TEXT: 4th Sunday of Lent, March 11, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 11, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today is Laetare, or “rejoice”, Sunday,

which comes from the opening antiphon at the beginning of Mass

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.

Be joyful, all who were in mourning….”

But these joyful words stand in stark contrast

to the sad words of today’s responsorial psalm:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”
These words from today’s psalm, these words of mourning and lamentation,

are almost 2600 years old.

But in a sense, they are timeless: they belong to every age,

from the time of Adam and Eve, even till today.


This psalm was probably written during the Babylonian Captivity of Israel,

sometime between the year 586 and 538 B.C.

We read about this in the first reading:

“Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon,

where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans

and his sons.”

In 586, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, attacked and conquered Judea

and in the process destroyed Jerusalem—which is also called Zion

—and in particular, he leveled the Temple located in Zion.

And when he left Jerusalem he took almost all

of the educated and noble Jews, including the priests and scribes,

back with him to Babylon,

leaving only the poor and uneducated Jews behind.

In effect the Jewish nation was destroyed.


And so you can see how the exiles would mourn

and long for a return to their home.

But it wasn’t only their home they missed:

they missed the Temple of Jerusalem, which was God’s home.

As the 1st reading today reminds us:

“the LORD’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem …

[was] His dwelling place.”


The thing is, they knew that their exile was a punishment for their sins.

But now, how could they be reconciled to God,

since they couldn’t go into his Temple,

and worship the way He demanded?

And so, they sing not only of weeping as they remember their home,

but they mourn specifically because, as the psalm says:

“How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?”

How can they worship God where He does not live?

And all of this, because they sinned.



But as I said, this psalm really belongs to every age,

because it is a psalm lamenting sin and the consequences of sin:

lamenting the loss of our home with God because of sin.

So it belongs to all men, back to the age of Adam and Eve,

because by their sin they lost their home in God’s paradise,

and since then all of us, their sons and daughters,

have longed to return to that home.


But as we read in today’s 2nd reading: “God…is rich in mercy.”

And He would not abandon man to his sins,

and so He has, from the beginning had a plan to bring man home to him.

Of course, this plan began with the establishment of a special people,

His very own “chosen people,”

from whom would come forth the savior of the whole human race.

And so this song of lamentation for the home lost by sin

belongs particularly to Abraham and his ancient descendents

—the Israelites, the Jewish people of ancient times.


But even though they were the people whom God had chosen

to bring about the reconciliation of all men to himself,

the Israelites themselves repeatedly broke their own covenant with God,

and suffered for their sins—even to the point of loosing their home.


We see this, perhaps most dramatically in the Babylonian exile

that we read about today.

For almost 700 years they had lived under the law of Moses:

the explicit instructions given by God to Moses,

by which He taught them like a caring and patient father

exactly how to live with and love each other,

and how to love and worship Him.

But time and time again they broke His commandments and laws,

and they worshipped him with false acts of piety.

As today’s 1st Reading tells us:

“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.”

Time and time again He punished them for their sins

–sometimes by great defeats in battle,

sometimes by having to flee from their enemies.

And finally, about 600 years after Moses died, He allowed the Babylonians

to conquer them and take them from their home in Zion.



But while their captivity in Babylon lasted only about 50 years,

the Hebrews would never really fully regain their home.

Because after the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon

and sent the Jews back to Zion,

they still remained subjects of the Persian King.

And when the Persians were defeated by the Greeks,

the Jews became subjects of the Greeks,

And when the Greeks were defeated by the Romans,

they became subjects of the Romans.


So we come to the time in the history of the world, about 540 years later,

a time which the Gospels refer to as “the fullness of time”:

the days when Caesar Augustus ruled

almost all of Western Europe, northern African and the middle East,

and his friend Herod the Great was his vassal king in Judea,

headquartered in Jerusalem.

The dwelling place on earth of the Most High

was held captive by pagans from Rome,

so that Christians of the 1st century would call Rome the new “Babylon.”

And so the people of that age also cried out in song:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”


But God would still not abandon man to his sin.

As He had promised Adam, and Abraham and Moses, and all the prophets,

He would redeem his people

—He would bring them home to live with Him,

not merely in the earthly Zion

that can be corrupted by sin or destroyed by enemies,

but with Him in the eternal life of the heavenly Jerusalem

—God’s true home.


And so, we read in today’s Gospel:

“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.”

God the Son entered the world, being born in the midst of the chosen people.

Once again God revealed himself to His people:

but this time not through mere laws or the words of prophets.

This time God Himself, the Son, physically comes to His people.

And so we read today:

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus came not to prolong mankind’s exile, but to bring man home to God.



But again, many chose not to serve God, but to sin.

And so Jesus tells us:

“the light came into the world,

but people preferred darkness to light,

because their works were evil.

And so, as we read in today’s Gospel, “the Son of Man [is] lifted up.”

–“lifted up”, up on a Cross,

a cross just outside of the city of Jerusalem,

a cross overlooking Zion.

And the song of lamentation belongs to those who killed him,

–the Romans and the Sanhedrin–

to those who watched Him die,

–the Blessed Mother, John, Magdalene and the Holy women–

and to those for whom He died

–you and I, and all sinful mankind:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”

Throughout the long history of Israel, and even all the way back to Adam,

men and women have mourned their sins

and lamented losing their home with God.

This is the terrible fact of the history of mankind.


But the glorious fact of that history

is that for every time man has sinned and lost his home,

God has come back and offered them reason for hope.

So that in every age as he hangs his head in sorrow for his sins,

man also lifts his head to see God’s forgiveness.

So just as the Babylonians exiled God’s people

only to have the Persians send them home to Jerusalem,

in the same way,

just as Jesus is lifted up on the Cross to die for our sins,

he is also lifted up in the Resurrection to live eternally,

and to bring us all home to the heavenly Jerusalem.


Today, on this Laetare Sunday, Holy Mother Church reminds us that

even as we meditate on the darkness of our sins,

we remember that the light shines in the darkness,

and hope shines through our mourning.

Even as we fix our eyes during these 40 days of Lent on Jesus Crucified,

we also look through the Cross to see Him Resurrected.

And even as we lament our sins,

and mourn the loss of our heavenly home praying:

“we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”
we also remember:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him might

…have eternal life.”

And so now, as we enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist,

the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection,

the mystery of the eternal sacrifice of the heavenly Temple,

the mystery of God giving us His only Son to and for the world,

the mystery of the eternal Jerusalem descending now to us on earth,

and lifting our hearts into heaven,

we sing:

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.

Be joyful, all who were in mourning….”

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