Bishop John’s Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Monday 15th March 2021

Each week we will be sharing Bishop John’s homily for each Sunday in Lent.

Fourth Sunday in Lent

The season of Lent is not really a time of celebration or rejoicing is it? It’s meant to be a time of introspection, looking at ourselves, checking our behaviours and seeing how we might check or improve ourselves. It can be quite a challenging time of year. I’d suggest that this year is proving very difficult for a lot of people because of the events that surround us, living in the third lockdown. The news is just dominated by the pandemic and fortunately for us, we seem now to be improving somewhat but it has cost so many people so much distress over the last year. Of course, we may be doing alright in this country with our progress but for so many countries in this world, the pandemic is still an appalling catastrophe. In those countries we might not ever know how many people have died, because they don’t have the health service to calculate it and that’s a shadow over everything.

Then week by week, we’ve got our problems haven’t we. I don’t want to cast an opinion on either of these subjects, but whichever way you think about how things have happened there’s a degree of distress.

I’m thinking about the dispute among the Royal Family, and whether that should be public or not, but there is a media outburst from that which I think is quite distressing. There’s also the whole question of those events surrounding the murder of Sarah Everard. Appalling tragedy, but again, a shadow over things.

We can get probably quite depressed, and they say that during this time of pandemic mental illness and stress is certainly much more predominant than in normal times. Perhaps we need this Sunday to be rather more important than it might normally be. Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the day of rejoicing.

Let’s go to  those readings for a moment to see why we might have a reason for rejoicing. If we go to that first reading of the second book of Chronicles, it doesn’t look too good does it? Infidelity upon infidelity.  You can go anywhere you like in those Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, and you can see that that covenant between people and God gets broken so many times and there’s so much problem among the peoples, the Jews and other surrounding tribes and nations. There’s conflict, war, destruction – there’s all sorts of things going wrong. You can find it anywhere through the Old Testament.

But then we come to the Second Reading from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and that reading from the Gospel of St John and a reminder that there’s every good reason for hope, though we as mankind and as humanity really keep making a mess of so many things, God so loves the world that He sent his only son. God doesn’t just show justice, he shows mercy. That mercy is something upon which we can all rely. There is never a moment in all of Scripture where God says well i’ve had enough of you lot, you can’t keep the covenant can you, you’re absolutely useless so forget it. No, he’s constantly ready to renew, to forgive, to recognise and to show mercy. That has to be what we celebrate today, on this Sunday.

Things are difficult, but you and I have every reason for hope. This is one of the great qualities I think of just about everything that Pope Francis writes. He uses that Ignatian prinicple of see, judge, act, he’s perfectly prepared to see the difficulties in our world and to speak out about them and he invites people to discern what can we do. Whatever realistic reactions we can have to our problems, and then the action that we put in place. Those steps that we can put in place to make our world a better place.

How does that speak to us as individuals? You and I, as individuals, we aren’t going to change the world but we’re asked to be building blocks. The little bit that we can do, will add up, will make a change and a difference and add to the goodness in our world. That’s why St Paul calls us ambassadors for Christ, we can really do Christ’s work, maybe in a very small localised space, but nonetheless it adds up.

We can show that love and kindness within our family with greater care, among our work colleagues and our friends, when our parishes open up again we can join in those group activities and social endeavours that make a big difference to the local community. We’re not going to change the world on our own, but fortunately we’ve got Pope Francis who has proven that he can be a voice to the world that he says goes long beyond the confines of our Church. Just look at Laudato Si! One of the most important environmental documents written in the last century. He has a wonderful voice and people listen to him, and so we must pray for him and for his activities and endeavours and all that he can achieve. We can pray too for global gatherings, there’s two very important ones this year. There’s the G7, in Cornwall, in June this year when the great economic powers will meet together to see how best we tackle this remedy, this progress out of the pandemic. Then there’s COP26, in Glasgow which is thought to be so important due to the time we have to heal the damage we’ve done to our environment. Let us pray for those occasions and pray for Pope Paul’s influence that he can have on those occasions.

Finally, there’s one little phrase that we heard in that second reading and I think we’ve got to take it seriously. I didn’t notice it for years but it’s quite simply this: ‘We are God’s work of art.’

Do we really believe that? A work of art is something which is unique, special and has a real quality.  You and I, each one of us, is a work of art. God’s given us the gifts that He wants to give us uniquely, so not one of us is unimportant. So as we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday, let’s all think about what we can do. Yes, tiny building blocks we may be, but when we build together we do make a real impact. And of course, we’re not just doing this on our own are we? We have the Holy Spirit working in us and through us, guiding us and strengthening us so that we can pray that prayer with confidence, Stay with us, Lord, on our journey. God bless the mothers among you this morning, too.

God bless you all that you are and all that you do, and let’s see our way out of this long dark tunnel of the lockdown and make our world a better place.

To watch a recording of the Mass, click here.

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