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Dear Friends,

On Thursday of this week, March 18, 2021, the day after St. Patrick's Day, we will mark (not celebrate) the 1st anniversary of that first day when no public masses were to be celebrated in the church, a fast from the Eucharist that would last until June 15, 2020. There were other firsts, both before and after that date. The first known case of Covid 19, the first death, etc., etc. We mark all those dates with a sense of sadness, for those we lost, for those who suffered to stay alive, for those who lost livelihoods, and with a prayer for all those who still feel all those losses so deeply. I wrote in the bulletin at the time, "I pray the Lord fills you with a peace that comes from a faith in his presence in your lives and you draw strength from that to face every day, every challenge, every burden with renewed confidence."

As we mark these dates, we also look forward to the increase in the numbers of the vaccinated, to the return of jobs and the re-opening of so much of our lives. It will not be easy. It may never be complete and exactly the same. But life will get better, as sure as the spring will come, and with it, warmth, color and the sights, sounds and smells of living. Just today, the CDC announced that "fully vaccinated people can safely gather without masks or physical distancing." As this is true of ordinary life, so is it true of our spiritual lives. When we first began registering for Sunday Mass (for the purpose of contact tracing), the total count that Labor Day weekend was 461. For the last weekend of February, that count had risen to 749. As we approach Easter, I invite you to consider a return to in-person worship and the opportunity to receive the living Lord in the Eucharist. While it is not an exact number, we could probably fit 220 people in the church at each mass and we will continue to use registration so that we can continue to ensure contact tracing. The full Easter schedule will appear in next week's bulletin.

Now on to our scripture for the week. Though the football season is over, our Gospel reading always brings me back to football because the lead verse is one that can be seen on signs in the end zone at many a game. (Although not as frequently as in the past, it seems to me). And I've always wondered why at football games and not basketball games or hockey games? And if anyone can answer that for me, I would appreciate it. Of course, the sign is, John 3:16, and it refers to what has often been called the most popular verse in Scripture. "God so loved the world that he gave his only- begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Over the course of these last Sundays, especially in the 1st Readings, the Church has presented to us a series of covenants that God has made with His creation. On the 1st Sunday of Lent, it was with Noah, that God would not destroy the earth with flood waters again. On the 2nd Sunday, it was with Abraham, that God would make his descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. Last week it was with Moses and the whole Israelite community, in the form of the Ten Commandments, the Law) but, simultaneously, in last week's Gospel, God would make a new covenant in His Son, the Risen Christ, who would replace the Temple (symbol of that Law) and become, in his very Body, the New Covenant with the Father. And so, the Scripture readings were transitioning, from a focus on ourselves and our sins, to a focus on Jesus and what He has done for us for the forgiveness of those sins. This re-shifting is full-blown today. But we are not left out. In this dialogue with Nicodemus, we become interactive partners with Nicodemus, as Jesus invites us to make a choice for Him or against Him.

John 3:16 is certainly beautiful and comforting as it stands alone. But when we put it into the context of the whole episode with Nicodemus, the call to believe in Jesus involves so much more of us than the verse implies. In this usual way, John's words must be understood both for what they say and the symbolic message they transmit. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night, a recurring symbol in John of the darkness of mind and soul of the Jewish religion, a symbol of the lack of understanding and wisdom to see God at work in Jesus and a symbol of the power of the evil one (as later, when Judas leaves the supper in the night). This lack of understanding is made more specific in the earlier dialogue (not included in today's reading) when Jesus talks about being born again of water and the Spirit and Nicodemus can only think of crawling back into the womb. In a very direct way, Jesus challenges Nicodemus by asking him what kind of teacher of truth can he be if he does not understand these things. Only then do we come to the words of today's Gospel, as Jesus testifies to Nicodemus, and to us, God's purpose in sending His Son, with Jesus' own prediction-some will accept this and some will reject it.

Reading the whole passage, John 3:1-21, helps us to understand better the message the Church is trying to give us on this 4th Sunday of Lent. Here is the Good News, the reason we call this Laetare Sunday, the call to rejoice-God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. What will you do with it? Will you accept it, choose to live by it, and walk in the light? Or will you choose to reject it (if in actions and not specifically in words) and continue to walk in the darkness? More than half-way through Lent, what is your answer?

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the darkness. The Gospel doesn't explicitly say whether he left in the light, or was "born again." What would it say about you?

God Bless,
Fr. Ron

 

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