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The Joy of the Cross

On the Gospel of John 3:14-21

4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday)

This Sunday is traditionally called Laetare Sunday. Today the Church wishes to remind us that joy is perfectly compatible with mortification and pain. It is sadness and not penance which is opposed to happiness. Taking part to the utmost in the liturgical season which reaches its climax in the Passion, and hence in suffering, we realise that approaching the Cross also means that the moment of our Redemption is coming ever closer. In this the Church and each of her children are filled with joy: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her (Is 66:10).

On this Sunday, as we approach the end of Lent, we meditate on the joy of the Cross. It is one and the same joy as that of being united to Christ: only in him can each of us say truthfully with Saint Paul: He loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal. 2:20). This should be the source of our great happiness as well as the source of strength and support. Should we have the misfortune to encounter sorrow, undergo suffering, experience misunderstanding, or even to fall into sin, how quickly will our thoughts turn to the one who always loves us and who, with his infinite love as God, overcomes in every trial, fills our emptiness, forgives all our sins and eagerly impels us towards a new path that is safe and joyful.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear the beautiful phrase, For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Blessed Pope John Paul II comments wonderfully on this when he says: “How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he gained so great a Redeemer, and if ‘God gave his only Son’ in order that man ‘should not perish but have eternal life.'” God sent his Son because he simply could not bear to see us perish in our sins; he longed to share with us his everlasting life. God loves us and cares for us, and it is our Blessed Lord who is the definitive proof of this love. God loves us so much that he is willing to sacrifice his only Son to atone for the sins that have separated man from God, the source of all good things. This line, then, is the core of the Gospel, and reveals to us too the heart of God who longs for our friendship.

Christ too reminds us in this Gospel of our free choice to accept or reject his friendship and his offer of salvation. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God (Jn 3:18). Salvation depends on us accepting the joy offered to us by friendship with Christ, a friendship that gives us joy even in the midst of “this vale of tears”.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

– John 3:14-21


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