The fourth Sunday in Lent is traditionally called “Laetare Sunday,” meaning, “the Sunday of rejoicing.” We rejoice not because we’re “halfway” finished with the holy season of Lent and, thus, coming closer to completing our penitential practices! No, we rejoice on the fourth Sunday in Lent because our penitential practices have made it possible for us to recognize a bit more clearly than we did at the beginning of the season of Lent the great mystery of grace that God has given us in the gift of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Fasting and abstaining from some of the things we enjoy and listening to Jesus as he teaches in the Sunday gospels of this season have reminded us about how utterly dependent we are upon God’s grace―the light of Christ―if we are to bring to fulfillment the good intentions we have. Let’s face the facts as we know them from our own experience: left to our own devices, we are utterly incapable of doing all of the good things we hope to do and have every intention of accomplishing.
Yesterday, I dropped off some yard tools that I had borrowed from a friend. During very short time I was at my friend’s house, I spied the family members engaging in “Spring cleaning” activities. The father was doing yard work―raking up the leaves that had accumulated―while his wife and daughters were removing and cleaning the upstairs storm windows, all in preparation for storing the storm windows and installing screens.
Driving home, I thought about how I kept my front storm door clean during the winter months so that the morning and afternoon sun could brighten and warm the entryway…and save on the heating bill, too. I also thought about how the sunlight couldn’t do that when the front door was closed. While a clean storm window admits sunlight―making the inside warm and bright―a front door blocks the sunlight, leaving the inside cold and dark. While the power of sunlight is equally the same, what the sunlight can effect inside the house―be it warmth and brightness or cold and darkness―is entirely dependent upon the medium that the sunlight must pierce.
Discipleship is about being a clean window which admits God’s saving grace―the light of Christ―into one’s life and world. And, that is why we rejoice on this fourth Sunday of Lent, because the light of Christ has pierced into our souls and God’s grace is better able to transform our lives and our world, tainted as both are by the effects of our self-chosen sin.
God gave us this great gift free of cost. We can’t earn it and we can’t escape it. God’s grace is simply ours to have, whether we want it or not. It’s there for the taking. And, by accepting God’s grace, we allow the light of Christ to brighten and to warm our souls, just as sunlight brightens and warms a house, even on a cold winter day. We lead our lives with a higher purpose in mind, namely, by giving honor to God and to Jesus.
For those of you who have seen Saving Private Ryan, this was the moral lesson at the heart of Steven Spielberg’s movie.
The movie begins as James Ryan, a World War II veteran, visits a grave in a military cemetery overlooking Normandy beach. During the war, Ryan was a private whose three brothers had been killed in action. To spare Ryan’s mother the death of her last son, a soldier by the name of Captain Miller led his platoon to the front lines where Ryan was located. The platoon’s mission was to find and save Private Ryan and to bring him back so that he could be sent home.
One by one, several of the soldiers in Captain Miller’s platoon were killed in successive battles. Finally, the survivors find Private Ryan. But, another deadly battle ensues and, after it subsides, Private Ryan finds Captain Miller mortally wounded. With his last breath, the Miller tells Ryan, “Kid, earn this. Earn this.”
What Captain Miller was telling Private Ryan was that he is obligated to lead his life in a way that gives honor to those who sacrificed their lives in order to save Private Ryan’s life. The Captain’s last wish was that the sacrifice made by the members of his platoon would be worth the ultimate price they paid to ransom Private Ryan’s life.
In the movie’s final scene, the now-elderly Ryan has traveled to Normandy with his wife and family and he has raced ahead of them to find Captain Miller’s grave. Upon discovering the grave after so many years, Ryan begins to pray, telling Captain Miller how he has tried his best to lead a good life so as to give honor to those who sacrificed their lives for his. When Ryan’s wife catches up to him, he is crying and asks his wife to tell him that he has led a good life. In this poignant scene, Ryan has fully recognized the sacrifice that others had made on his behalf. But, what Ryan needed to know was that his life had brought them honor.
God’s saving grace―the light of Christ―is very much like this. Private Ryan never asked to be relieved from his duty on the battlefield nor did he ask to be sent home. He was completely unaware that others were dying in order to save him. For our part, none of us ever asked God to send His only begotten Son to save us. Nor has any one of us ever asked Jesus to sacrifice his life for us. But God did send His Son and Jesus did offer his life for ours. These freely given gifts have opened for us the possibility that we might experience God’s saving grace and once again enjoy the fullness of life that God originally breathed into us when he created us as His beloved sons and daughters.
We have not nor can we ever “earn” this great gift because God has already given it to us. We can, however, cherish this gift and we can allow its power to enlighten and warm our souls. Private Ryan―saved from a probable death at Normandy through the death of others he did not know and who did not know him―recognizes the powerful impact their sacrifice has had upon his life. And, as this realization hits Ryan square between the eyes, he is reduced to tears.
As we realize the sacrifice God has made by sending His only begotten Son to our world and the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, we should also be brought to tears. After all, why would God send his only begotten Son so that sinful humanity could bludgeon him? Why should Jesus have made such a tremendous sacrifice? He was an innocent man; every charge against him was trumped up, based solely upon hearsay and the twisting of words and molding of public opinion. As the spin doctors of Jesus’ day weaved their stories, they portrayed Jesus as a man motivated not by love of God but, rather, by the allure of evil. Jesus had ample opportunity to back down, to recant what he taught, or to change his story and, of course, to save his life. But, Jesus didn’t do this, even when he knew it meant for certain that he would pay the ultimate cost. Jesus chose to say his course and to be killed in action on our behalf.
Was Jesus’ sacrifice worth it?
As Jesus’ disciples, our tears transform into rejoicing, especially on this fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. For nearly four weeks―and to the degree that we have made real sacrifices through self-mortification―we have struggled valiantly―through perhaps with some failures along the way due to our fallen nature―to renew our relationships with God and one another. Because of this effort, we rejoice today because we are now realizing―perhaps more deeply in our souls than ever―that, as we love God and neighbor as we love ourselves, we give honor to God for the gift of His only Son and we also give honor to Jesus, who sacrificed his life on the Cross for us.
More complete and selfless love of God and neighbor…this is how we demonstrate to God and Jesus that we were worth the sacrifice.
Does today’s homily raise any
question(s) that you would like