Fourth Sunday of Lent
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.
Members remain standing while the Gospel is read. After the Gospel is read, members kiss the Gospel and are seated. After an appropriate period of reflection, members are invited to share their own lights from the Holy Spirit in relation to this Gospel passage. The secretary synthesizes reflections into a brief summary for the team.
(30 minutes) See monthly schedule
The Better Part
Consider privately reflecting on the corresponding chapter from The Better Part by Fr. John Bartunek, LC, ThD during the week.
“Sin which destroyed the divine life within us demands a satisfaction, an expiation without which it would be impossible for divine life to be restored to us. Being a mere creature, man cannot give this satisfaction for an offense of infinite malice, and, on the other hand, divinity can neither suffer nor expiate. How is this problem to be solved? The Incarnation gives us the answer. Consider the babe of Bethlehem. He is the Word-made-Flesh. The Word asks of us a human nature to find in it wherewith to suffer, to expiate, to merit, to heap graces upon us. It is through the flesh that man turns away from God; it is in becoming flesh that God delivers man. The flesh that the Word of God takes upon himself, is to become the instrument of salvation for all men.” Blessed Columba Marmion
Unit #246 – “Night Lines” – John 3:1-15
There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leading Jew, who came to Jesus by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who comes from God; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered: ‘I tell you most solemnly, unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said, ‘How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?’ Jesus replied: ‘I tell you most solemnly, unless a man is born through water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God: what is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be surprised when I say: You must be born from above. The wind blows wherever it pleases; you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’ ‘How can that be possible?’ asked Nicodemus. ‘You, a teacher in Israel, and you do not know these things!’ replied Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, we speak only about what we know and witness only to what we have seen and yet you people reject our evidence. If you do not believe me when I speak about things in this world, how are you going to believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven; and the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
“Eternal Trinity, you are like a deep sea, in which the more I seek, the more I find; and the more I find, the more I seek you.” St Catherine of Siena
Christ as Lord
Christ’s mission is universal. He was sent so that everyonewho believes in him may receive eternal life. Nicodemus was a leader of the Jewish nation, he would have known the Old Testament prophecies about the promised Messiah not only restoring the Kingdom of Israel, but also being a “light for the nations.” God had entrusted Israel with a universal mission to be the firstborn son of all the nations, a priestly people that would channel God’s blessings to all the other peoples of the world. Therefore, when Christ spoke of himself as the one sent to save the world, Nicodemus would have recognized the Messianic claim. All that remained was to accept it. We know from later passages that eventually he did accept it and became a secret disciple.
Nicodemus needed a large dose of faith to believe and live in accord with Christ’s claim. After all, at the time Jesus appeared to be nothing more than a rough and ready rabbi from Galilee. For us it should be much easier. Christ’s prediction that he would be raised up like Moses’ bronze serpent has come true. (When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, they were plagued by an infestation of poisonous serpents. To cure them, God had Moses make a bronze image of a serpent on a stick and hold it up; everyone who looked upon the image was saved.) In every corner of the globe the crucifix looks down upon mankind, and the entire world looks up at it. These looks of love fill thousands of churches, chapels, and classrooms, millions of living rooms and bedrooms. Christians are fingering their crucifix necklaces on subways and airplanes, in hospitals and army camps. Other fingers are touching it on innumerable rosaries, stirring lips and hearts to constant prayer. Truly, the universality of Christ’s claim has been verified by the unconquerable universality of his Church.
Christ the Teacher
Nicodemus was a member of Israel’s ruling body, the Sanhedrin. He had come to speak with Jesus in secret, to find out the truth about this controversial rabbi from Galilee. In their conversation, Jesus wins over his heart, such that, as we know from other passages, Nicodemus became an undercover disciple.
The Lord knew how to speak to the poor. He knew how to clothe the mysteries of God in language accessible to the humblest of workers, but he also knew how to reach out to those who were educated, sophisticated, and in charge. The gospel breaks through all boundaries of race, class, and rank. Christ’s wisdom is universal, just as his Church is Catholic (catholic means “universal”). No other message or body of doctrine is more worth studying through and through than the science of Christ. It is the fullness of truth, because Christ himself is Truth. It never stops satisfying every kind of thirst the soul can have, like a fountain that everyone in the city can go back to again and again and always be refreshed.
That the Church’s saints, religious, bishops, cardinals and popes have come and still come from every race, class, and rank continuously shows that it is carrying Christ’s unflagging, universal torch, a torch that every Christian should also carry.
Christ the Friend
Nicodemus was like so many of us. He was only able to take small, hesitant steps towards the Lord. Why? He hadn’t understood the depths of God’s love. He thought the Messiah was only coming to put the finishing touches on what had already been done throughout salvation history, when Christ’s true mission was the complete renewal of the human spirit.
This is still his mission; this is still his dream for every human heart.
His Spirit comes not only to heal our wounds, but to give us an entirely new birth, an entirely new life, not just once, but continually, until we are ready for heaven. It takes faith and trust to accept Christ’s agenda. At times, like Nicodemus we are tempted to stop at the whatever point we have already reached, to cling to the well-known comfort of our well-known world. But Jesus has more to give us, more to show us, more for us to do. He has more life for us to grow into. He has spoken to us of earthly things, and maybe we have learned his lessons well; now he wishes to speak to us of heavenly things.
Christ in my Life
Thank you for the gift of faith, Lord. You are the Savior of the world. You created this world, and when our sin cut it off from your friendship, you came down to live among us so you could win that friendship back. Make me like that. Make me generous. Make me eager to do good for my neighbor, to spread the soothing balm of goodness and understanding in this world that is so full of bitterness…
Your words are nourishment for my soul, and for every soul. The world is full of so many words, Lord. We are drowning in them. Yet, that doesn’t take away the value of your wisdom. Still today your Church speaks in your name to rich and poor, educated and uneducated, young and old. Give me a share of your wisdom too, so that I can plant seeds of faith with the words that come from my mouth…
I have known you for a long time, Lord, and you have given me so much. Yet, I feel as if I still need much more. How can it be that as I grow older, I feel a heightened need for your enlightenment and guidance? I want to be born yet again, to experience the freedom of mature virtue, the fruitfulness of flourishing love. With the knowledge of your heart, Lord, make my heart wise…
Questions for Discussion
1. What struck you most in this passage? What did you notice that you hadn’t noticed before?
2. How should our having been born again from above through baptism affect our daily living?
3. In the context of our lives, what would constitute a generous response to God’s generous offer of salvation in his only Son? In other words, for us right now, what does “believing in Jesus” really entail?
4. When popular culture mentions God, what characteristics does it usually highlight?