Have Mercy on Yourself, Because God Does

Fourth Sunday of Lent

2 Chronicles 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!”

Ephesians 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.

John 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.

Our theme today is: Have mercy on yourself, because God does. For the past three weeks, He’s challenged us to overcome our sloth, to take more responsibility in our prayer, and to root out poor language. If we’ve been with Jesus in the wilderness and facing our demons, we shouldn’t be exhausted, but should be tired. So, God wants you to rest.

St. Francis De Sales wrote, “It is sometimes necessary for us to relax both mind and body by some kind of recreation” (Introduction to the Devout Life, 31), and then tells a famous story about St. John the Apostle, who one day was seen by a hunter holding a bird and stroking it. The hunter was shocked that such a holy man was wasting his time on a useless activity. So, St. John asked, “Why don’t you always carry your bow taut?” The hunter replied, “If it were always bent… it would lose its spring.” The saint said, “Don’t be surprised then if I sometimes relax my close application and attention of mind a bit and enjoy a little recreation so that I may afterwards apply myself fervently to contemplation.”

Today, the Church is half way through her Lenten journey, almost at the Resurrection, and it’s a moment of joy. The fourth Sunday of Lent is called ‘Laetare’ Sunday, Latin for ‘Rejoice,’ because the first words of the Entrance Antiphon are: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.” Rose vestments are used because they’re a lighter, more joyful version of violet.

Here are four truths to receive from today’s Second Reading.

1) St. Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). St. John Paul II wrote an encyclical on God’s being ‘rich in mercy’ and said that Jesus is mercy itself (Dives in Misericordia, 2,2). Thus, if we want to understand mercy, look at Jesus’ actions. At the beginning of His ministry, He loved people who were suffering: He healed the blind, forgave sinners, reached out to the poor, etc.

That’s what mercy is: it’s the kind of love that meets suffering. For example, when a man and a woman fall in love, is that mercy? No. When I affirm someone, is that mercy? No. Why? Because there’s no suffering there. But when I cheer someone up, that’s mercy, because someone’s feeling down. Mercy is when love encounters suffering.

The Church expects that today we’ll be tired from our Lenten penances, and so offers us mercy. In the spiritual life there has to be a balance between giving and receiving. Lent has this balance: Sundays during Lent are not days of penance; they are days to relax the bow, so to speak, and receive mercy. But the other days during the week are days to face our demons. Six days for six weeks plus the four days starting on Ash Wednesday, and that gives us 40 days in the wilderness (Illustration). Thus, every Sunday, we’re supposed to rest! But that means on the other six days, work!

To be more specific, we should work for five and a half days, because Catholics follow the Jewish tradition of starting Sunday the night before with what’s called First Vespers.

http://thejustmeasure.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Lent-Calendar-Five-and-a-half-768×478.png

So, we should start having mercy on ourselves Saturday night. That’s why Sunday Mass is on Saturday night, and Christmas starts on Christmas Eve.

The whole liturgical calendar has this rhythm of giving and receiving. It has four levels of celebration: Ferial (meaning daily), memorial (remembering a saint), feast, and solemnity (meaning it’s solemn). Whenever there’s a solemnity during Lent, the Church asks us to rest and celebrate. This Friday is the solemnity of St. Joseph, so we can eat meat. March 25 is the solemnity of the Annunciation, so you should receive mercy those days. However, we can only appreciate these celebrations if we’re eager in our Lenten penances. If we’re slothful, these celebrations will mean nothing to us. So, the adage of rest hard, play hard applies in the spiritual life.

By the way, if some of you are thinking, “I gave up complaining or gossiping for Lent, so now I can do it again on Sundays,” no you can’t! Giving up a sin is a good action, but not a Lenten penance. We’re supposed to give up sin all the time.

2) St. Paul says, ‘God… out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive.’ What kind of death and life are we talking about here? Spiritual life. God loves us even when we’re spiritually dead. Perhaps we’ve committed mortal sins and haven’t been to Confession in a while, and the temptation is just to avoid Confession; we get used to being in a state of mortal sin. Today’s a reminder not to get complacent. God wants to bring us back to life—let’s receive this with soft hearts.

Now let’s say we’re in a state of grace, are we living the fullness of life? Because sometimes we who love Jesus don’t take care of ourselves. Jesus came to give life in abundance, so here are a few questions: Do we take care of our body? Do we sleep enough? How joyful are we? When we suffer, do we suffer well? Sometimes we suffer poorly, precisely because we’re not doing God’s will and renewing ourselves. Do we make time for true friendships, where there’s joy and virtue? Have mercy on yourself, because God does.

3) In the Reading, St. Paul uses the word grace three times: “For it is by grace you have been saved… So that in the ages to come God might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (5-8). The last part is the key: ‘This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.’ Grace just means a free spiritual gift. Theologians usually distinguish between two types (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06689a.htm).

First, sanctifying grace is what we just talked about: We’re in a state of grace, we’re in friendship with God, and His life is living within us—we don’t earn this, but it comes through our Baptism. We lose it when we commit mortal sins, that is, when we freely choose to do something gravely wrong, and we know it’s wrong. We regain sanctifying grace in Confession, and increase it through Holy Communion.

Second, actual grace is a “supernatural encouragement” (https://www.catholic.com/tract/grace-what-it-is-and-what-it-does). Archbishop Exner gave the best explanation I ever heard: Actual grace is the temptation to do the good. Everyone knows what temptation is like. So, sometimes we feel an urge to pray, read, apologize, rest, fast, reach out to someone, etc. These are all temptations, so to speak, to do what’s good.

Do we feel any actual graces today? Ask the question we posed on January 1: What’s on your heart? What’s the greatest good we could do today? Where do we desire to grow? How do we want to heal? Once we sense an impulse, receive the gift!

4) St. Paul writes, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (8-10). We are ‘created… for good works.’ This is the criterion for a good Sunday: Does it help us to love and perform good works?

In my first year of priesthood, I never watched TV, but one time I was so tired that I sat on the couch and vegged for 30 minutes. You know what happened afterwards? I felt like praying again! That was good recreation and what St. John the Apostle was talking about. If our Sundays and solemnities are truly days of mercy, we’ll be more spiritually generous the next day. For example, if we take a nap, read a book, or play board games with people, and afterwards, are tempted to love our family more, that’s good!

Watching YouTube, checking social media, and relaxing can be all good, but if we don’t feel more encouraged to resume our Lenten penances the next day, then we have to adjust the amount or the content, or eliminate it all together, at least for a time.

If our children are doing all these things and not growing in virtue and holiness, then cut it out.

You know a tree by its fruit. On January 3, I used the example of touching our hands behind our back as a measure of our physical flexibility, but most people forgot what was the measure of our spiritual health. It’s this: Evangelization (http://thejustmeasure.ca/2021/01/03/evangelization-helps-us-begin-again/). When I receive His mercy on Sundays, then I’m excited about evangelization, I want to tell the whole world about Jesus! If you’re having authentic mercy on yourself, you’ll be passionate about evangelization!

We end with a favourite quote from Pope Benedict XVI: “[Man] cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must… receive love as a gift… As the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow… Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ…” (Deus Caritas Est, 7,2)(http://thejustmeasure.ca/2019/07/07/we-become-what-we-celebrate/).

Source: The JustMeasure – Have Mercy on Yourself, Because God Does (http://thejustmeasure.ca/2021/03/14/have-mercy-on-yourself-because-god-does/)

Posted: March 14, 2021

Fr. Justin Huang

 
Fr. Justin grew up in Richmond, BC, the third of three brothers. Though not raised Catholic, he started going to Mass when he was 13. After a powerful experience of God’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he felt called to the Holy Priesthood at the age of 16.


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