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The Fourth Sunday of Lent [B]

First Reading II Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23
Second Reading Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel John 3:14-21

But whoever lives the truth comes to the light….

Light is one of the most obvious “facts” of the natural universe. Without the sun our planet couldn’t support life. During periods of the year with little sunlight, rates of depression go up. At the current time of year we “spring forward” and begin enjoying an extra hour of light each evening. Isn’t that one of the best things about summer, when we still have light outdoors after 9:00 p.m.? It’s not just the warmth of summer that we enjoy, but also the light. Light allows us to engage in outdoor activity. Light allows us to be active rather than dormant.

St. John the Evangelist in today’s Gospel passage comments at length upon something similar, but in a different sphere of life. In fact, today’s Gospel passage begins with only one sentence spoken by Jesus, while the remainder is the evangelist’s commentary. St. John describes moral activity in terms of light or its avoidance: “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light”. These words describe every Christian who is a sinner. During the Season of Lent, we need to be brutally honest about how often and in how many ways these words apply to us.

In the moral life, light symbolizes truth. In common English, when we say that someone fears his actions “coming to light”, we mean that someone fears the truth of his actions becoming known. Along this line, St. John explains that the sinner “does not come toward the light” so that his actions will not become known.

Yet we need to be mindful here of a distinction. Jesus distinguishes between “the light” and one’s “works” (that is, one’s actions or choices). We might be tempted to blur this distinction by remembering Jesus’ words during His Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. … Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven” [Mt 5:14:16].

Here Jesus is speaking about good works: works done in accord with the will of God the Father, who is “the Father of lights” [James 1:17]. St. John the Evangelist speaks in this vein in the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage, when He notes that “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” These words give us hope for the goal of becoming saintly persons. Yet to reach that goal, we have to confront the contrary reality: those works of ours that do not reflect the will of “the Father of lights”. A thorough Examination of Conscience can help us do so. More importantly, we need to reflect on our moral failings in a broader light: that of the spiritual life as a whole.

How does what St. John has to say about morality shed light on the whole of the spiritual life? Consider that, to the Romans, Jesus’ crucifixion was punishment for threatening their rule. To the Jews, Jesus’ crucifixion was ironic justice for a man who claimed to be their Messiah. But the Beloved Disciple saw infinitely more. He saw light in the darkness of Calvary. Jesus’ crucifixion was a two-fold icon. Just as Jesus is truly human and truly divine, so for St. John, Jesus’ crucifixion is the icon of God’s love for him, and the icon of St. John’s own vocation as a beloved disciple.

The icon of the crucifixion reveals the measure of God’s love for man, and in this, reveals God’s measure for man’s love for God. The two are one in Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. He calls us to enter that sacrifice at Holy Mass, so that we might make daily sacrifices through the strength of Jesus’ Eucharistic Sacrifice.