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A Summary of the Whole Gospel
The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B)
“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.” John 3:16
This Scripture passage from John’s Gospel is a familiar one. Oftentimes, at large public events such as sports games, we can find someone holding up a sign that says, “John: 3:16.” The reason for this is that this passage offers a simple but clear summary of the entire Gospel.
There are four basic truths that we can take from this Scripture. Let’s look at each of them in a brief way.
First, it’s made clear that the Father in Heaven loves us. We know this, but we will never fully comprehend the depth of this truth. God the Father loves us with a profound and perfect love. It’s a love that is deeper than anything else we could ever experience in life. His love is perfect.
Second, the Father’s love was made manifest by the gift of His Son Jesus. It is a profound act of love for the Father to give us His Son. The Son meant everything to the Father, and the gift of the Son to us means that the Father gives us everything. He gives His very life to us in the Person of Jesus.
Third, the only appropriate response we can make to such a gift is faith. We must believe in the transforming power of accepting the Son into our lives. We must see this gift as a gift that gives us all we need. We must accept the Son into our lives by believing in His mission and giving our lives to Him in return.
Fourth, the result of receiving Him and giving our lives in return is that we are saved. We will not perish in our sin; rather, we will be given eternal life. There is no other way to salvation than through the Son. We must know, believe, accept and embrace this truth.
Reflect, today, upon this summary of the entire Gospel. Read it over and over and memorize it. Savor every word and know that in embracing this short passage of Scripture, you are embracing the entire truth of God.
Father in Heaven, I thank You for the perfect gift of Christ Jesus, Your Son. By giving Jesus to us, You give us Your very Heart and Soul. May I be open to You more fully and to the perfect gift of Jesus in my life. I believe in You, my God. Please increase my faith and love. Jesus, I trust in You.
Faith in All Things
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” John 4:46–48
Jesus did end up healing the royal official’s son. And when the royal official returned to discover his son healed, we are told that “he and his whole household came to believe.” Some came to believe in Jesus only after He performed miracles. There are two lessons we should take from this.
First of all, the fact that Jesus performed miracles is a testimony to Who He is. He is a God of abundant mercy. As God, Jesus could have expected faith from those to whom He ministered without offering them the “proof” of signs and wonders. This is because true faith is not based upon external evidence, such as seeing miracles; rather, authentic faith is based upon an interior revelation from God by which He communicates His very self to us and we believe. Therefore, the fact that Jesus did signs and wonders shows just how merciful He is. He offered these miracles not because anyone deserved them, but simply because of His abundant generosity to help spark faith in the lives of those who found it hard to believe through the interior gift of faith alone.
With that said, it’s important to understand that we should work to develop our faith without relying upon external signs. Imagine, for example, if Jesus would have never performed any miracles. How many would have come to believe in Him? Perhaps very few. But there would have been some who came to believe, and those who did would have had a faith that was exceptionally deep and authentic. Imagine, for example, if this royal official did not receive a miracle for his son but, nonetheless, chose to believe in Jesus anyway through the transforming interior gift of faith.
In each one of our lives, it is essential that we work to develop our faith, even if God doesn’t seem to act in powerful and evident ways. In fact, the deepest form of faith is born in our lives when we choose to love God and serve Him, even when things are very difficult. Faith in the midst of difficulty is a sign of very authentic faith.
Reflect, today, upon the depth of your own faith. When life is hard, do you love God and serve Him anyway? Even if He doesn’t remove the crosses you carry? Seek to have true faith at all times and in every circumstance and you will be amazed at how real and sustaining your faith becomes.
My merciful Jesus, Your love for us is beyond what we will ever fathom. Your generosity is truly great. Help me to believe in You and to embrace Your holy will both in good times and in difficult ones. Help me, especially, to be open to the gift of faith, even when Your presence and action in my life seems silent. May those moments, dear Lord, be moments of true interior transformation and grace. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” John 5:5–6
Only those who have been crippled for many years could understand what this man endured in life. He was crippled and unable to walk for thirty-eight years. The pool he was laying next to was believed to have the power of healing. Therefore, many who were sick and crippled would sit by the pool and try to be the first to enter it when the waters were stirred up. From time to time, that person was said to have received a healing.
Jesus sees this man and clearly perceives his desire for healing after so many years. Most likely, his desire for healing was the dominant desire in his life. Without the ability to walk, he could not work and provide for himself. He would have had to rely upon begging and the generosity of others. Thinking about this man, his sufferings and his ongoing attempts for healing from this pool should move any heart to compassion. And since Jesus’ heart was one that was full of compassion, He was moved to offer this man not only the healing he so deeply desired but so much more.
One virtue in the heart of this man that would have especially moved Jesus to compassion is the virtue of patient endurance. This virtue is an ability to have hope in the midst of some ongoing and lengthy trial. It is also referred to as “longsuffering” or “longanimity.” Usually, when one faces a difficulty, the immediate reaction is to look for a way out. As time moves on and that difficulty is not removed, it’s easy to fall into discouragement and even despair. Patient endurance is the cure for this temptation. When one can patiently endure anything and everything they suffer in life, there is a spiritual strength within them that benefits them in numerous ways. Other little challenges are more easily endured. Hope is born within them to a powerful degree. Even joy comes with this virtue despite the ongoing struggle.
When Jesus saw this virtue alive in this man, He was moved to reach out and heal him. And the primary reason Jesus healed this man was not just to help him physically but so that the man would come to believe in Jesus and follow Him.
Reflect, today, upon this beautiful virtue of patient endurance. The trials of life should ideally be seen not in a negative way but as an invitation to patient endurance. Ponder the way you endure your own trials. Is it with deep and ongoing patience, hope and joy? Or is it with anger, bitterness and despair. Pray for the gift of this virtue and seek to imitate this crippled man.
My Lord of all hope, You endured so much in life and persevered through it all in perfect obedience to the will of the Father. Give me strength in the midst of the trials of life so that I can grow strong in the hope and the joy that comes with that strength. May I turn away from sin and turn to You in complete trust. Jesus, I trust in You.
Amazement and Awe
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
“Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed.” John 5:25–26
The most central and most glorious mystery of our faith is that of the Most Holy Trinity. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God yet three distinct Persons. As divine “Persons,” each one is distinct; but as one God, each Person acts in perfect union with the others. In today’s Gospel, Jesus clearly identifies the Father in Heaven as His Father and clearly states that He and His Father are one. For this reason, there were those who wanted to kill Jesus because He “called God his own father, making himself equal to God.”
The sad reality is that the greatest and most glorious truth of God’s inner life, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, was one of the primary reasons that some chose to hate Jesus and sought His life. Clearly, it was their ignorance of this glorious truth that drove them to this hatred.
We call the Holy Trinity a “mystery,” not because they cannot be known but because our knowledge of Who They are can never be fully understood. For eternity, we will enter deeper and deeper into our knowledge of the Trinity and be “amazed” on a continually deepening level.
One additional aspect of the mystery of the Trinity is that each one of us is called to share in Their very life. We will forever remain distinct from God; but, as many of the early Church Fathers liked to say, we must become “divinized,” meaning, we must share in God’s divine life through our union of body and soul with Christ Jesus. That union also unites us with the Father and the Spirit. This truth should also leave us “amazed,” as we read in the passage above.
As we continue to read this week from the Gospel of John and continue to ponder the mysterious and profound teaching of Jesus on His relationship with the Father in Heaven, it is essential that we not simply gloss over the mysterious language Jesus uses. Rather, we must prayerfully enter the mystery and allow our penetration of this mystery to leave us truly amazed. Amazement and transforming edification is the only good response. We will never fully understand the Trinity, but we must allow the truth of our Triune God to take hold of us and enrichen us, at very least, in a way that knows how much we do not know—and that knowledge leaves us in awe.
Reflect, today, upon the sacred mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Pray that God reveal Himself more fully to your mind and more completely consume your will. Pray that you will be able to share deeply in the life of the Trinity so that you will be filled with a holy amazement and awe.
Most holy and triune God, the love You share within Your very being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is beyond my comprehension. The mystery of Your triune life is a mystery of the greatest degree. Draw me in, dear Lord, to the life You share with Your Father and the Holy Spirit. Fill me with wonder and awe as You invite me to share in Your divine life. Most Holy Trinity, I trust in You.
Human or Divine Praise?
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
“How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” John 5:44
It’s quite normal and healthy for a parent to praise a young child for the good that they do. This healthy positive reinforcement is a way of teaching them the importance of doing good and avoiding what’s wrong. But human praise is not an infallible guide of what is right and wrong. In fact, when human praise is not based in the truth of God, it does great damage.
This short Scripture quote above comes from a lengthy teaching from Jesus about the difference between human praise and “the praise that comes only from God.” Jesus makes it clear that the only thing that has value is the praise that comes from God alone. In fact, earlier in this Gospel, Jesus says clearly, “I do not accept human praise…” Why is that?
Turning back to the example of a parent praising a child for the good they do, when the praise they offer is truly a praise of their goodness, then this is much more than human praise. It is praise from God given through a parent. A parent’s duty must be to teach right from wrong in accord with the will of God.
As for the “human praise” of which Jesus speaks, this is clearly praise of another that is void of the truthfulness of God. In other words, Jesus is saying that if someone were to praise Him for something that did not originate from the Father in Heaven, He would reject it. For example, if someone were to say of Jesus, “I think He would be a great governor of our nation because he could lead a revolt against the current leadership.” Obviously such “praise” would be rejected.
The bottom line is that we must praise one another, but our praise must only be that which originates from God. Our words must be spoken only in accord with the Truth. Our admiration must only be of that which is the presence of God alive in others. Otherwise, if we praise others based on worldly or self-centered values, we only encourage them in sin.
Reflect, today, upon the praise you give and receive. Do you allow misguided praise of others to misdirect you in life? And when you compliment and praise another, is that praise based on the Truth of God and directed to His glory. Seek to give and receive praise only when it is grounded in the Truth of God and directs all to His glory.
My praiseworthy Lord, I do thank You and praise You for Your perfect goodness. I thank You for the way that You act in perfect union with the will of the Father. Help me to listen only to Your voice in this life and to reject all the misleading and confusing voices of the world. May my values and choices be guided by You and You alone. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Greatness of Saint Joseph
Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary, March 19
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. Matthew 1:24
What is it that made Saint Joseph so great? He wasn’t immaculately conceived as our Blessed Mother was. He was not divine like Jesus. But he was the head of the Holy Family, its guardian and its provider. He became the legal father of the Savior of the World and the spouse of the Mother of God. But Joseph is not great only because he was given such incredible privileges. First and foremost, he was great because of the choices he made in life. Today’s Gospel refers to him as a “righteous man” and as a man who “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Thus, his greatness is primarily on account of his moral righteousness and obedience to the will of God.
Joseph’s obedience is especially seen in the fact that he obeyed the voice of God given to him in the four dreams recorded in Scripture. In his first dream, Joseph is told “do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20–21). In his second dream, Joseph is told, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13). In his third dream, Joseph is told, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead” (Matthew 2:20). And in his fourth dream, Joseph is warned to go instead to Galilee rather than Judea (Matthew 2:22).
When these dreams are read in succession, it is clear that Saint Joseph was attentive to the voice of God. We all have dreams, but Joseph’s dreams were different. They were clear communications from God, and they required a willing recipient. Joseph was open to the voice of God and listened in faith as that willing recipient.
Joseph also responded with complete submission and full determination. The commands Joseph received were not insignificant. His obedience required that he and his family travel great distances, take up residence in strange lands, and do so all in faith.
It’s also clear that Joseph took his vocation seriously. Pope Saint John Paul II gave him the title “Guardian of the Redeemer.” Over and over, he showed his unwavering commitment to his role as the guardian of his legal Son, Jesus, and of his wife, Mary. His life was spent providing for them, protecting them and offering them a father’s heart.
Reflect, today, upon the unique vocation of Saint Joseph. Ponder, especially, the early years of his marriage and the raising of Jesus. Consider his fatherly commitment to care for, provide for and protect his Son. We all must seek to imitate Saint Joseph’s virtues by protecting the presence of Christ within our own hearts, the hearts of our family and friends and in the world as a whole. Pray to Saint Joseph, asking him to help you follow his example so that the hidden presence of our Lord in our lives will grow and come to full maturation.
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To you God entrusted his only Son; in you Mary placed her trust; with you Christ became man. Blessed Joseph, to us too, show yourself a father and guide us in the path of life. Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen. (Prayer from Patris Corde, by Pope Francis)
In honor of the Year of Saint Joseph instituted by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, from December 8, 2020, to December 8, 2021, we offer the introduction to his Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” for your reflection. To read the full letter, click here.
WITH A FATHER’S HEART: that is how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all four Gospels refer to as “the son of Joseph”.
Matthew and Luke, the two Evangelists who speak most of Joseph, tell us very little, yet enough for us to appreciate what sort of father he was, and the mission entrusted to him by God’s providence.
We know that Joseph was a lowly carpenter (cf. Mt 13:55), betrothed to Mary (cf. Mt 1:18; Lk 1:27). He was a “just man” (Mt 1:19), ever ready to carry out God’s will as revealed to him in the Law (cf. Lk 2:22.27.39) and through four dreams (cf. Mt 1:20; 2:13.19.22). After a long and tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, he beheld the birth of the Messiah in a stable, since “there was no place for them” elsewhere (cf. Lk 2:7). He witnessed the adoration of the shepherds (cf. Lk 2:8-20) and the Magi (cf. Mt 2:1-12), who represented respectively the people of Israel and the pagan peoples.
Joseph had the courage to become the legal father of Jesus, to whom he gave the name revealed by the angel: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). As we know, for ancient peoples, to give a name to a person or to a thing, as Adam did in the account in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:19-20), was to establish a relationship.
In the Temple, forty days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary offered their child to the Lord and listened with amazement to Simeon’s prophecy concerning Jesus and his Mother (cf. Lk 2:22-35). To protect Jesus from Herod, Joseph dwelt as a foreigner in Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-18). After returning to his own country, he led a hidden life in the tiny and obscure village of Nazareth in Galilee, far from Bethlehem, his ancestral town, and from Jerusalem and the Temple. Of Nazareth it was said, “No prophet is to rise” (cf. Jn 7:52) and indeed, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (cf. Jn 1:46). When, during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary lost track of the twelve-year-old Jesus, they anxiously sought him out and they found him in the Temple, in discussion with the doctors of the Law (cf. Lk 2:41-50).
After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse. My Predecessors reflected on the message contained in the limited information handed down by the Gospels in order to appreciate more fully his central role in the history of salvation. Blessed Pius IX declared him “Patron of the Catholic Church”, Venerable Pius XII proposed him as “Patron of Workers” and Saint John Paul II as “Guardian of the Redeemer”. Saint Joseph is universally invoked as the “patron of a happy death”.
Now, one hundred and fifty years after his proclamation as Patron of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pius IX (8 December 1870), I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. For, as Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34). My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all”. Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all. (Continue reading>>>)
Attacks From the evil one
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.” So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.” John 7:46–49
Hopefully the Pharisees mentioned above went through a deep interior conversion before they died. If they did not, then their day of particular judgment would have been shocking and frightening to them. The greatest act of love ever known was God becoming one of us, being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, growing up in the household of Saint Joseph, and eventually beginning His public ministry by which the saving truth of the Gospel was proclaimed so that all may come to know God and be saved. And it was of this act of perfect love given to us by God that the Pharisees attacked and called those who believed in it “deceived” and “accursed.”
Though the Pharisees do not offer us much by way of inspiration, they do provide us with many lessons. In the passage above, the Pharisees model for us one of the most common tactics of the evil one. In his spiritual classic, The Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola explains that when a person is moving from a life of sin to a life of holiness, the evil one will attack in various ways. He will try to unsettle you and cause an undue anxiety about serving God, he will try to sadden you with an unexplained sorrow, put obstacles in your way of virtue causing you to feel overwhelmed and think you are too weak to live a good Christian life of virtue, and he will tempt you to lose your peace of heart by doubting God’s love or His action in your life. It seems clear that this attack by the Pharisees also has these goals.
Again, though this may not appear “inspiring,” it is very useful to understand. The Pharisees were vicious in their attacks, not only to Jesus but also upon anyone who began to believe in Jesus. They said to the guards who were impressed by Jesus, “Have you also been deceived?” This was clearly the evil one at work through them trying to intimidate the guards and anyone who dared believe in Jesus.
But understanding the tactics of the evil one and his messengers is of great value, because it helps us reject the lies and deceptions spewed out at us. Sometimes these lies come from individuals and are directed directly at us, and sometimes the lies are more universal, coming through the media, the culture and even the government, at times.
Reflect, today, upon the distasteful and bitter words of these Pharisees. But do so to help yourself understand the tactics the evil one often takes as you seek greater holiness in life. Be assured that the closer you get to God, the more you will be attacked. But do not be afraid. Identify any personal, social, cultural or even governmental attack for what it is. Have confidence and do not be deterred as you seek to follow Christ more completely every day.
My divine Judge of all, at the end of time You will establish Your permanent Kingdom of truth and justice. You will reign over all and will bestow Your mercy and justice on all. May I live fully in Your truth and never be deterred by the attacks and lies of the evil one. Give me courage and strength, dear Lord, as I always trust in You. Jesus, I do trust in Yo