"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
March 18, 2012: The Fourth Sunday of Lent
2 Chronicles 36:14-23
Overview: The Old Testament readings for Lent highlight different stages in salvation history. This week’s first reading focuses on the Exile, one of the most important events in Israel’s history. In the sixth century B.C. Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians. The Temple was demolished along with most of the city, while its priests and nobility were either killed or taken away. The Exile was seen as punishment for Israel’s lack of faith and moral corruption.
The reading concludes on a hopeful note, however. It describes how Cyrus, king of Persia, ordered the rebuilding of the Temple, which foreshadows the true Temple that can never be destroyed: Jesus Christ (Rev 21:22). Salvation history culminates in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, who opens to us the life of grace.
In the second reading Paul explains how this life was imparted in baptism. Grace is God’s own life imparted to us through the sacraments and prayer. But it’s not for heaven only, for in baptism we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10).
This week’s Gospel features the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemas. In the first part of the discourse (not included in this week’s reading) Jesus talks about the necessity of being “born again” by water and the Spirit. In the second part Jesus explains that this new life can only come about when “the Son of Man is lifted up.
The cross is a “mystery” in the strict sense of the word: It is, in the words of Father Jeremy Driscoll, “a concrete something, within which a divine reality is contained.” The cross is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (1 Cor 1:20-25). But through the cross, God staked his claim on the world, not to condemn it, but to save it..
Key verse: “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” (John 3:14)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The coming of God’s kingdom means the defeat of Satan. Jesus’ exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus’ great victory over ‘the ruler of this world.’ The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ’s cross: ‘God reigned from the wood’” (No. 550).
Benedict XVI: “By raising our eyes towards the Crucified One, we adore him who came to take upon himself the sin of the world and to give us eternal life. And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified One for mankind, for every man and woman” (Homily, Sept. 14, 2008).
Life application: One of the first things one notices upon entering a typical Catholic Church is the crucifix. For many Protestants and unbelievers, the cross is a problem or at least a puzzle. But for us, it is the ultimate sign of God’s love. For Christ revealed the full extent of God’s love, conquered evil, and freed men from sin and death on the cross. Through it God “who is rich in mercy” showed “the great love he had for us … and the immeasurable riches of his grace” (second reading). No matter where we are, whenever we make the Sign of the Cross, we remind ourselves that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.”
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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