catholic Church's Sunday Sacred Liturgy. I hope that families and friends will benefit from this as a prayerful way to prepare and actively participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
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