Sunday, March 22, 2009

God Loves Us Just As We Are—But Too Much To Let Us Stay That Way!

(Fourth Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on March 22, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 2 Chronicles 36: 14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2: 4-10; John 3: 14-21.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Lent 2009]

I begin today with two questions for the parents in the congregation. (Those of you who are not parents can imagine what your responses would be if you were.)

Question #1: Do you love your children just as they are?

I hope your response to that question is a resounding Yes!—because if you say no, you’re indicating that the love you have for your children is conditional. You’re implying that they have to do something or become something or pass some kind of test in order to earn your love.

Most parents that I know, thankfully, do not put those kinds of conditions and restrictions on the love they have for their sons and daughters. They love their children, even when their children ignore them or disappoint them or hurt them or rebel against them.

One of the best examples of this phenomenon in the Bible is the Old Testament story of David and Absalom. David, of course, was the second and greatest king of the nation of Israel; Absalom was one of his sons.

He was also an ambitious young man (in the worst sense of that term). He wanted to be king himself, so he hatched a plot against his dear old dad. He got a number of people to follow him; he put together a substantial army; at one point he even drove his father out of the capital city of Jerusalem. His ultimate intention was to kill David, but unfortunately for Absalom one of David’s soldiers killed him first.

Now what’s extremely interesting is the way the Bible describes David’s reaction to his wayward son’s death. In 2 Samuel 19, verse 1, we read the following: “The king was shaken, and went up to the room over the city gate to weep. He said as he wept, ‘My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!”

Say what, David? This boy that you’re crying for was hunting you down like you were some kind of wild animal; he wouldn’t have thought twice about killing you with a sword or with his bare hands—and this is your reaction to his death?

Well, of course it was! David loved his child unconditionally! He didn’t love what his son had done, but he did love his son.

And so it is with most parents—thanks be to God!

Which brings us to question #2: If you love your children just as they are, are you content to let them stay that way?

In this case, I hope your answer is a resounding No! David loved Absalom just as he was, but I’m sure that if David had been given the chance, he would have done everything in his power to change his son for the better!

And so it is with all good parents. They love their children just as they are—but too much to let them remain in their present condition!

Which is exactly how God loves us—except that his love is infinitely greater than the love of even the very best parents here on earth!

As Dr. Scott Hahn of the Franciscan University of Steubenville has often said, “God loves us just the way we are, but too much to let us stay that way.”

This truth is revealed in each of our Scripture readings today, most notably the gospel, where Jesus utters those famous words, “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.”

This is a text, incidentally, that we need to take personally—very personally. I say that because there are many baptized Catholics walking around today who don’t believe that God really loves them, or that he’s concerned with them and their day-to-day problems. They say things like, “God knows all the bad I’ve done in my life; how could he possibly love me?” or “God has the whole universe to run; he doesn’t have time to be bothered with little old me.”

When Jesus says “world” in this text he means “each and every individual who has existed or does exist or will exist until the end of time”—which, of course, includes you and me!

So when we read this passage we should not only think of the human race in an abstract way, we should also think of ourselves individually: “For God so loved ME that he gave his only Son, so that if I believe in him I might not perish but might have eternal life.”

If you’re one of those people I spoke of earlier who doesn’t believe this, then please pray today for the grace to do so—because believing this truth can change your life.

And lest we think that we have to earn God’s love in some way, the Holy Spirit has given us this second reading from Ephesians 2, where we hear these words (listen to them carefully): “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.”

God loves us just as we are: according to this text even when we are dead in our transgressions! This means that God loves us when we’re in the state of mortal sin every bit as much as he loved someone like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta when she was at her holiest!

But, of course, he loves us much too much to let us remain in our sin! And so, he’ll do whatever he can to bring us to conversion. He’ll even allow us to suffer, as good parents will sometimes allow their children to suffer so that they will become better people.

Boys and girls, that’s why your parents sometimes send you to your room or take away your privileges. It’s because they care!

This is where our first reading from 2 Chronicles 36 comes into the picture. As you will recall, that passage starts off by telling us how many of the Lord’s Old Testament children in Judah were “adding infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”

Not only that, they even attacked the prophets God sent to them to get them back on the right path.

So what happened?

Very simply, God allowed them to suffer; he allowed them to experience the negative consequences of the evil they were doing.

He did that because he loved them so much! He did that becuase HE KNEW THAT IT WOULD EVENTUALLY BRING THEM TO REPENTANCE AND CONVERSION!

As it says in the text, he allowed the Babylonians to conquer them, destroy their temple and carry them off into exile for 50 years—after which the psalmist wrote the sorrowful words of today’s responsorial psalm: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion.”

This is something we all need to try to remember whenever we’re going through a difficult trial—which for some of us might be every day. God allows suffering in our lives for the same reason he allowed it in the lives of his chosen people in the Old Testament: He allows it for the sake of a greater good.

And there’s no greater good than our conversion and eternal salvation.