March 18th, 2012 – Fourth Sunday in Lent – Year B

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Dear Friends:

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare (Rejoice) Sunday, from the first words of the liturgy [Introit]. Since it occurs in the middle of Lent, as Gaudete Sunday is celebrated midway through Advent, Lætare Sunday reminds us of the Event we look forward to at the end of the penitential season. As on Gaudete Sunday, rose-colored vestments may replace violet, with flowers on the altar symbolizing the Church’s joy in anticipation of the Resurrection, which cannot be contained even in Lent, though we still refrain from Alleluias and the singing of the Gloria until the magnificence of the Easter Vigil.

The central theme of today’s readings is that our salvation is the free gift of a merciful God given to us through Jesus His, Son. The readings stress God’s mercy and compassion, the great love, kindness and grace extended to us in Christ. As an act of love and gratitude to God who is “rich in mercy” and as an expression of our faith, we are invited to share his sufferings by doing penance during Lent so that we may inherit our eternal salvation and the glory of his resurrection in heaven. As we continue our Lenten observance in the fourth week, the Sacred Liturgy invites us to enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s grace, mercy and salvation. In the first reading, from the Second Book of Chronicles, we learn the compassion and patience of God. God allowed Cyrus the Great, a pagan conqueror, to become the instrument of His mercy and salvation for His chosen people who were in exile in Babylon. In the second reading, Paul tells us that God is so rich in mercy that He has granted us eternal salvation and eternal life as a free gift through Christ Jesus. Today’s gospel has a parallel theme but on a much higher level. Jesus, the Son of God, became the agent of God’s salvation, not just for one sinful nation but for the sinfulness of the whole world. Through John 3:16, the gospel teaches us that God expressed His love, mercy and compassion for us by giving His only Son for our salvation.