Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

It has been a strange week. The entire work week was dom­i­nat­ed by talk of the coro­n­avirus and COVID-19. My cowork­ers seemed to be solid­ly divid­ed into two camps: those who thought the whole thing was no big deal, just media induced hys­te­ria over some­thing no dif­fer­ent than the com­mon cold and those who were con­vinced that in a month’s time, there would be eight peo­ple in need for every exist­ing  hos­pi­tal bed.

Sev­er­al times through­out the week, Bish­op sent updat­ed guide­lines and reg­u­la­tions for Mass and oth­er gath­er­ings at the church. There was noth­ing rad­i­cal in these: hand­wash­ing, a sus­pen­sion for all but the cel­e­brat­ing priest and any con­cel­e­brat­ing priests from receiv­ing Holy Com­mu­nion from the chal­ice, refrain­ing from hold­ing hands or shak­ing hands dur­ing the Sign of Peace. Things like that. But the speed and fre­quen­cy with which they came told me the dio­cese views this as a rapid­ly evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion, and that they are doing a good job of stay­ing on top of it.

On Thurs­day, the com­pa­ny I work for made a sud­den, end-of-day announce­ment that the build­ing was closed. None but an extreme­ly small skele­ton crew would be on site. Every­one else would be expect­ed to con­tin­ue to work from home.

But, for me, the strangest thing of all has been wit­ness­ing, albeit from a safe dis­tance, the aver­age American’s citizen’s rela­tion­ship with toi­let paper. Now, to be fair, I haven’t actu­al­ly been in a store in months. It’s just too dif­fi­cult to take a wheel­chair into a store to go gro­cery shop­ping and I can’t walk far enough to make it around the super­mar­ket. But, if I can believe what peo­ple are say­ing, then pan­ic buy­ing has result­ed in a short­age of toi­let paper and emp­ty shelves in the stores. Turns out, you can learn a lot about a per­son from their rela­tion­ship with toi­let paper.

All this left me won­der­ing: has there been any pan­ic buy­ing of Bibles? As I thought about what I would say today, I won­dered if I would be say­ing it to a larg­er-than-usu­al con­gre­ga­tion, thanks to peo­ple who might oth­er­wise not attend church being afraid now and decid­ing it might be a good time to get right with God; a small­er-than-usu­al con­gre­ga­tions, because peo­ple were stay­ing home afraid they might become sick; or the reg­u­lar peo­ple that I see week after week here at Our Lady of Lour­des.

And, hon­est­ly, what I ful­ly expect­ed was to see the reg­u­lar peo­ple who I see every week, minus pos­si­bly a few who’s health makes stay­ing home a pru­dent deci­sion. Why? Because that is the nature of faith.

Faith is not root­ed in fear. To be sure, there was an uptick in church atten­dance fol­low­ing 9/11 from those who sought com­fort in time of cri­sis. But that uptick was brief, because a faith moti­vat­ed by fear of death is not a faith that will endure; death waits for all of us. It could be today; it could be eighty years from now. But life is short, and death is cer­tain. You don’t need faith to know that and hav­ing faith will not keep it from being true.

Faith is a joy when times are good, and a com­fort when times are bad. But true faith comes not from fear… it comes from hope, and the sure and cer­tain belief that Christ died so that we may inher­it life eter­nal. In today’s sec­ond read­ing, St. Paul writes, “And hope does not dis­ap­point, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spir­it who has been giv­en to us.”

Beau­ti­ful. The love of God fills our hearts through the inter­ces­sion of the Holy Spir­it. This is one of the rewards of faith, and I don’t mean any­thing as mer­ce­nary as God loves us because we have faith. God loves every­one; God’s love and mer­cy is not con­di­tioned on any­thing in us. God loves the sin­ner and the saint.

But because we have faith, and because through that faith we have belief, we are able to respond to God in a spe­cial way. We can expe­ri­ence the love God has for us now, in this life – in this moment – because our souls are ready for it. Faith brings us to the holy altar, and from it the Holy Spir­it fills our hearts with love. Our love and long­ing for God and God’s love and long­ing for us meet in a holy union that has the pow­er to change us and to change our lives, every day… in every sit­u­a­tion… in every­thing we do.

And yet, even so, it is mere­ly a fore­shad­ow­ing of what is to come. We see the reward of faith now in our lov­ing spir­i­tu­al union with our cre­ator. We know that union will be made per­fect in our life that is to come.

That per­fect union is not the end; it is not sim­ply a prize for a life well lived. It’s not some­thing that is earned in heav­en for good behav­ior here on earth. It is a part of our jour­ney – our entire jour­ney – that begins and the moment of our con­cep­tion and con­tin­ues through­out our life. Every­one is born; every­one lives; every­one dies and is judged. We all have that in com­mon. After judge­ment, our jour­ney doesn’t end. It con­tin­ues, and for those judged wor­thy of the King­dom of Heav­en, it con­tin­ues as an union of love through­out eter­ni­ty with God.

In today’s Gospel read­ing, we hear that many of the Samar­i­tans came to believe because of the tes­ti­mo­ny of the woman at the well. Yet many more came to believe because of the words of Christ. “We no longer believe because of your word,” Scrip­ture tells us; “for we have heard for our­selves, and we know that this is tru­ly the sav­ior of the world.”

Faith is not born of fear. It comes through an encounter with Christ, and a rela­tion­ship with God who loves us. This is why – even when times are uncer­tain – we can say with con­fi­dence: Pray, hope, and do not be afraid.

And if we’re hon­est, times are always uncer­tain. God gives us the intel­li­gence and the wis­dom – and, impor­tant­ly, the free­dom – to act with pru­dence and to live not in fear, but in faith.

Are we allowed to be wor­ried about the uncer­tain­ties? Of course. Not to be wor­ried would be fool­ish. Are we allowed to take steps to mit­i­gate pos­si­ble bad out­come? Of course! Not to do so would be impru­dent. To be fool­ish and impru­dent is to act against the will of God. And yet, no mat­ter how uncer­tain things may be, we know that our faith will endure, because it is a faith born from love, and true love nev­er dies.

So pray, hope, but nev­er let fear destroy your Chris­t­ian joy. Let God’s love fill your heart and know that at the hour of your death you will see the reward of your hope and the ful­fill­ment of your prayers. That is where faith leads us. It doesn’t car­ry us away from fear; it car­ries us toward God. And on that path, we need nev­er fear what the world might do to us.

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